An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Author Christine M Knight's Blog

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blog 4 - Belonging: The Dance Metaphor

The discipline of dance, as a strategic process (metaphor) and a ritual form of connection, is used in 'In and Out of Step' to form the backbone of the story. I've flagged this in the title and carried it through the story to denouement. It is also reflected in aspects of the novel's cover design. In this blog, I'll discuss my use of the metaphor of dance to represent aspects of Belonging. Blog #4 will discuss dance as a ritual form of connection.

PART 1: Dance as a strategic process - a metaphor

Dance and the engineering of balance and timing are used to invoke in the reader the way the main character, Cassie, processes and controls her emotional responses to her work, social, and personal relationships. At first, Cassie manages this through locating and using arbitrary rules and strictures – as one does when learning to dance until familiarity with the steps of the dance allows us to move automatically attuned to the rhythm of the music.

Having chosen exile from the people and life that she had once loved, Cassie Sleight found herself well outside her comfort zone at the start of her career as a high school teacher. Frightened by strong emotions and in a form of emotional shutdown after a traumatic experience in her mysterious past, Cassie found safe emotional release through dance.

'Led by the violins, the orchestra and Cassie extended the movement into an enthusiastic waltz. As the waltz changed into whirling, emotions denied for so long found release. She felt like a trapeze artist working the high wire with a safety net. The explosion of energy at the end of the track matched her mood. With tears streaming unheeded down her cheeks, she sank to the floor.'

The comparison to a trapeze artist reinforces the personal danger that Cassie felt when dealing with emotions. The metaphor also shows that dance, like a safety net, functioned as controlled protection for her. Balance and timing are also implicit in this metaphor. This scene provides clues to the reasons for her exile.

In Chapter 1, before entering her new workplace, Cassie felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the foreignness of that world. She felt like an outsider.

'After locking the car door, she looked down at her clothing ...she looked the part. All she had to do was be it. Teaching is another form of dance, she thought, a simple matter of learning the steps and getting in time to the rhythm of school life. I can do this.' p 4

In an attempt to gain inclusion, Cassie made a conscious decision to change 'her dress' and 'look the part.' This outwardly connected her to the people in the world she entered but also psychologically connected her to it. By reframing her view of the new experience as a dance, she made also connections between a world where she knew she belonged and the new world that she was entering. Dance, as a metaphor for a life experience, enabled her to contain her apprehension about the workplace challenges before her and gave her the confidence to enter it and begin the journey to 'fitting in'. She used dance as a strategic process not only to interpret life but also to inform the way she dealt with it.

Later, when faced with the reality and challenges of classroom life as a first-year-out teacher, dance was again a strategic process that enabled Cassie to contain her despair, overcome her sense of defeat, and regain her emotional balance in order to claim her place within the classroom.

'During the lesson, thwarted and ashamed, Cassie slumped against the classroom wall ... Feeling like dust on a shelf, she wondered about the key to cooperation.

Looking at her students, Cassie's depression lifted with the dry realization that she was audience to a form of performance art. They are, she thought, A Study in Disruption. Then what am I ? .... Dance Novice, replied an inner voice. But I've never been a wallflower though, she thought, and re-entered the battle.'

'At the end of detentions, Cassie calmed herself with a deep breathing exercise that she had used prior to dance competition. Being centered was more important to her than a break and a cuppa. It was essential for maintaining her mask of quiet containment in front of her classes.'

The wallflower metaphor, which is embedded in the extended metaphor of dance, is fundamental to understanding Cassie's personal growth and in explaining her mindset when rejecting defeat and alienation. The wallflower metaphor also functions as a super objective in her life - a major motivation that determines and explains her actions. She wants to participate in and be part of the varied forms of relationship to which she can belong rather than be isolated or alienated.

In the excerpt below, Cassie uses the language of dance metaphorically as a way to process and comprehend the conflict between her parents. In the narrative, this occurs as a flashback sequence.

'Argument, fierce and hot, spilled from the house. Her father sounded in right form. Without entering, Cassie visualised the scene. It was a chilling dance. This version of her father was brutal in his language, huge in his gesture and movement; volume was the preferred weapon of assault. Her mother’s responses were controlled and selected. She sheltered under a cloak of martyrdom occasionally twisting out of it like a matador uses his cape to deflect the bull’s ire. From his tone and the drop in volume, Cassie knew that her father was bloodied. The battle would continue until one gained superiority, another sort of kill.'

By making connections between her parents' conflict and the ritual connections within a bullfight, and then interpreting that conflict as stylised dance form, Cassie not only filtered the violence through a dark metaphoric lens but insulated herself from the violence to a degree. The choice of language and use of metaphor: a 'chilling dance form', 'matador', 'bull's ire', and 'another sort of kill', shows that some relationships or forms of belonging can be destructive.

This sets up a counter-proposition, a direct contrast to the proposition that Belonging is always a positive experience.

'This version of her father was brutal in his language, huge in his gesture and movement; volume was the preferred weapon of assault. Her mother’s responses were controlled and selected. She sheltered under a cloak of martyrdom occasionally twisting out of it like a matador uses his cape to deflect the bull’s ire.'

The negative connections of the bullfight clearly involved knowing the language of and reading the codes of interaction, boundaries, and balance and timing in responding during the interaction that are part of a relationship. (NB There are strong parallels here to what happens in The Crucible in Act 3).

This processing of the parental conflict as a 'chilling dance form' shows Cassie's acceptance that conflict, although a negative way of connecting, was an aspect of their relationship. It also shows that she realised it injured the health of the relationship dynamic. This scene also shows a relationship (belonging) can occur without members having equal status and that the status of a person can ebb and flow. 'The battle would continue until one gained superiority, another sort of kill.'

The counter-proposition that Belonging can be a negative experience extends to the dynamic between a group with destructive intent and their target. Obviously, the target is alienated from the group, but the negative experience may also extend to and corrupt some group members. In In and Out of Step, this is seen in the behaviour of Cassie's 10G class, the sexual harassment within the workplace that evolved from locker-room camaraderie, and the challenging of sexual boundaries by some characters that began in the guise of a positive relationship but became subverted. Similarly, this type of subversion occurs in Miller's The Crucible in the factions in the Salem community, the girls (Acts1-3), and the court (Act 3).

You will find the complete discussion in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or from Amazon



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    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Reflection on 'In and Out of Step'

    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Set between 1988-1990, In and Out of Step’s thesis picks-up on a period of significant change in Australian social and cultural history which mirror the wider western world. The novel reflects the popular perceptions of the era and explores reaction to changing roles and values, the relationship between generations, gender dynamics, and power in society through contrasting character perspectives.  

    The novel charts Cassie Sleight's (rhymes with slate) and her generation’s journeys in new and uncharted territory in their relationships: personal, social, and work after the second wave of the women’s movement.

    Life forces the women in my novels to reassess what they are doing, how they are doing it, and to evaluate who they are and want to be.

    Through Cassie’s experiences, the reader is entertained and provoked to consider the perceptions held and dualities of women’s roles in western society. That may suggest that this is a non-fiction work masquerading as fiction. However, this aspect is firmly set in the external world of the story and Cassie’s experiences.

    In and Out of Step explores:

    • how identity and relationships are shaped by the way gender operates and gender differences
    • how place—geography, attitudes, values, and culture—shape people’s lives and actions
    • the culture that supports and promotes sexual harassment in the workforce and social spheres
    • changing perceptions of gender roles
    • adapting to change in oneself and the wider world
    • the personal, social, and workplace influences that contribute to change.

    My novelsIn and Out of Step, Life Song, Song Bird portray the diverse and changing realities of women in the time the novels are set: 1980-1990, 1996-1998, 2000-2002.  The stories are anchored in the social and historical context of each period.

    Read more

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Life Song - a story of metamorphosis

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel.  Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey. 

    At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of  the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.

    At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.

    'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'

    Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.

    The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.

    Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.

    I recommend you listen to two songs from that novel: Sunshine Days and Life Song (A Vision Splendid) to get a feel for this story.

    There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.

    As part of your journey in reading this blog,  I suggest you listen to Move On.  In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.

    Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song


    Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it.  The Keimera Series is an opus.

    Keimera does not in any way allude to chimeraa monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.

    If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby.  Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.

    Read more

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    The story behind my song 'The Flame'

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    'The Flame' features in my novel ‘Song Bird’. In the novel, it is sung by rock legend Rick Brody who serenades Nikki Mills (the central character in the novel). In real life, it was sung by Funnie Williams and Thanapat Yarchartoen (aka Film). I produced the song through Karma Sound Studios in Thailand.

    BACKSTORY TO 'THE FLAME' - The Singer or the Song?

    In ‘Song Bird’ and its prequel 'Life Song', Nikki Mills - the Girl from Oz - is a survivor of domestic violence. Once an innocent, she believed the very convincing serenade of her first significant love, Terry Kikby. Long before Nikki met Rick, his song 'The Flame' resonated with her.  She believed that Rick's songs really expressed his own ideas and values.

    Having been at the top of the music industry for sixteen years, Rick finds his music is dropping in the charts. Defined by his 'bad boy' image, he has lost sight of his real self. Consequently,  his music has lost its connection with his fan base. Interested in Nikki as a woman as much as in her skill as a lyricist, Rick collaborates with Nikki on a new album. 

    Flattered by Rick's interest in her and impressed by 'The Flame', Nikki embarks on a relationship with him.  A subplot in the novel explores the ramifications of that decision.  Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had?  Will Nikki be hurt or healed by the relationship with him?  The answers are found in my novel 'Song Bird'. 

    Readers of this blog may also find the pop rock song 'Masque' and interesting insight into Rick and Nikki's relationship issues.

    I currently have 8 songs on CD Baby and iTunes. You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. Online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

    Read more

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  • Christine's music update


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  • 4 out of 4 stars review for 'Song Bird'


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