On how ghostwriting is like dancing, but dancing is so different from what you think

Men tell me things they don’t tell anyone else. I mean, it’s my job to listen to people tell the stories of their lives. And a lot of those people are men, and sometimes they say wildly sexist things, but it’s because these are their true beliefs. It’s not my job to enlighten them, and I never do. It’s my job to write a book about who they are, with no judgment. And trust me, I’ve written books for a lot of men whose beliefs are pretty wacky, but I’m glad it’s not my job to force them into the cage of what to me constitutes logic and reason. That seems like a really hard job.  The same thing happens with female clients, also, of course. I’m just not blogging about that right now. The men I write books for tend to be very confident about their beliefs. That’s why they want to write a book about it, so… 

My job is to listen, and that’s what I do. It’s listening with a little bit of talking. 

One client recently gave me a spiel about “how men are” versus “how women are.” I’ve heard it a million times. So have you. He was speaking literally about dancing, but also other stuff:  “Women are meant to follow! Men are meant to lead!” And so forth. Here’s the thing about that—

Note that I’m not speaking “as a feminist,” I’m speaking, actually, as a dance teacher. 

I used to teach ballroom dancing, so I know how to lead and follow, and I’ve taught both men and women to do both. The truth of the matter is that among intelligent people who are actually trying to learn: women can be great at both leading and following but men suck at following across the board, without exception. They are so bad at it that women always let them lead, because it would be torture to try to dance any other way. Make no mistake about it, men: when you lead, as a dancer, a lot of women are humoring you.

Women “code switch” all day long in their lives. 

As a parent, you lead, you lead, you lead … then you follow. As a businesswoman you lead your company, you follow your client, you lead your company, you follow your client. As an artist, you lead and follow your creative muse. Anyway, one would think men would also experience this phenomenon, but if dancing is any test of it, they just don’t. So men go through life thinking “men are better leaders,” when in reality, they’re just worse followers. I’m just saying that as a dance teacher, not a philosopher. Philosophically, you can make what you will of this, but it’s a fact. What does this have to do with ghostwriting? Well, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent, here, but interviewing clients has a strong lead/follow quality to it, so you can probably find some parallels here, if you’re looking.

Essentially, in dance, leading is a lot of talking with a little bit of listening. 

And following is a lot of listening with a little bit of talking. Those little bits, though, are the difference between good and great dancers. I have attempted to teach men to follow, and it’s fascinating how it turns their freaking minds inside out. The trust and surrender required to walk backward, unseeing, through a crowded dance floor, navigating based only on miniscule physical cues from your partner is the first insurmountable hurdle. But the very concept of keeping your body in a state of pinpoint agility, where listening causes you to react in the moment to everything your partner says with their body, without questioning it, that’s the thing that’s completely bananas for men. I’ve never taught a man to be good at it, but I’ve gotten men to the point where…

they appreciate what following is: all the listening with that little bit of talking. 

At that point, they improve their ability to hear the little bit of talking that comes with the follower’s listening, and that makes a big difference in their leading. Meanwhile, his spouse is smiling that smile that means, “Whip this boy into shape, would you?” and I smile the one that means, “I can get him to the point of hearing your occasional talking,” and she does the eye-roll that means, “That’s all I really need to enjoy the trust and surrender part of it,” and I do the one that means, “Sister, I know.”

1 thought on “On how ghostwriting is like dancing, but dancing is so different from what you think”

  1. Great blog! At least now our society is in a small way waking up to the backwardness of traditional gender roles. At least there’s the conversation and in some real ways.

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