Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writing Thoughts from So You Think You Can Dance

by Dina Sleiman

It's my favorite time of year! Summer, you ask. Time for beaches, pools, and amusement parks? Sure, that too. The season for my debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion, to be released in ebook format? In fact, it should be available on,, and in a variety of formats today. Thanks for asking :)

But what I'm talking about is the season for...


This spring I had the pleasure of traveling to Atlanta with my daughter for The Pulse. This is a huge convention for dancers taught by famous choreographers including many of those featured on So You Think You Can Dance. As a former and sometimes current dancer and choreographer myself, I enjoy watching this weekend as much as my daughter enjoys participating in it.

An extra treat for me this year, was that she moved up to the “Advanced Professional” room. The choreography presented in this room really wasn’t much different than that in the “Intermediate” or “Advanced” mega-ballrooms. However, only about a hundred of the thousand or so students made the cut for pro, and so the attitude of the dancers and the teachers was on a whole different level. The teachers spoke to them as dedicated artists who had studied their craft and deserved respect for their many years of hard work. They shared inside tidbits into the industry and the artist’s life.

If you’re not familiar with Mia Michaels, she is a multi-Emmy-award-winning choreographer often featured on So You Think You Can Dance. More than that, she is an incredibly spiritual woman who draws from some deep inner-well most people have never discovered. Year after year on the show, dancers stand before the camera with tears streaming down their faces declaring Mia’s choreography has forever changed their lives. She calls them to crack open their chests and dance from a place deep within.

After teaching an achingly beautiful piece to the “Advanced Professional” group, Mia started sharing from her heart about the dancer’s journey. (Image tear drops on the post, because I’m crying already just remembering that magical moment.) She said that while people have let her down, her body, even performances had let her down, dance was the one thing that had always been there for her. Dance was her bliss. Her breath. Her reason for being. You have to love the dance--the art--for itself. Not for the outer trappings that come with it. You must be willing to find that place of truth and let it pour out.

Then she asked them to break into groups and dance. 

Not just the choreography. They would begin with the minute long piece she taught them, after which they would break into spontaneous movement for another several minutes until the end of the song. As I watched these dancers pouring out their hearts and souls onto the floor through their own shapes and rhythms, it hit me: I could apply every word of that inspiring speech to my writing.

Tears streamed down my face to match those of the dancers upon the floor. It was all I could do not to crumble into full blown sobs.

In that moment, I realized. Publishers will let me down. Sales will let me down. Reviews will let me down. But writing…writing for the pure and unadulterated bliss of stringing words on paper to create a story world, a piece of art…that will never let me down.

More importantly, the marvelous God who has called me to this incredible journey will never let me down.

What is your favorite part of writing? Have you been writing for the sake of writing or for the goal of publication and pleasing others? If you don't write, what area of your life could you apply this sage advice to?

 Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with Whitefire Publishing in 2011. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at


  1. I know how much that trip to Atlanta meant to you Dina and I think you captured it well--wow. Congratulations again to Christy for her accomplishments.

    I hope we all find that thing that, like writing for me, brings passion to our lives.

    Hooray for Dance of the Dandelion!!

  2. Thanks, Deb. I didn't see Dandelion up on any of the websites this morning, but I'll keep you all posted.

  3. Wonderful analogy, Dina. And congrats to Christy--she's one talented young lady.

    My favorite part of the writing process? When the characters take over. My typing can't keep up with their dialogue. Sometimes first drafts can be excruciating for me (I prefer layering etc in subsequent drafts) but those times when I lose track of time and the words just flow are humbling and, dare I say, fun!

  4. Ah, yes, those magical writing moments!

  5. Hey Dina, I remember the excitement you conveyed in emails over the going to- and coming back from- the dance conference.

    We watch SYTYCD all the time and yes, Mia adds an extra emotional layer to everything she touches. I love it when a judge is affected by a dance. Good stuff. :)

    Why do I write? To get the people out of my head and on the page where they belong.

    Anita Mae.

  6. Those people in our heads are pretty insistent, aren't they.

  7. Dina, how absolutely awesome. I totally agree this philosophy can and should be applied to our writing.

    Congratulations to your daughter on being chosen for the advanced class. How exciting for her - and for you to get to watch.

    And major congratulations on your book! I'm so excited for you. I did try to find it several times today on B&N, but it's not there yet. :-( Is there a magic time when it becomes available? I can't wait to read it!

  8. So far today I think it's only up at ebookit, and they do have the nook version. You can link to it from my website, but it should be on amazon and Barnes and Noble over the next few days when they decide to upload it.

  9. Dina, I just realized I didn't even extend my congrats. Ugh.

    Congratulations to your daughter for moving up to the pro dance class. It's going to be great to explain her picture on the cover of your book. :)

    And major congrats to you on the epubbing of your book. Hang in there... it'll be posted soon.

    Anita Mae.

  10. Loved this post! My favorite thing about writing is how as the story unfolds, you reveal all kinds of mystery surrounding your characters. You didn't know her mom left when she was 10, but that sure explains her intentional isolation throughout the story. Or when you're typing a scene and you get so into that world you've created, you start yelling "Kiss her already, you idiot. " to your computer screen. :)

  11. I can definitely relate to all of that Allison. My second novel began very premise driven, so I had to discover a lot about the story and characters as I went along.

  12. Thanks, Anita. I didn't make too huge of a deal about the ebook release because the publisher seems to have limited control over it and not everyone does ebooks. But, it's still pretty exciting.

  13. Ah... so timely. My daughter and I just had this conversation Tuesday. In her early childhood education class on creativity, the textbook emphasized the importance of the process over the product. If you love the process, the product will turn out better and better. If you hate the process, there will be no joy in the product, and then, what's the point?
    Great comparison, Dina!

  14. Yes, the same is true of education. If you love learning, you'll love school and do well naturally. It will be a joy. In fact, I've even been reading a book about prayer that is essentially teaching the same thing. You need to learn to love prayer and allow yourself to enjoy it so that you'll want to pray no matter the busyness or the circumstances.


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