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Moving Writers, Moving Characters

Next weekend, I'll have the honor of presenting at the Epic Write Full-Bodied Writing Retreat on the beautiful Hood Canal in Washington. When organizer Katherine Grace Bond asked me to join the faculty this year, I knew I wanted to teach a workshop that combined my two life passions: movement and writing.

I came to writing by way of movement, but my creative life began with theatre. I was one of those "drama kids" in high school, acting in school plays as well as in community theatre in my hometown of San Diego. I was what was known as a triple threat, meaning that I acted, sang, and danced. I went on to study Drama at San Diego State University and the Professional Actors' Training Program at S.U.N.Y. Purchase and finally finished my degree in the Theater department at University of Washington.

After I graduated college, I found myself more drawn to dance. As a child I had taken ballet classes but now began a serious study of Modern Dance. I took classes, performed, and choreographed in my new home, Seattle, where I worked as an assistant at a preschool to make ends meet.

And then I had an idea: Maybe I could teach dance to preschool-aged children. I opened my own tiny dance school, called Leaping Dragon, and also taught at Seattle's Creative Dance Center, where I honed my teaching skills under the tutelage of acclaimed dance educator Anne Green Gilbert.

My most successful children's dance lessons centered around stories that I told them as they moved. The kids loved being sneaky elves who covered themselves with paint and then used their bodies to paint the room in my story "The Painter and the Elves." They couldn't get enough of "The Naughty Shoes," where they became cats whose shoes made it move backwards, sideways, up and down, and round and round. In my 35-plus years of teaching children's dance, these stories were, hands-down, the most-requested activities.

Colleague and friend Pamela Gerke approached me about co-writing a book of these movement stories, and so I embarked on my first writing project. The result, Movement Stories for Young Children was published by Smith & Kraus, Inc., and has since become a classic for preschool teachers and teachers of dance.

And so began my writing career. Pam and I co-authored several more books for teachers, and I also authored two on my own. I moved from there to books for children and young adults, most notably my YA novel Flyaway, which was released by Harcourt Children's Books in 2011.

As you can see, movement and writing are the two threads that have intertwined to make up my creative life. So I can't wait to share my love of these two modes of expression, and the ways they interconnect, with fellow writers at next weekend's retreat. My presentation, titled "Moving Writers, Moving Characters," will introduce writers to the very same movement concepts I taught to children for so many years. Who knows, maybe I'll even share a movement story!

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