An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Author Christine M Knight's Blog

Friday, March 20, 2015

BELONGING: PART A - The Quest to Belong

Friday, March 20, 2015

This blog entry is an excerpt from BELONGING: A RELATED TEXT COMPANION to 'IN AND OUT OF STEP', on sale through Amazon.

Focus:     the protagonist - Cassie Sleight

Techniques:     third person narration, characterization, context (place and situation), metaphor, dialogue, flashback scenes, plot action, choice of language

    From the first page of the novel, the author signals, through third person narration, that the protagonist is in the role of observer (page 3) and distanced from the world and people around her. The reader sees what Cassie observes and shares her perspective of the worlds that she is entering: the high school setting, the Madison House community, and the wider township. This discussion will focus on Cassie's quest to belong in the school setting.
    From the outset of the school plot, it is clear that the protagonist, Cassie Sleight, a championship dancer, does not see herself as a high school teacher and feels that she does not belong to the teaching profession.
    As a coping strategy (a strategic process) to help her overcome her feeling of being an outsider, she chose to reframe her view of the world she was entering by likening her finding a place in that world to the dance floor and a 'form of dance' - metaphoric thinking. That coping strategy gave her confidence in dealing with a new environment because it focused on similarities rather than differences in her old and new world. In addition, she also saw the means to inclusion as a matter of wearing the right costume and knowing the steps of the dance. The author uses the extended metaphor of dance to represent Cassie's coping strategies.

    After locking the car door, she looked down at her clothing: a simple white shirt, a flowing denim skirt, and her favourite black shoes. 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. (page 4)

    Cassie's sense of being an outsider is exacerbated by the attitudes and values of the community that she seeks to join. On the first day of the school year, male students reinforce that she does not belong in the male world of the English faculty to which she is headed.

    The stairs leading into the English block were congested with students.
    ‘Excuse me, would you mind moving so I can get through?’
    ‘You in the right place, Miss? This is the English block entrance. The Home Economics stairs are over there and the Music and Art are near the main office.’
    ‘I know. Now, would you mind moving?’
    Legs moved and an aisle appeared amidst the sea of bodies.
    Halfway up the stairs, she heard snatches of adolescent conversation.
    ‘Geez! Tail bait in English, again!’
    ‘Fun and games ahead, boys.’
    ‘How long do you reckon this one will last?’
    (page 24)

    A sinister note is established through dialogue when the boys make reference to 'fun and games ahead' and 'How long will this one last?' The question emphasizes the outsider status of women teachers in the English faculty.

    Cassie's outsider status is further reinforced by the behaviour of the men of the English faculty when they arrive that day.
    The men, when they arrived, were noisy. They acknowledged Cassie’s shy greeting but then ignored her. Camped in clusters around the centre table, their conversations interlaced and centred on cars, women, and the coming year’s football team. Feeling overwhelmed, Cassie withdrew to the window again. She found being ignored comforting. It gave her time to learn about the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers. (page 25-26)
    While the men's behaviour reinforced Cassie's outsider status, narration emphasized her role as observer of the action. This scene also shows that exclusion is not always a negative experience. Feeling overwhelmed by the new experience, Cassie found 'being ignored comforting'. It gave her the opportunity 'to observe the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers.'
    Cassie's first term experience in the school shows that belonging is not a matter of having a desk within a staffroom (a physical place) or a class allocation (a role within the community).
    A sense of belonging requires shared values,  behaviours, and culture - behavioural notions (an insight). A number of behaviours within the adult workplace contributed to Cassie's feelings of exclusion. Disrespect for her personal space made her feel physically uncomfortable in the staffroom.
    Focusing now on her workspace, Cassie saw the discard of crates and some of her things on the floor and under the table. Gesturing at her things on the floor Cassie said, ‘Didn’t anyone notice this or did you all just step over it? I don’t care what this table used to be, it’s my work station now!’ The denial of her ownership of her faculty working space by her male colleagues emphasized their view that she did not belong there. (pages 74-75)
    Failure of the adult community in which she worked to share corporate knowledge and to provide collegiate support exacerbated the problems she experienced in the classroom and heightened her feeling that she did not belong (insights). A person's emotional response to the behaviours in the world in which she/he lives and or works is another factor that shapes whether of not a person feels alienated or belongs.  
    Added to this, it appeared that there was an underlying agenda within management to force Cassie and the other women to leave. Management's failure to provide adequate professional orientation put her at a distinct disadvantage within the faculty and the classroom. She did not understand how the discipline process, the marking process, or the established codes of interaction worked. She also didn't know the etiquette of dealing with management or the interaction necessary to get things done. This set her up for conflict and confrontation with management. The insight is that if the community doesn't accept you, then you cannot belong. If you don't understand the codes of interaction or 'the rules of operation' then you cannot be accepted.   

   Therefore, knowledge of a place as well as knowledge of the social and cultural forces operating within a place play an important part in a person’s struggle to belong especially when there are conflicting values and attitudes.

    Lack of knowledge and lack of understanding also shape how an outsider views the community and, at times, accepts isolation as a means (strategy) to deal with it.

    ‘You need to surface for air a lot more than you do. Bonds in the staff room are as important as control in your classes.’
    ‘I’m not comfortable in here.’
    ‘And you never will be unless you make the effort, Cassie.’ (page 55)

    In the classroom, Cassie's outsider status is empathized by the non-compliant behaviour of her students. That behaviour denied her her role as teacher, the person in charge. She was made to feel an outsider.(page 41) This made her feel defeated and excluded. The author's:
•    description of her reaction 'Slumped against the classroom wall' symbolizes her temporary defeat
•    use of metaphor 'feeling like dust on a shelf' symbolizes her feeling of irrelevancy and being out of place
•    inclusion of Cassie's subtext shows the coping strategy that she used to deal with her sense of alienation  and emphasized Cassie's sense of alienation within the classroom.

    Summing up, Cassie found herself confronted by a range of unexpected issues in her new workplace. Tacit resistance to the inclusion of the women teachers in what had been one of the last bastions of male supremacy at Keimera High was a major barrier to her finding acceptance and her place within the faculty team and in the classroom. The cramped physical conditions in the staffroom (setting), the hostile behaviours of her male colleagues (characterisation), the related withdrawal of collegiate support and corporate knowledge about workplace practice (aspects of characterisation), rioting students in her classes (setting), evidenced her alienation and exclusion.

    The author shows that the barriers to Cassie's acceptance in the workplace and the related adversities that she faced were fundamental to her role change from observer of life to participant in it (insight).
    So, what did Cassie do to overcome those barriers?

    Overwhelmed by the foreignness of the setting, the lack of acceptance in the workplace, and without the option of returning home, she persevered at working for change despite feeling isolated and, at times, sickened by her situation. At work, she prioritised the obstacles before her, with survival in the classroom as the foremost obstacle to overcome. She then adopted a trial and error approach to problem solving in the classroom. She shelved everything else for the 'too hard basket' and avoided contact with the men at the heart of other issues. Solutions to her classroom predicament were not found readily.

    During this challenging time, Cassie found relief from the compounding trauma of her workplace predicament through the familiar ritual of everyday life outside the workplace and the developing connections with the people in her personal and social worlds as well as in the weekly phone contact with her parents. This sustained her in her struggle.

Excerpt 1
    She saw little of her male colleagues beyond the blur of the rush (to and from class). Samantha (another teacher) shared a wry comment whenever they passed, usually eliciting an unexpected laugh. Rajes, serene in her progress, always took time for encouragement. (p45)

Excerpt 2
    In the tradition of generations before them, George and Minna Madison (her landlords) had afternoon tea on the front verandah in the summer months. For Cassie, it was a period of respite from her workday stresses. (page 47)
    Cassie made progress in her quest to belong only after she stopped being an observer of her workplace and when she sought to overcome the difficulties she faced there. As a result of dealing with the challenges confronting her, Cassie changed her way of thinking about and seeing the opposition to and exclusion of her. When she recast her students as individuals rather than as a wall of resistance (metaphor) or as a group of people who outnumbered her, she made headway in gaining control and claiming her place as a teacher. The author used wall here as it represents an impassable barrier. In the case of her classes, Cassie's mindset had been one of the barriers to her making satisfactory connections with her students.     

    Similarly, Cassie's mindset was a barrier to her 'fitting into' the faculty team. It was only when Cassie recast her male colleagues' persistent encroachment on her workspace as random acts of thoughtlessness that she found the strength to be assertive and stake her claim. By rejecting a paradigm where the men were cast as powerful aggressors in her world, she also stopped seeing herself as a victim and as powerless. Gaining inclusion within the faculty team did not solve the complications and challenges in Cassie's life: work, social and personal, but it did provide a sense of security and empowerment.

    Those changes in mindset caused a change in Cassie's super objective (the motivating force behind her actions). At the start of the novel, Cassie's super objective was the need to find 'a safe harbour' (page 162). That super objective had led to her emotional shutdown after a significant trauma in her mid teens and was revealed through flashback scenes. Her 'safe harbour' objective led to her becoming a shadow of her former self.

    As the plot action progresses and as she dealt with the issues and people in her new world, Cassie's understanding of herself developed. She realised that she had previously withdrawn from life and had assumed the role of observer and become a wallflower.

    In rejecting the roles of observer and wallflower, Cassie re-engaged with life. The re-engagement is reflected by:
•    her search for ways in which to gain control of her rioting classes,
•    her standing up to Coachman (her boss),
•    her standing up the men of the faculty who denied her claim to a staff room workspace,
•    her direct rejection the sexually harassing behaviours of some of the men in the faculty and demand that she be treated appropriately,
•    her lobbying of Coachman and demand that he deal with student accusations of sexual harassment by Talbut,
•    her insistence that Van der Huffen cease being an outsider during his friend's crisis and provide the support that Selton needed during the latter's personal crisis and loss (Chapter 25, pages 253-260),
•    her return to the dance floor and later to dance competition, and
•    her attempts to provide support Samantha Smith after the rape and re-engage her in life (Chapter 41).

     The author used the wallflower metaphor to represent Cassie's growth in self-knowledge. Cassie realised she would only find her 'safe harbour' if she put aside her fears and participated in life and the varied forms of relationship to which she could belong rather than withdrawing from life and accepting isolation or alienation - a significant insight into herself and life. It was through re-engaging with life as demonstrated by assertiveness that she ultimately found a place where she belonged. (insight)

    At the same time, the other women teachers' predicament, which mirrored Cassie's experiences in the workplace, triggered a change in the behaviour of the men. It became evident to some of the men that the covert strategy to deny acceptance of the women was unfair and could not continue. A grudging respect for the women evolved and some collegiate support followed culminating in some of the men saying 'this is not on'. (Chapter 19 starting page 187) Familiarity and respect that comes from perseverance are factors in gaining acceptance and inclusion.

Insight: It was only when Cassie rejected the role of outsider, stopped being a passive observer, and actively participated in the world around her that she found her place and achieved her sense of belonging.

Note: The author used parallel and contrasting subplots that dealt with Cassie's and other characters' experiences at Madison House and the school to explore further aspects of belonging and to extend on insights into her themes, including the concept of belonging.

You can buy a paperback or eBook copy of BELONGING RELATED TEXT COMPANION through

You can buy a paperback or eBook copy  'In and out of Step' from any bookseller online. The Book Depository has free shipping.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Distinctly Visual - dance video analysis

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The dance video at is a 90 second dance representation of the central plot of the novel In and Out of Step by Christine M Knight and its key ideas-belonging, alienation, finding a place.

To understand the dance video, you need an overview of the novel's plot.

1. In and Out of Step (the novel) - Plot Overview

In and Out of Step introduces readers to Cassie Sleight, a young woman who has shut down emotionally after being scarred by a sexual encounter in her mid-teens. Knowing only that she did not want a life in which men inevitably lead and women follow, Cassie leaves the familiar circle of friends and family in search of a seachange. Having discarded her dreams of international dance championships, she accepts a position on the English staff of the local high school in the seemingly idyllic coastal town of Keimera. She is prepared to risk going from the frying pan and into the fire to discover where she belongs.

In Keimera, Cassie meets Mark Talbut, a man Knight describes as struggling to be modern yet threatened by power shifts in the workplace and in society. Cassie’s interactions with Mark and the men in his world cause her to assess her reactions both as a woman and a teacher, and the inevitable questions arise.

In love, at work, and at play – where do you draw a line? Will Cassie find the courage to come to terms with her past, recover from sexual trauma, and have a healthy relationship? How does a society in which dysfunctional workplaces rife with gender, power, and sexual issues change?  

In and Out of Step, examines the world in which Cassie Sleight lives, how that world shapes a person for good and bad, and how absolutely every experience contributes to the journey.

The novel explores the very real difficulty a young woman in a new workplace faces when dealing with a man who is perceived as a ‘good guy’ by his male workmates in a time of changing culture. It looks at the very real difficulty in unmasking the wolf in sheep's clothing.  The story explores how women who use sex as coinage in the workplace can influence male perceptions of women and blur understanding of what is behaviourally appropriate. In and Out of Step explores the widening ripple effect on the women and the girls living in such a world.

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2. Analysis of the dance video in terms of its central theme: BELONGING and in terms of the way its distinctly visual features contribute to and convey meaning

Cassie Sleight viewed life as a series of dances. The opening still frame of the dance video represents Cassie Sleight’s view of the world.

The dance begins in the same way that the novel ‘In and Out of Step’ does. In the opening pages of the novel, Cassie observes her world through the frame of her car window. As in this dance video, she is unseen because she is an outsider. Her view of the world is filtered through the metaphor of dance.

When the dance begins, Cassie Sleight is off-stage and out of the shot. She does not belong to the group. 

The opening dance scene shows that Cassie sees her world as male dominated, a world where men lead and women follow. In the opening seconds of the dance, the men are positioned in the foreground symbolising their leadership role and dominance. Women are placed in the background behind the men, symbolising their follower status.

In the opening freeze frame, the female dancers are in off-balance positions and dependent on their male counterparts who hold power in the dance. The centre male dancer is unpartnered. He represents Jake Dominguez from the novel ‘In and Out of Step’. As the dance begins, the Jake dancer observes the ritual of the dance and the relationships between genders.  His observation is conveyed by a sharp head turn. This represents how values and attitudes about relationships are transmitted. That is, we learn about how gender relationships work and how to belong in society from the people around us.

In each dance couple, the male controls the dance. One man twirls his partner, keeping her in the background while the other male dancer overpowers his partner by placing her in a dip. Both women are passive in the dance.  The dance then progresses to the dancers moving in unison. During this part of the dance sequence, the women dance with their backs to the men but remain in mirrored unison. This represents how indoctrinated they are in the ritual of the dance. The men always remain in the lead.  This shows that within a community belonging involves understanding and acceptance of the community's ritual, language, and conformity to its codes of behaviour.  

As the dance progresses, the three men also dance in unison, representing that they have been programmed in the steps. Both male and female dancers are attuned to the rhythm of the dance. They are in step with one another even though the type of steps varies according to gender.

Most of the dancers are costumed in black. Costume reinforces the uniformity in this society and that they belong in that world.  One male dancer is dressed in a white T-shirt and black trousers. This represents that although he is accepting of the culture, he is also different in some way. This variation in costume signals that the society is undergoing subtle change.

At 0.16 seconds in the video, a young woman in red enters the dance scene. This dancer represents Cassie Sleight, the protagonist in the novel ‘In and Out of Step’. She is not dancing and does not move in time to the music. Her costume represents that she is the odd one out in this community and does not belong. Her movement also reinforces that she is not in step with the people in that world, that she does not belong.  She is in fact passing through that world to an unknown destination.

The Cassie dancer is intercepted by the unpartnered male dancer who attempts to control Cassie dancer’s movement and compel her to join him as his partner in the dance of life. She moves in step with him for a short time, and he controls the dance. Her joining with him in dance represents her knowledge of that style of dance and that she has learnt the passive role that women play in it. Jake dancer’s contact with her is passionate and powerful and shown through gesture and contact. At one stage in the dance, the Jake dancer overpowers the Cassie dancer; she ‘swoons’ in his arms in response to his actions. This sequence is a metaphoric depiction of their relationship in the novel and their sexual encounter when she was sixteen. When Cassie dancer regains her feet and balance, she rejects him. That rejection is represented through gesture and strong powerful movement. At this stage, she moves out of step with Jake dancer and stops dancing. The cessation of the dance represents Cassie dancer’s rejection of that female role in dance as well as her rejection of the code of behaviour needed to belong in that type of community.

At 0.33 seconds in the dance, the dance group return to the screen. They represent the world she knows and that she is leaving. The dance is choreographed so that Cassie dancer is seen to be going in a different direction and out of step with the mainstream of dancers. The metaphors ‘going against the stream’ and ‘odd one out’ are made literal in this scene through the creation of dramatic images that depict her alienation.

At 0.36 seconds, Cassie dancer is alone on the screen, dancing. This represents the transition period between the world she left and in which she grew up to a new world. In the novel, Cassie Sleight rejects the traditional role of women in the world that she grew up in and resolved to leave. She left the familiar circle of friends and family in search of a sea change and began a career as an English teacher on the faculty of high school in a coastal town south of Sydney.

At 40 seconds, the video returns to the dance of traditional society. This section of the dance represents the world to which Cassie dancer has moved. It is exactly the same as the world she left – male dominated and women following the lead of men and indoctrinated in the ritual of relationships. Like the world she has left, there is a male dancer in this world (white T-shirt) who belongs to that world but differs subtly from the group. This variation in costume signals that the society she has entered is also undergoing subtle change. 

At 48 seconds in the dance, Cassie dancer re-enters. The dancers are positioned in a line.  The same set of dancers are used to show that the same type of people exist everywhere. This section of the dance represents Cassie dancer's quest to find her place in life's dance. She engages with each dancer in this new world in search of a place in life’s dance but moves on whenever her partner tries to control the dance or exert power over her.

At 1.04 minutes in the dance, Cassie dancer comes face to face with Michael dancer, costumed in white T-shirt and black trousers. In the dance sequence with him, neither dancer leads. They appear as a mirror reflection, representing their like-mindedness and similarity in values.  They are equal in status. This shows that similarity in values and attitudes play an important part in a person's sense of connection to others and a developing sense of belonging.

At 1.09 minutes, Cassie dancer surrenders power to Michael dancer as he lifts her. The lift relationship reflects the trust between the dancers. It also represents a trigger moment that led to a change in the nature of that society's dance and the way the genders relate to one another. 

The lighting flashes at this point in the dance video signalling a new stage in dance and in gender relationships. Cassie dancer is joined by Michael dancer on the floor. This is a new style of dance although it has elements of the traditional dance in it. They are joined by other dancers from that society; this symbolizes the change that has occurred in this community. The dance shows that Cassie dancer was a catalyst for change. 

The dance ends in a freeze, a diamond shape with men and women in alternating positions in the line-up. The screen dissolves into fire and then to the book cover for ‘In and Out of Step’.  This signifies that Cassie went from the frying pan and into the fire to discover her place in life’s dance. It also shows that although she has found a place to belong, that doesn't mean life is without the heat of conflict. 

Buy 'Belonging: A Relate Text Companion to In and Out of Step' from The Book Depository

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Blog 9 - Wanting to Belong

Monday, April 22, 2013

There are different kinds of belonging and differing motivations for wanting to belong. This complexity is explored in the subplot dealing with Kate Patricia Denford's membership in the Surf Life Saving Movement and later through her relationships with the younger generation at Madison House. Characterisation as well as place and situational contexts are techniques used to examine this theme.

This blog will discuss Kate's decision to join the Surf Life Saving Movement and the consequences. Key words for the Area of Study are highlighted in bold & blue. Kate's decision was made with her attention focused on the purpose of the movement and related activity, that is: saving lives and community service, rather than on the relationships that would be forged there. I've used forged rather than formed because forge has connotations of a material changing shape and state when extreme heat and pressure/power is applied to it.

Although accepted as a member by the Surf Life Saving Movement at an organisational level, Kate is faced with resentment and rebuff by the male members at the Keimera club. The intensity of male animosity to her membership is reflected through the behaviour and language of Gary Putnam, an otherwise easy-going man, who insists on calling her Ken. The nickname attributes masculine qualities to Kate, denies her gender, and denies her a place in the club on her own terms. It reinforces the view that only men should be in the club.

Readers first meet Kate when Michael brings her home. Cassie meets Kate after having her curiosity piqued by Minna and George Madison's negative reaction to Kate's arrival. Gary appears on the scene for similar reasons.

'Cassie closed her book. She told herself that she was thirsty and walked around the verandah to the rear of the house.
The girl, a brunette bombshell, was flirting with Michael over a sponge cake and iced tea.
"Oh, hi," Cassie said, pretending to be surprised, "I got a bit thirsty outside."
"Cassie," Michael said from his seat, "this is a good friend of mine ..."
The interior door swung open, and Gary entered. He came up short, obviously surprised.
"Didn't realise anyone was here." He gave a Mickey Mouse laugh and struck a casual pose. "What are you doing here, Ken?"
"G'day, Mike and I are mates. He used to be my dance partner."
Dancing? Cassie looked at the woman. "Where do you -?"
"Does that mean you'll be dropping out of the club?" Gary spoke over the top of Cassie.
"Surf Life Saving is in my blood. I can do both"
"Oh," Gary did not attempt to disguise his disappointment.'

Later at the pub, when Cassie asks Kate about the source of Gary's hostility Kate's explanation provides the background context or back-story.

'A few years back, one of the women in the movement used the Anti-discrimination Act to force the Life Saving Club to open up the senior ranks to women."
"Whoa!" Michael said and then after consideration added, "That must have made them feel emasculated."
"It didn't exactly endear women to them."
"And they're still resentful?" Cassie asked.
"Yep." Resignation and an element of defiance coloured Kate's response. Then more upbeat, she added, "My dad's favourite saying is 'You might as well stand and fight because if you run, you will only die tired.' I am my father's daughter."
Cassie liked Kate's courage and the philosophy underlying her action made sense. Was that the way, she wondered, for women to achieve acceptance in a male-dominated institution?'

The use of contrasting perspectives from Michael and Cassie regarding Kate's situation reinforce gender divisions regarding the pathway to inclusion and acceptance in domains that were once exclusive, in this case, previously male arenas.

Earlier in the story, Michael was portrayed as a contemporary man who accepts gender equality. His shocked reaction to Kate's explanation focuses the reader on the outcome of compelling a person or group of people ( in this case, men) to a course of action that they otherwise reject. Emasculated is used metaphorically rather than literally. It highlights that the men concerned were rendered less male by humiliation. His insight emphasises the reduction and removal of male power through the legislation.

Cassie's workplace experience in one of the last bastions of male supremacy (the local high school) enables her to appreciate the depth of the male reaction - lingering resentment which is very hard to dislodge. As an aside, if you have ever tried to get glitter off your face/hands/clothing, you'll appreciate the power of such resentment.

Cassie'a experience as a first-year-teacher adds further dimension to Kate's situation. Although tacit resistance to female membership is not discussed in this pub scene, the reader brings contextual knowledge to it and is able to see the juxtaposition of female character experiences and the similarity in situations albeit one is a high school workplace.

This subplot explores the multi-dimensional aspects underlying a desire to belong. For Kate, membership in the Surf Life Saving Movement is as much about

  • her enjoyment of surfing
  • her skill and strength as a swimmer
  • her enjoyment in community service
  • continuing a family tradition,
  • reinforcing shared interests and experiences with her father, a single parent, thereby strengthening that bond
  • displaying courage and retaining her father's pride because she didn't 'run away', and
  • satisfying her belief that membership in any group should be based on ability and attributes and not on gender.

For Gary and his male cohort, Kate's membership, and by extension that of other women, is on sufferance and does not reach acceptance. This is clearly demonstrated by Gary's reasons for nominating Kate for the Surf Club captaincy (p325)

' ... to see Big Dave about nominating Ken for the captaincy. I wanted his support. It'd be an act of protest over the captain's failure to organise meets, schedules, and surf patrols.'

Gary's attitude towards Kate ultimately evolves into acceptance when he comes to recognise her competency and through their mutual interest and commitment to having the surf club function effectively.

You will detailed analysis in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or fromAmazon

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Blog 7 - Conflict and Disempowerment

Monday, February 25, 2013

Belonging to more than one group can cause conflict and disempowerment when the boundaries become blurred. Caught in such circumstance, an individual may find it difficult to draw a line and make a stand against questionable or inappropriate behaviour because there is a risk to self.

This blog looks at the school setting again as well as aspects of characterisation (techniques) in 'In and Out of Step' and some of the issues related to BELONGING.

School management is comprised of concentric rings: each ring functions independently but also interactively. Managers often have membership in several rings. They are viewed as 'leaders among equals' and they usually lead through influence rather than direction. In order to lead by influence, school managers need to maintain their membership within the faculty team - they need to belong. Coachman's changing status within his faculty reflects that such membership is a delicate and difficult one and can lead to exclusion and loss of influence if mismanaged or to the leader becoming compromised.

When Coachman assumes a supervisory role, his staff label him The Hitman, and he is subject to mockery behind his back as in the Fickle Finger of Fate scene. Having been seen as a member of their group, Coachman's decision to temporarily change roles and exercise his supervisory power results in group resentment. The resentment is a response to the ambiguity of his position in the group.

His staff recognise that Coachman's flexing of 'the power muscle' is often linked to his fluctuating status and influence within the school executive. Selton and Van der Huffen's satiric commentary in their HG and Roy persona use Coachman's predicament for levity while understanding and accepting the situation as well as Coachman's need for status. (Ch 31)

Because Coachman is, at times, focused on maintaining his membership within the faculty, he compartmentalises his roles, usually restricting the supervisory one to interviews with his staff in his office separate from the faculty space. The place symbolically cues his staff which role he in.

New to teaching and to that faculty, Cassie doesn't understand Coachman's mode of operation. In Chapter 8, when she approaches Coachman in the staff room in his role of supervisor, she breaks etiquette without realising it. Consequently, she is rebuffed. From his perspective, her action denies him his group membership. With Coachman in the role of group member, Talbut then sexually objectifies Cassie with ribald humour, brief though his response was. His behaviour goes unchecked because to censure Talbut would compromise Coachman's acceptance by the group as a member. It also goes unchecked because male culture lagged the 1984 legislation against it.

Coachman's failure to censure Talbut's behaviour at that time unintentionally cues acceptance of sexual harassment. Subsequently, Coachman has difficulty dealing with complaints by his female staff about sexual harassment later in the story. If he were to censure his male staff, his continued membership in the group would be put at risk and his effectiveness in leading through influence diminished. As a result 'shoot the messenger' and 'ostrich with head in sand' syndromes developed. The unacceptable behaviour by some of the male staff continues unchecked and appears condoned.

The school subplot goes on to explore the options that women and men face in that circumstance, the ways in which the women in the 'In and Out of Step' were catalyst for change, and how both the men and women try to find a way to belong. The novel also explores the dilemma of the bystander, someone who belongs to the group but is a silent witness to the escalating events. Cassie, Selton, and Van der Huffen all face a similar dilemma to Mary Warren of 'The Crucible' - the blurring of boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable practice and the reactions to and pressures on someone who actually draws a line. Of course, there is a difference in scale in consequences.

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 fromAmazon

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Blog 6.2 - Reflections on Dance, Connections and Change

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In the 1990s when involved in background research for In and Out of Step, I was struck by the way traditional gender roles were reinforced during the process of learning ballroom dance even though in non-dance environments there had been significant gains in gender equality. Students came to the dance floor as ‘equals in ignorance’ and the ritual of role was imposed on them. As dance novices, girls and women were drilled with, “Whatever you do, don’t lead! Be alert to your partner’s cues and submit to his intent”. This advice contrasted with the reality of the dance floor. Male partners, irrespective of their age, seemed quite happy to let their female counterparts lead if that meant the male avoided the embarrassment of being visibly out of step on the dance floor.

The traditional gender perspective embedded in dance lessons seemed to be contrary to my own dance experience where both male and female dancers responded to music’s rhythm and relied on one another to know the options for steps and patterns. As skills developed among the ballroom dancers whom I knew, dance seemed to be more a conversation and dialogue about partnership than an act of female submission to a male lead. Yet, the traditional gender biased perspective about roles went unchallenged in lessons in the 1990s despite changed societal views, a great example of the unthinking transmission of values from one generation to the next.

My research revealed that, in life and on the dance floor, attuned gender interaction was lost, especially as the complexity of the dance increased, when one person appropriated control and power of the dance and required blind following. In such instances, the dance visibly broke down. Such controlling partners also suffered a decline in the number of willing partners. As an aside, it is interesting that during the second wave of the women's movement that dance styles broke away from male dominated lead to just individuals on the dance floor moving in response to rhythm rather than the codes of a dance.

Consider the YouTube link, this scene represents, at a metaphoric level, the way a controlling figure loses the number of 'willing partners' when he requires 'blind following'. The dance sequence also illustrates that dance is a partnership.

Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom (1992), Jean Auel's The Land of Painted Caves, and my In and Out of Step explore the pressure within a group on participants to comply with the conventions that govern a group's behaviour and to follow the leader. Challenges to conventions by a minority faction within the group can cause conflict and disharmony.

In The Land of Painted Caves, Jean Auel shows that these splits and rifts result in the formation of new tribes. When you think about it, in its broadest sense, it is most probably the reason we have different nations, religions, ethnicity, culture, and war. Strictly Ballroom shows that unthinking adherence to rules and conventions can stifle creativity and innovation. Members of the group become so wedded to the routine that they resent and resist change. When a catalyst arises for change this then can lead to division and alienation. The school subplot in In and Out of Step explores how differences within a group can function as a catalyst for change. For example, when the three women teachers join the previously all male English faculty, the resultant challenges to and change in the culture created a domino effect in conflict.

HSC students should consider tracing the story lines of Coachman, Talbut, Selton, and Van der Huffen to find examples of the escalating conflict and how change occurs. I can't discuss the plot any further as it gives away the story which relies on the tension stemming from interest in what happens next.

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 fromAmazon

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blog 6.1 - Barriers to Belonging and overcoming them

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In this blog, I focus on characterisation and setting in 'In and Out of Step' as a means of exploring the barriers to belonging and overcoming them. Linked to this is the potential of an individual to bring people together and lower if not remove barriers through the use of language, thereby enriching the group. As noted in the earlier blogs on Belonging, Cassie Sleight, in seeking a seachange at the start of her teaching career, had also chosen exile for compelling, personal reasons. She then found herself confronted by a range of unexpected issues in her new workplace.

Tacit resistance to the inclusion of the women teachers in what had been one of the last bastions of male supremacy at Keimera High was a major barrier to her finding acceptance and her place within the faculty team. The cramped physical conditions in the staffroom, the hostile behaviours of her male colleagues, the related withdrawal of collegiate support and corporate knowledge about workplace practice, rioting students in her classes, and demanding workload exhausted any remaining reserve Cassie may have had to deal with further challenges. She didn't even have a personal workspace within the staffroom because of inadequate facilities. These factors made her feel excluded and contributed to her feelings of alienation.

So, what did Cassie do to overcome those barriers? Overwhelmed by the foreignness of the setting and without the option of returning home, she persevered at working for change despite feeling isolated and, at times, sickened by her situation. At work, she prioritised the obstacles before her, with survival in the classroom as the foremost obstacle to overcome. She then adopted a trial and error approach to problem solving in the classroom. She shelved everything else for the 'too hard basket' and avoided contact with the men at the heart of other issues.

Solutions to her classroom predicament were not found readily. During this challenging time, Cassie found relief from the compounding trauma of her predicament through the familiar ritual of everyday life and the developing connections with the people in her new world as well as in the weekly phone contact with her parents. This sustained her in her struggle.

'She saw little of her male colleagues beyond the blur of the rush (to and from class). Samantha shared a wry comment whenever they passed, usually eliciting an unexpected laugh. Rajes, serene in her progress, always took time for encouragement.' (p45)

'In the tradition of generations before them, George and Minna (Madison) had afternoon tea on the front verandah in the summer months. For Cassie, it was a period of respite from her workday stresses.'

Cassie made progress in dealing with the challenges confronting her only after she changed her way of thinking about and seeing the opposition to and exclusion of her. When she recast her students as individuals rather than as a wall of resistance or as a group of people who outnumbered her, she made headway in gaining control and claiming her place as a teacher. I've used wall here as it represents an impassable barrier. In this case, her mindset had been one of the barriers to Cassie making satisfactory connections to her students. Similarly, Cassie's ability to deal with the wider issues of the workplace grew out of her developing confidence in the classroom setting, a growth in her positive self-image, and her evolving sense of identity - all aspects of mindset.

Samantha Smith, another new teacher in the English faculty in a similar predicament to Cassie, functioned initially as a facilitator for Cassie in dealing with workplace issues and in bringing her into the faculty team. Apart from sharing her ironic view of their workplace through language when they passed during the day, Samantha advised in a shared time after work:

"At times, there is .... fellowship? You'll find it a lot better now than at the start. Talbut is inclusive not to mention incredibly supportive. Make the effort to spend more time in here in the breaks."
"I'll try."
"Not good enough. You're acting like teaching is a prison sentence without time off for good behaviour!"

In this dialogue, Samantha's perspective challenged Cassie's view of the men in the faculty, portraying the staffroom as a positive experience where there was fellowship, inclusion, and support. The scene illustrates that an individual can bring people together by reframing mindset.

The characterisation of Samantha Smith also provides a contrasting perspective on dealing with barriers that prevent belonging in a workplace. Like a number of women, Samantha viewed her sexual allure as coinage in the workplace. She used titillation to reduce her male colleagues' hostility to her presence when in the overcrowded staffroom.

Drawing on knowledge from experiences in other workplaces, Samantha targeted Mark Talbut as a potential ally. She relied heavily on her growing relationship with him and his status and authority as 2IC to gain some control over her defiant classes and to cement her place within the staffroom. She advised Cassie to follow her lead. For Cassie, however, the use of sex as coinage was counter to her character. Cassie did accept Samantha's advice to use Talbut as a mentor though.

Real change in attitudes to and inclusion of the women in the faculty team took time. It was the outcome of a series of shared experiences and developing rapport within the workplace. This is clearly demonstrated in the lead up to the Fickle Finger of Fate Award as well as in the scene itself.

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 fromAmazon

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blog 5 - Belonging: Dance as a ritual form of connection

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Belonging may involve a personal context that links to identity and a sense of completeness. For Cassie Sleight, dance allowed her to feel intense passion safely without fear of being overpowered and the related consequences - a loss of self. Belonging in the two excerpts below deals with her reconnecting to emotions long denied and the beginning of a return to a complete sense of personal identity.

'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.' p18

'Waiting for the kettle to boil, Cassie improvised a dance motif. It felt good to express herself in that way again. She realised that dance had been an anchor in her life. Its loss had definitely added to her suffering over the break-up with Jake.' p124

Cassie's return to a sense of completeness and recovery from emotional shutdown is traced, in part, through the metaphoric use of dance as a ritual form of connection in 'In and Out of Step'.

Likewise, John Proctor's personal metaphoric journey in Miller's 'The Crucible' also involved a reclaiming of aspects of self lost because of his adulterous affair with Abigail Williams.

Belonging is very much a shared experience. The text below explicitly draws attention to the bond between characters as well as the isolation and lack of direction a person feels when not part of the shared experience.

'Music, a Tom Jones’ oldie, drew Cassie to the lounge room. Minna stretched her back after pushing the armchairs closer to the walls. George rolled up the rug. That done, they dragged it to the windows. With a courtly air, George extended his hand to Minna. They stepped onto their homemade dance floor. Watching them, Cassie realised she really missed the ballroom dancing scene. Again, she saw the drift of her life since she had cut dance out.' p131

In the excerpt below, dance as a representation of shared experience, depicting a state of harmony and union, is achieved through the language of music and the codes of interaction embedded in choreography. Cassie recognises that, in dance, the union of two people can also involve a primal response, a sensuous pleasure that brings them closer when the codes of the dance are known.

'To Cassie, any choreography that allowed two people to become one, through the fluid movement of the dance, was beauty in motion. She was struck by the primitive element in the beat, and the sensual heat between Michael and his partner. He was the stronger of the two dancers but lacked Jake’s flair. Michael was good but not great. As for Kate, she was definitely an exhibitionist.' p140

Dance as a representation of the bonds between people is also depicted in the dance scenes throughout 'In and Out of Step'. At times, those bonds have a discordant quality as in the Apaché dance scene (page 343). At other times, dance is used to metaphorically represent the positive nature of those bonds.

'Marvin Gaye’s, I Heard It Through the Grapevine signalled The Merrilyn. Although Cassie loved this New Vogue slow foxtrot, she chose to sit it out and watch. It was always hard to dance with other partners after Michael. She liked the limited dance prescription to footwork, alignments and holds because it left scope for dancers to add their own expression through shaping and styling.

For Cassie, the dance was a love story between equals. She liked the intimacy and romance in the synchronised turns, the breakaway, and return. As a couple, they had beautiful body flight. Cassie envied their freedom and longed for the familiarity they had with other dancers in the studio who ceased to treat them as a floorshow. Overall, she thought theirs was an elegant hypnotic performance.' page 226

Natural harmony, equality and fraternity, joy, balance, and acceptance are aspects of the bonds depicted through dance in the above scene.

In the next example, Cassie is an outsider at Keimera dance studio and again in the role of observer. In order to belong to the group and join in the dance, she had to decode the language governing the dance and identify the 'codes' that controlled interaction.

'The studio floor was alive with dancers. They were involved in a progressive, changing partner at some unseen signal that only those initiated into the studio’s secrets recognised. Cassie had never seen it done with a Latin American dance before. She concentrated on the dancers trying to understand how it worked. This was not a simple case of the man leading. A group mentality seemed to be operating, and it was linked to the rhythm.' p215

Belonging is expressed through 'the floor was alive with dancers'; the reference to the dancers being initiated into the codes of dance; the sense of pleasure, reciprocation, and playful harmony between the dancers. The idea of belonging is also evoked in the next excerpt through the ritual of dance as a form of connection and nonverbal communication in an inarticulate community.

'The set was wild and lusty yet even graceless dancers observed the boundaries of its code. As Cassie was swung off her feet by one man and then another, she realised that the energy and emotion was a means of expression usually denied everyday people; in an inarticulate population, music and dance said what words could not.' p316

The above text empathizes there is communication through physical contact and a sense of belonging through following dance codes of interaction and being attuned to the mood of the dance/interaction. In this dance scene, the notion of belonging is represented metaphorically as a lusty/sensuous pleasure stemming from participants being in step with and attuned to one another and in time and attuned to the music. The last sentence also comments on the isolation people feel when they lack the ability to connect through the language of everyday life.

Cassie's quest to find her place in the sexually liberated world of the late 1980s brings her into conflict with 'proposals' by male characters that challenge her values. The following quote illustrates

the subjective nature of belonging

and the conflict that can arise from her acceptance of values transmitted by her parents - a generational clash.

'Cassie did not want to be a servile person with pre-sixties values. She did not think she was a prude though Coachman said she was. How could anyone confuse flattering attention with being groped? This was a dance she had to work out before she could manage the steps.' p145

Ritual as a form of connection is also explored from a different perspective and represented in a different form in the scenes dealing with Selton and Van der Huffen when they assume their HG and Roy persona in order to parody school life and the power play within in.

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, August 10, 2011

Blog 4 - Belonging: The Dance Metaphor

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blog 3 - Belonging Minority Group Issues - Alienation

Saturday, July 16, 2011

One of the settings created for 'In and Out of Step' is a high school. It represents a microcosm of society with diverse generations. Everyone has a school experience and can relate to that environment. The school subplot, in part, works as an extended metaphor about BELONGING.

The school in the novel is a static workplace (one of the last bastions of male supremacy in fact) where the culture has become entrenched. That workplace dynamic is stable. The men are secure in their knowledge of one another including their shortcomings. Their security and comfort stems from knowledge and acceptance of the established pecking order and the way the workplace functions. A locker-room mentality and behaviour exists.

That world is threatened when a minority group (in this case, women) enters the workplace.

During the drive to the boarding house, Cassie sifted through the day’s images. The staff room was cramped and hot. The men were a defensive pack obviously resentful of female intrusion. The English Head appeared to be a control freak.

The women arrive with their focus on the job. Like all workers, they were trained to do a job; issues related to BELONGING were not part of that training. Their very presence in the workplace requires a sensitivity that the men and management are not prepared for, have not thought about, or indeed care about. The women are an alien culture that was 'understood' from a distance.

The men not only resent the presence of the women but also experience discomfort because what they see as the 'natural order of the workplace' is upset. The men want to retain the status quo although not everyone is prepared to take countermeasures to achieve it. Some men choose to be sidelined in the tacit resistance - they become bystanders.

‘Most uncharitable of you,’ Van der Huffen responded, looking at Talbut and his group of men, ‘in word and planned deed.’
‘Shabby,’ Selton added.
‘You follow our drift?’ Van der Huffen said to the men, ‘A reflection of the ignoble spirit that drives —’
‘Give it a rest,’ Fuller said. ‘We get it! You’re not party to that book.’
‘Were Selton and I ever?’
‘And sadly the wheels are already wobbling on the fac¬ulty wagon,’ Talbut said. ‘So ladies, how did you find your classes?’

The other men don't openly plot to get rid of the minority group, but they don't compromise or give ground either. Therefore, what follows is a natural resistance to change in the hope that the

In real terms in the novel, that translated to a change in the way business was done within the faculty and the withdrawal of collegiate support for the newcomers that previously had been standard practice amongst the men. The women were given the hardest and worst jobs to do. They were denied access to corporate knowledge to do the jobs. The women became isolated and alienated from the corporate group, in this case the male English teaching staff. The passive aggression of the men translated to a lack of support for the women and a subsequent shift in attitudes toward classroom discipline. Consequently, the women were subjected to abuse and harassment and expected to 'go it alone'.

The treatment of the women mirrors the previously observed and learnt behaviours of the faculty men who are entrenched and indoctrinated in the wider school system and its processes. The Coachman subplot explores how the system reacts to efforts to achieve change. His recognition of the need for change involved a partial withdrawal from the larger group and its practices. Within the wider system, Coachman is subject to the same process of estrangement as the women.

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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Friday, July 15, 2011

Blog 2 - Exile

Friday, July 15, 2011


Belonging is a deep genetic drive. We are herd creatures first and foremost. You can see this in even the smallest of children who may not play together but like to play near each other.

The decision to leave the familiar circle of family and friends and move to a new area where you don't have any connections or any knowledge of the area rates high on the stress and isolation. The word bereft comes to mind for a person in such a situation. Bereft has connotations not just of a gnawing sense of loss but of an emptiness tinged with resignation to the new circumstance. That sense lingers on the edge of consciousness even when you're having a good time in your new landscape.

The theme of Belonging in 'In and Out of Step' is explored through characterisation, place context, the juxtaposition of perspectives and experiences, ritual, language, and through the extended metaphor of dance.

Part A

Focus: central character or protagonist

Techniques: characterisation, choice and use of context (place and situation), plot action, language, dialogue, use of flashback sequences, imagery, symbolism, the use of parallels and contrasts.


Cassie Sleight, a championship dancer, in seeking a seachange at the start of her teaching career, chose exile from her familiar circle of family, friends, and the dance world for compelling, personal reasons. Finding herself in an impossible situation, she opted to remove herself from the pain of it. Her pain stemmed from a change in relationship dynamics. She had found herself ousted from what had previously been a close relationship between three friends, one of whom she had considered as her soul mate (affinity). Feeling alienated and bereft, she left.

This is shown in the text by the use of contrasting characterisation and the back-stories (contextual information) of Cassie Sleight, Jake Dominguez, and Melissa Pratt. That characterisation and those back-stories show how personal values and expectations can cause conflict and result in the breakdown of relationships and alienation.

All three characters grew up in patriarchal homes - male dominated with women in traditional subservient roles. Cassie rejected the adult male and female role and relationship models of her parents' generation. She had seen the pain and disempowerment the women in that world experienced.

As children, Cassie had an affinity with Jake Dominguez and grew up with him as 'best mates'. Melissa, though a member of the friendship group did not share the close bonds held by Jake and Cassie. This is shown in the text through a flashback scene to their childhood:

The bite of winter certainly had little effect on Cassie and Jake’s games. Matched in indomitable spirit and rugged in woollen jumpers, they scaled monster trees, teeter-tottered on bikes along dam edges, and gallumped through paddocks, startling rabbits while cattle ruminated in the bending grasses. Melissa, timid and more interested in playing Barbies than adventure, lagged behind them, complaining. Under pressure from Leonie, Cassie and Jake modified their games to Hide-and-Seek so Melissa could play.

Immersed in her novel, Leonie knew little of the children’s friendship beyond the daredevil spirit of the duo and their resentment of Melissa’s intrusion. In later years, Leonie knew only that dance forged Cassie and Jake in partnership with Melissa an envious outsider (page 84).

Cassie and Jake's affinity is demonstrated by their like-mindedness in games, their shared desire for adventure, their inseparable friendship, and indomitable spirit. The word indomitable refers to a fearless and unconquerable spirit. Their relationship demonstrates the values underpinning the concept of belonging.

By contrast, Melissa's desire to be included in the friendship group demonstrates Melissa's perception that she belongs in the group. This is also the perception of Cassie's mother, Nancy, and her sister, Leonie. Melissa's perception is reflected by her complaining which represents a form of protest that her participation and interests were not considered and should have been. The fact that the children's games change to accommodate Melissa is a reflection of her claim on group membership and that she has a place within the small friendship group, albeit as a fringe member.

The excerpt clearly shows the difference between the concept and perception of belonging. It was Leonie's perception that Melissa belonged to the children's group that led to Cassie and Jake accommodating Melissa in play. Leonie was able to make Cassie and Jake include Melissa because of Leonie's role within the children's group and because the children were a subset of their respective parent's friendship group.

The excerpt also shows that from an early age, Melissa accepted and acted the role models and values in her world through Barbie games. The Barbie games symbolically represent preoccupations with body image, attractiveness, and acceptance of traditional female roles. Those interests and preoccupations place young Melissa as a potentially traditional female.

Jake's affinity with Cassie was also demonstrated in their teenage years when Cassie at sixteen experienced the grief associated with the death of a grandparent.

When her grandfather died a few months before her sixteenth birthday, she had not cried. At his funeral, the rest of the family had been awash with emotion. Her mother had been inconsolable and leant on her father. Leonie, her older sister, make-up tear-tracked and mascara running, had tried to provide support to Cassie who looked ill, but as the emotion of the service built, Leonie’s grief had given way to sobs. During the wake, Jake, Cassie’s soul mate from childhood, had found her sitting silently in her grandfather’s closet, inside Pop’s dark blue overcoat. (page 17)

Their affinity in the above excerpt is demonstrated by Jake's recognition of Cassie's emotional need, his subsequent search for her, his understanding of where she would seek solace, and his desire to comfort her. These behaviours are aspects of characterisation selected by the author to show the close bonds shared by this pair.

Cassie and Jake's relationship became increasingly contaminated by the transmitted values and expectations of the adult world around them - contextual aspects of place (physical, social, and psychological). Cassie and Jake increasingly clashed in the teenage years because Jake unthinkingly accepted the values of the male adult world around them while Cassie rejected them. In particular, Jake accepted his father's values and tried to live up to his father's expectations which were shaped by his father's culture (Spanish) and the attitudes of his father's generation. This is shown in the novel by:

Cassie knew all too well Mavis’ look. Jake’s mother and hers assumed the expression whenever their husbands flirted. Cassie had guarded against it when Jake followed his father’s lead. She knew even more the feeling: acid eating away the inner core of confidence. Was it always this way? Once possessed, always insecure?(page 146)

The metaphoric comparison to 'acid' emphasises the destructive impact of unfaithful male behaviours on women and their relationships. The use of the word 'possessed' equates marital relationships to male ownership rather than a relationship based on a mutual sense of belonging. Therefore, shared qualities that predispose people to belong together are not the sole determinant of whether or not a person ultimately feels she or he belongs. The values and attitudes of the world (place) in which a person lives also shape notions of identity, human relationships, and a sense of belonging.

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 Buy 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.

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      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.

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      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. 

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    • Media article about Christine's music


      Christine's rock song 'Masque' featured in an article on Marquix TV ( and Avastar (
    • As engaging as Bohemian Rhapsody


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      Thank you for visiting Christine M Knight's website. She is not only an author of wonderful novels but also a song composer and producer.. We ask you to help Christine's music cross over to comm..

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