Last night I had to write a synopsis of my book in progress to include with my packet for my teacher. I hate writing a synopsis – they are far harder than writing the book. For one thing, they are not creative. It is difficult to boil an involved story down into a few pages. You must not leave out any details that are significant (and face it – if they aren’t significant, they shouldn’t be in your book, so you really need to include everything.) You must introduce every character and when and why they interact.
I find a thorough synopsis about as riveting as directions to building a barbeque. Yet, you must not try to write it like a jacket cover, which is a sensationalized lure designed to sell a book to a potential reader. No, the synopsis is just the facts, mam, without flourish so an editor knows what the book is about and how events unfold. The story should be succinct, yet at the same time, must seem compelling. Those goals are a contradiction in terms, which is why I will repeat, I hate writing a synopsis.
In this case, I haven’t finished the book, so while I can write the first half of the story easily, the second half is a bunch of guessing. Until you actually let your fingers unveil the tale, you never know what twists and turns it will take. So I have to fudge a bit, fake it, and pretend I know what will happen next, which feels forced and premeditated. But an assignment is an assignment and as the book changes, so too can the dreaded synopsis. It isn’t like a novel map that I am suddenly locked into following.
Anyway, it occurred to me that a few of my friends who are interested in my writing endeavors might get a kick out of reading what this damn book is about. So, I’m going to share my sucky synopsis. For the record, this is not a semi-autobiographical novel, but you will see many events that smack of my experience and attitudes. I like to think I am drawing upon life experience to make this book capture truth, but I promise you, it is fiction. I have been dancing, teaching, and philosophizing about dance for so many years that it is all a jumble now – just the lingering resonance of a life lived in the dance lane.
Diary of a Dancer’s Divorce is not plot driven, but more a literary venue. The events unfold to set a backdrop for digging into the emotional elements of life as an artist. Characters are introduced to spark philosophical debate about the many paths dancers take – the lives we live based on the decisions (compromises) we make along the way. This story is about how artists define themselves, and how that self-definition influences their behavior and attitudes about the world at large.
The only other thing you need to know is that the book is formatted in an unusual way – it is written in three very different styles, pieced together to create one conducive message. It includes diary entries, which are first person essays about dance written by the heroine as a part of therapy. Then, there is third person narrative, which moves the story along – the bulk of the plot unfolds here. And last but not least, there are conversations with Marilyn, the therapist. She is sort of a catalyst who forces Dana to consider why she harbors the attitudes she does. This portion of the book is written primarily in dialogue, just snippets of therapy sessions interspersed throughout. I use a bit of sarcastic humor here, but I think it works. I also spent this month feeding in flashbacks – events from my heroine’s youth or years as a dancer, which help the reader understand why Dana is the way she is.
It is like this huge puzzle that I am trying to put together to form one picture. It’s hard as shit (gee aren’t I graceful with words) to do, because I’m piecing together all these misshapen pieces but I don’t know what the final picture is actually going to look like. I know what I am trying to accomplish, but having the skill to pull it off is another issue. This is why I alternately love and hate my book (and drive my professors batty with my frustration.) I can’t wait to finish it so I can move on to another, less trying, project.
Denver read a portion of the book on the computer the other day and said, “Wow, this is a book that only you could write. It’s everything you believe, feel, and know. It’s you.”
That’s interesting. The truth is, they say each of us should try to tell the story that only we can tell. I think this is it for me. It’s painful to write something so close to your heart, so meshed with your reality, and yet, I must write it because it is a story that I alone can tell. This book is certainly nothing like my plot driven, fun historicals (which I still love). But just the fact that I am tackling something more challenging is a good for me – as a writer, a dancer, and a person.
Anyway, here is the basic storyline as it currently stands. No snoring please.
DIARY OF A DANCER’S DIVORCE / SYNOPSIS
When the love of her life abandons her for a younger woman, DANA SMITHERS is devastated. She thought she was prepared for what she knew was an inevitable conclusion, but the reality of this abandonment leaves her feeling overwhelmed. For Dana, the love of her life is not a man, but her vocation. Dance.
Now, at 42, she is rebuilding her world and redefining herself. But left with bitterness for a profession that has forsaken her, she struggles to make peace with a body that has sustained years of abuse, a fickle career that favors youth, and the truth that after years of living in a vacuum of dance, she is without a basic awareness of the world at large. Dana is uneducated, uninformed, and mortified as she confronts the truth that life stretches far beyond the boundaries of performance.
Almost daily, Dana meets her mother, LEANNE, for lunch in a corner bistro where they debate her decision to retire. Leanne, a constant catalyst, reminds Dana of all she isn’t doing with her life, yet at the same time, she proves a concerned parent by giving Dana six months of therapy to help her with the life transition. Being a somewhat reluctant patient, Dana finds herself exploring her feelings about dance and aging through diary entries and discussions with a therapist, MARILYN.
Depressed, and missing the physical high of dance, Dana becomes a runner. But in no time, she develops a foot injury forcing her to abandon this physical outlet as well. She moves on to biking, then working out at the health club, anything to quell her sense of physical loss.
At a speed-dating event, she meets CLIFF, who danced as a young boy but quit to pursue football, a more comfortable choice for young boy forming his male identity. Cliff’s mother happens to own the local dance school, Betty’s Ballet Barn. Cliff now works as a high school coach; but his secret to a wining team is making the boys train in ballet as he did when young.
Though she has a prejudice towards recreational dance institutions, Dana finds that fate continues to thrust Betty’s Ballet Barn into her path. Her mother, Cliff, and her daily running path seem to carry her towards the school. Pride forces her to stay away until, one day while running, she meets a child, JULIE, outside the studio.
Julie waits on the curb while her sister dances. “People like me don’t dance,” the child explains. She has downs syndrome.
Dana believes dance is for everyone and that true art lies in unencumbered expression, yet she also believes only highly trained individuals should earn the title of “dancer”. If that were not so, her entire life, all the sacrifices she made, would have been purposeless. But Julie forces her to question her own prejudices and beliefs regarding art. When Julie moves with joyful abandonment to music, she seems like art personified to Dana, and touched by this, (and also pressured by the studio owner) Dana agrees to teach a class for students with downs syndrome.
Researching the affliction on the internet, Dana learns the physical limitations of young people with downs syndrome and decides to quit before she begins. However, uncomfortable with this task, she puts canceling off until it is too late, and she has no recourse but to teach when the day arrives. She is not an enthusiastic or committed teacher, though she is unexpectedly proficient.
Dana’s handicapped class has seven students. As the individual personalities of this special population and their unconditional love for dance unfolds, they win her heart. The owner of the school implores her to teach some of her “normal” students, but Dana refuses to work with the spoiled teenagers who are considered the “serious dancers” at the school. Resistant to discipline and balking professional training systems, Dana grows steadily more resentful of the youthful generation claiming her dance world. She blames society’s instant gratification mindset for destroying the dance ideology she loved and lost, and her disillusionment in the profession thrives. Meanwhile, for all that she is trying to separate from dance, she continues to lurk on the edges of the art through her involvement with the handicapped students.
When Dana takes her special needs group to a competition, she is introduced to a side of dance she had never been exposed to before. Here, dance is judged like a sport, and Dana is shocked to see tricks and competition feats earning points, while shading and style, the true elements of artistry, are forsaken. This fuels her frustration with the state of dance today. Yet in the midst of this dance circus, she watches one school’s performance with admiration. Clearly a professional and very successful school, it manages to balance craft with artistry, winning top scores time and again.
Impressed, she makes commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of the dancer’s performance out loud. She is most enthralled with a young, male student who displays intense passion and promise. In her opinion, he simply needs better jazz training to evolve.
She utters her critique regarding the boy’s skill to a man standing by, MAX MATHEWS, unaware that he is the boy’s father and the owner of the dance school on stage. Indignant, he draws her into a sparring match about dance training and the state of dance education today.
Dana joins her class backstage to prepare them for the competition. There, she meets the talented boy she admired on stage, RONNIE, who proves admirably supportive and helpful to her nervous dancers. Together they watch the handicapped students perform, after which, she learns Ronnie is the son and student of the very man she debated with earlier. Max joins them in the audience and shares her former critique of the boy’s dancing, forcing her to back peddle to preserve her new friendship with the young dancer. Dana wants to be supportive of Ronnie’s talent out of respect, and in consideration of his help backstage with her students.
A month later, obsessed with dance and determined to be the best he can be, Ronnie arrives at Betty’s Ballet Barn. He watches Dana teach the handicapped students and, when she tries teaching the students a new dance, encountering resistance from the class, he jumps in and assists her. He is a natural teacher and his presence helps her accomplish much more than usual with the handicapped students. Ronnie offers to help her every week if she will coach him privately.
Wanting to teach the boy that being a true artist means giving of yourself, and swayed by her disappointment with the selfish attitudes of the teen dancers at the school, Dana is compelled to work with this young, serious dancer. But helping any young person devote their life to dance seems a mistake, like hitting a funny bone, dredging up the stinging regret she is still wrestling with regarding her own career. She refuses.
Disappointed, Ronnie exits the studio to the lobby, only to encounter the football players arriving for their lesson. Ronnie’s inability to fit in with normal teens is revealed when he is thrown a football and it bounces off his head. Dana contemplates how difficult it must be for a boy to dance in today’s society. Cliff, having left dance for that very reason, subtly tries to reduce the impact his rough football players have on the boy’s ego.
Cliff asks Dana on a date, and impressed with his sensitivity towards Ronnie, she agrees. At dinner, they discuss what it is like to be a male dancer, which sheds light on both the decisions Cliff made regarding dance, and the young boy who now wants her coaching so desperately. This evening of intimacy leads to their becoming physically involved. Dana, dissatisfied and critical of her body throughout her life as a professional dancer, suddenly sees herself through Cliff’s eyes, as a woman rather than a dancer. This helps her to lean towards acceptance of her physical self for the first time ever.
Ronnie shows up to assist her handicapped class for two more weeks, and finally, swayed by Cliff’s former experiences and the boy’s persistence, she agrees to work with him. Now, Dana is drawn back into the dance world with two ends of the spectrum forcing her to redefine what art really means. If she believes both the serious professional student and the handicapped students are true artists, then it must mean every level in between has merit too, even the recreational dancer that seems intent upon bastardizing her beloved craft.
Miss Betty breaks her leg and requires temporary help in the school. Dana adamantly refuses to help with the older teens, whom she considers “bad dances”, but she does agree to teach several youth dance classes. She begins exploring dance with young students ages 5 – 7, a harrowing (yet amusing) experience for someone unaccustomed to children. The young children’s innocence and enthusiasm is not unlike that of her handicapped students, which serves to remind her that dance, stripped of the technical mastery, is still soulful and rewarding. Dana begins to realize that her frustration with dance is born of the aftereffects of the art on her ego and identity. Movement for movement sake is, and always will be, beautiful.
With her resentment for the art subsiding, Dana begins to treat the other students she encounters, including the advanced teen students, with more patience. She even teaches an occasional class for the older dancers in the school. As she becomes a better teacher, they become better dancers, and through this, Dana realizes that there is no such thing as bad dancers. Only bad teachers.
Max soon discovers Ronnie’s private coaching sessions, but he allows the lessons to continue when he is unable to deny his son’s improvement. He also appreciates that Dana makes the boy work with the handicapped students to give something back to the art. Now, working with Ronnie means Dana must deal with his father, an opinionated, conceited, ballet teacher. Their ongoing debates, while annoying, reveal that they share the same idealistic views of dance as an art form and profession. The difference is how they react to those views and serve to correct what they see as faults in the dance world.
Max teaches Dana what true love for dance is really about – taking the good with the bad, for better or worse. He shows her that she can love the craft even though it is undeniably flawed, and by teaching, she can dance forever through the generations that follow. She has become a strong teacher and as such, she can impact the dance world to mold it more to her artistic ideal.
Dana’s bitterness turns into bittersweet understanding and acceptance as she learns to make peace with her art. Dance never really abandoned her. It was she, blinded by ego, resenting the natural process of aging, who had abandoned it. She has learned that being an artist invites parasites to attach to one’s soul, wounds like barnacles creating a crusty, rough surface over the original smooth veneer of the dancer’s ego when the vessel is submerged in the dance waters too long.
The problem is, embracing dance once again will not negate the fact that Dana’s past commitment to the art will meant forgoing growth in other areas of her life, a reality that leaves her feeling somehow cheated in retrospect. She now wrestles with the fact that, if she so chooses, she can stay involved with dance forever, dancing through her students. This would be a comfortable choice, yet she is not comfortable with making it. Dana is compelled to experience all those areas of life she left behind in her pursuit of dance.
Dana now understands that she can leave dance, rather than feeling it has left her, which makes the separation less wrought with anguish. She does not know what she wants or where to begin, but she decides to step away from the world she is so familiar with to discover other elements of life. Dana wants to learn about the world at large in the hopes that she can become an involved part of it. So, she enrolls in college, safe in the knowledge that she can return to being a dance educator when and if she chooses. Forced to choose a course of study, she considers theater management and even dance therapy, afraid to attracting attention to her intellectual limits. But in the end, she chooses bravely, picking coursework to become a counselor. She knows it will be hard, yet she also knows dance taught her discipline and commitment, benefits she can draw upon to successfully tackle any challenge.
It is unclear whether Dana will later work with physically handicapped individuals, or those who are handicapped by their own self-definition, but she does know she wants to make a difference in the lives of others. Without dance. Despite dance. And because of it.
(Corny ending, I know. I am queen of the corn, and I am constantly being corrected for it. At heart, I am a romantic queerbo who SHOULD be writing romance. I can only suppress this element of my nature so much. Can’t change this leopard’s spots, I’m afraid. I’ll just let my professor slash through that last line with her nifty red pen. I myself, don’t want to kill it without giving it a few days to live and breathe first.)