The Invisible Dancer

My daughter, Maddy, is a choreographer in London with her own company, Tempered Body Dance Theatre. There’s a link to a brief sample of her work listed below. In preparing new pieces, she will often have her troupe or a portion of it perform segments at events called Scratches: evenings of performance work in development, a chance to put the piece on its feet in front of an audience, followed by a Q & A. Recently, she was going to take a duet to one of these events and the day of the performance the male dancer phoned to say he had food poisoning and could barely get out of bed, let alone dance. So Maddy phoned the Scratch organizer and told him that she wouldn’t be able to show the piece that evening. Had it been a piece for two females, she could have stepped in, no problem, but there were a lot of lifts and it would just not be possible. The organizer disagreed, saying that this was exactly the kind of thing Scratches were about. She was scheduled to show a seven-minute piece and that’s what she was going to show. 

So Maddy got together that day with the female dancer and worked the piece into a solo. There was no mention to the audience, before hand, that it was supposed to be a duet. And it went over very well. People were excited afterwards, wanting to talk about it. One woman said it felt as if there was an invisible other presence in the piece. Maddy smiled and, having checked with the organizer, explained what had happened, news that was received enthusiastically and precipitated a lot more debate.

I love this story. I love that invisible dancer. It reminded me of a score I once saw for a piece of music written for the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. There was one note in the first bar; it was not to be played; Menuhin was supposed to think that note and then play the notes in the next bar. So, an invisible note. Would anyone in the audience realize that Menuhin was thinking that note when he played? Perhaps not but I firmly believe in the effect that un-played note might have on the piece – kind of like a gravitational tug, invisible but there none the less. 

I want to include invisible dancers in my writing. And, if you think of it, that’s exactly what a really good lyric does or the text for a picture book. The power of the piece is not its completeness but just the opposite. The power comes from how the text entices the prospective composer or illustrator with gaps and pauses, as if… well, as if there was this sense of yearning in the words to be lifted and spun around and danced with.


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11 responses to “The Invisible Dancer

  1. I like this idea a lot.

    I’ve been thinking recently that mystical religious experience in its own way is like having an imaginary friend, something we learn in our society is childish and therefore inappropriate for adults. I’m kind of jealous of people who have this kind of experience as adults—talking to the divine being in the chair over there. Like Harvey the Rabbit from the James Stewart movie.

    Isn’t a lot of the work making things—writing for example—about inventing someone you are telling the story to? Does writing suffer when you actually start writing for real people (writing to the fan club)? I think sometimes it does.

  2. What an amazing way to start my writing day! Thanks, Tim!!

  3. Oh this is brilliant. It is absolutely the negative spaces that give things, bits of art, definition. For characters in fiction, often it’s the space between, the relationship, that becomes it’s own character. I find the best stories to be that way, at least.

  4. kathiappelt

    Tim, this is so thoughtful. I love the idea of an invisible dancer in a picture book, the unseen narrator if you will, doing the heavy lifting. Thanks.

  5. Magic happens in the white space. It’s not empty. It’s full of possibility. Love the dance image. Thanks for that.

  6. Brilliant! The path less traveled… the things unsaid… the words not on the page — They are the zebras and unicorns of our trade. Thanks for the reminder, Tim!

  7. I love the idea of the invisible, or the present absence. What a challenge it would be to build a story around an absence that was never ever named or noted in the text.

  8. I love the idea of the Great Unsaid. It is present and silent and I love that sense of longing to know that is generated inside me when I come into contact with it. Thank you for the fantastic story.

  9. Brilliant idea! Very subtextual.

  10. Martine Leavitt

    Brilliant, wonderful Tim. Thank goodness you are not imaginary.

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