When a person has got about as much rhythm as wet cardboard and even line dancing is impossible, it's not likely that they’ll attempt dancing with a partner. Failing alone is humiliating enough, no need to drag someone else down, too!
But curiosity got the best of me when I started writing these blogs with this dancing metaphor. I didn’t grab a partner, but I did the next best thing ... I asked my friends, Gail and Brenda, to tell me about leading and following. They did better than tell me, they showed me! A picture is worth a thousand words ... especially to an artist ...
They demonstrated for me how the leading partner will squeeze the following partner’s hand or waist, or pull/lean into them to pressure them backwards or forwards. When both are doing their part – one communicating clearly the next direction, and the other following the direction correctly – beautiful dancing is the result ... the stuff of dreams for people like me who can’t even line dance!
But the metaphor holds up ... ‘cause when we’re doing the “dance of life” we’re getting pushed and pulled, too. We have to adapt and adjust to that pushing and pulling in order to stay on our path and reach our goals. Life, circumstances and other people will always be there to upset our plans, but the “dance” will be beautiful when we’re responding well to those pressures.
That’s the parents’ job: teaching, training and guiding kids how to navigate life and how to respond to the problems and pressures that will come up. We book-makers can help with that a bit.
As they read our books, we’re inviting them to the dance by exposing them to their world and the possibilities that lay before them. That’s the fun and exciting part. They get lured in and discover their own bents and interests ... they’ve joined the dance.
It won’t take very long for them to discover the push back ... bullies, rejection, tragedies, sickness, natural disasters, their own poor choices ... there’s about a million and one ways life can land a gut punch. They won’t always have things their way. Sometimes they’ll do everything right, and still have it end up all wrong. They need to learn from folks who have danced the dance, how to respond and get through the rough spots.
Heads up, book makers – especially all you writers out there – storytelling is a great way to teach kids important life lessons and principles. Well told stories that pull readers in can help parents open up conversations for teachable moments with younger children. Older kids will likely be reading on their own, but they’ll learn the lessons just as well.
Lessons like: what do you do when the bully shows up? How do you know when a choice is the wisest? What are the consequences of bad choices and not shouldering responsibilities? Where can you go for support and aid when tragedy strikes?
When these things befall characters in a good story, the reader walks through it all with them. It’s a safe way for them to find out what good and bad things can happen to people in real life, and how to respond and handle tough situations. It’s a safe way to learn and “rehearse” the dance of life ... when it’s good and when it’s bad.
So give your reader characters they care about and relate to. The more emotionally attached your reader is to the characters, the more the reader will identify with them. Then, whatever the character is going through, is “happening” to the reader, also. That emotional attachment is what will cause the reader to remember what all happened with that character, and that’s how you pull the reader into the narrative and how they’ll remember the lessons you’re subtly teaching them. Works much better than preaching and talking down to them.
Then one day, in real life, during a real day, that reader will encounter a real bully or a real tragedy, and they’ll be just a bit less afraid and anxious, and a bit more prepared and ready for that beautiful dance called life.