On first glance, the two seem completely alien to each other. They are not.
I say Dancer Girls because that’s what my daughter is, a Dancer Girl. My daughter and many of her peers have found a magic elixir in dance. Structured, intuitive, instructional, artistic, precise, fluid, and regimented all at once, dance is her drug of choice. She started like most other mini-Dancer Girls, pink tutu and all. We've all seen them, hoards of little girls and teenage girls in cute, sparkly, adorned costumes pirouetting onstage. How can this possibly have anything in common with feminism? I’ll tell you.
Feminism is a loaded word for most of us. In its best incarnation, the word feminist conjures a vividly strong woman, confident, smart, effortlessly carrying the flag of women as equals. In its worst, we find the almost cartoonish version of a feminist: militant, butch, abrasive, male bashing. In neither image is there room for ballerinas. Or is there?
In support of my Dancer Girl, I have watched hours upon hours of dance classes, dance competitions, dress rehearsals and recitals. This year, after 10 previous years of much the same, a light bulb went on for me and I suddenly began watching through a very different lens. I’m sure this has a lot to do with me being all tangled up with the new characters in my next story.
My stories always start with people. More specifically, women. One woman, or maybe a pair, people that I recognize instantly not because I've known them in my life, but because I know right away I identify with them on some level. I've been thinking a lot lately about my female characters, and my newest additions, who don’t even have a story to live in yet. They will, I’m working on that. But before there is a real, legitimate story with a plot and twists and turns and that cool A-Ha moment, there must be well developed characters—at least for me.
I've realized that all of the female characters I've written have feminist qualities. I’m not saying they are all feminists. Many have a long journey ahead before discovering that they alone possess the power to change their own lives. A few could proudly wear the feminist badge, but even they have moments of self-doubt, poor decision making, questionable motives. Don’t we all? That’s the human condition. But a good part of the enjoyment I reap from writing comes from writing strong women; or women who are forced to become strong, and are better for it.
To step outside of my own fiction, I took an interesting trip down memory lane through some of my favorite books. I learned that I have very little patience for weak female characters. Granted, some great works of fiction start with women we cringe for, certain they don’t have a chance; women who perpetually wait for rescue, all the while wringing their hands and railing at the fates in their hopeless, woe-is-me whine. OMG. Yes, sorry not sorry, I said it. This kills me, but even this, sometimes, spurs me to keep reading. I have to. I have to get to the part where she realizes she need not rely on anyone but herself; you know, that part where we finally cheer and forgive all of her wimpiness and self-doubt, certain that she now understands at least a little about feminism. (Sure, it’s nice when the strong, smoking-hot knight in shining armor rides in and promises lifelong security and undying romance, but we’re talking about feminism here. He can wait to swoop in after she has realized her own potential!).
So, as I sat watching maybe my thousandth hour of dance, eyes still tearing up now and then at my motivated, beautiful daughter tap dancing her heart out, I started to look at these Dancer Girls in a brand new light. Against the back drop of two new female characters I hope to build a fascinating, compelling fictional world around, I saw the girls on stage for what they really are. Strong. Driven. Artistic. Smart. Confident. Self-assured. They are the future generation of successful women. They have learned, from instructors who model grace, strength, intelligence, honed technique and self-respect, that the skills they've spent years developing in dance will serve them well in life. I’d bet each of these Dancer Girls is pretty sure she will succeed at whatever course she sets her mind to. That is feminism. Wrapped up in our daughters who have discovered the power and magic of dance.