September marks the launch of the latest season of my guilty pleasure, Dancing with the Stars.
You might think the show is mostly about the women’s scanty costumes, or possibly B-list celebrities getting some visibility. But the real point is to take non-dancers, teach them specific dances and help them look like they know what they’re doing. Bonus points if they look graceful, elegant and polished at the same time.
Oh, there are always “celebrities” I have no interest in seeing, and mostly they are the first to be kicked off. But I do love watching ballroom dancing and am impressed with how well the non-dancers are able to learn.
Surprisingly, writers can also learn from the show:
1. Pay attention to structure.
Contestants have to learn the steps for each specific dance, and they don’t receive good marks unless the basics are there. With writing, you don’t need to be a fanatic about lessons from your English teacher, except for spelling, but it’s always helpful to know the rules before you break them.
2. Watch your frame.
The proper frame and posture sets the stage for an elegant dance. Words, too, need the right framework to set the stage for effective communication. You don’t necessarily have to use an outline for every piece of writing, but you do need to know where you want to take the reader.
3. Model the masters.
The professional dancers on DWTS often bring in another expert to demonstrate a tricky step. Writers should look to experts, too, reading widely to gain an appreciation for good writing.
4. Tell a story.
Dance isn’t just a technical performance; nor is a piece of corporate writing or a stirring speech. Beyond the basic steps, you want to tell a story and reach people’s emotions to inspire action.
5. Practise, practise, practise.
Whether it’s dancing or writing or giving a dynamite speech, you can always improve, even if the skills don’t come naturally to you.
6. Remember it’s not all about you.
In one episode of DWTS, the judges scolded the professional for showing off her own skills rather than making her partner look good. In the same way, writers should spend less time trying to stretch a metaphor or craft a catchy sentence and more time making sure the words help the reader get the point.
7. Speak to your audience.
In 2018, Bobby Bones took home the famous mirrorball trophy, winning over better dancers. Many credit his strong connection with his followers for a large fan vote. Writers, too, need to remember that awards don’t matter if we aren’t making a connection with readers.
Dancers are penalized for not reflecting the spirit of the dance, and you’ll likewise lose readers when your heart’s not in your writing. Show that you love what you do.
What other communications or life lessons do you see in shows like Dancing With The Stars? What’s your guilty TV pleasure? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
A version of this post appeared in an early version of my newsletter, Wordnerdery. Not a subscriber yet? Sign up now for my monthly take on writing, words, newsletters and more. In keeping with Canadian and U.S. anti-spam laws, you can easily unsubscribe at any time. (And let me know if you’d like some help waltzing with words.)