While sorting through some old boxes of writing, I found an English term paper I wrote in the ninth grade comparing how the characters interacted in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to different types of dances, like the waltz (Elizabeth and Darcy), the cha cha (Elizabeth and Mr. Collins), the hustle (Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham), etc.
I remember how many times I rewrote the paper until I felt I'd made the comparisons and meanings crystal clear. You had to with that teacher. But despite my efforts, I got a B minus for not having correctly set margins, for (again) misspelling occasionally four times, and for presenting an original idea. Yep. Under the grade, my English teacher wrote "Dance theory has no references or footnotes" (that's because it was my theory. Oh, the shame.)
You can imagine how gratifying it's been for me to see how film makers use dance scenes in the recent movie versions of P&P to illustrate things other than dancing.
The dance theory evidently influenced me as a writer as well. About thirty years later a song I was listening to in the car from the River Dance soundtrack, Reel Around the Sun, started up my story machine. The sound of the dancers' tap shoes made me think of swords, and I reimagined the river dancers as lines of warriors fencing with each other. That inspired what would eventually become my novel Blade Dancer.
Dances are great metaphors to use in stories for things unrelated to dancing. For years Hollywood has shamelessly used the tango in scenes to illustrate sexual tension, clashes of will, outright seduction, etc. (in fact they used it twice in True Lies.) Movies like The Turning Point, Footloose, Flash Dance, Dirty Dancing, You Got Served use dance not only as the storyline but as metaphors to illustrate the characters' emotions, issues and personal choices.
I don't have dances in every story I write, but they do show up fairly regularly. Alex and Phillipe have an interesting dance scene in If Angels Burn that was a metaphor for a pivotal point in their friendship. Dancing helped me (finally) get Jayr and Byrne to quit tiptoeing around each other in Evermore. Most recently, I wrote a dance scene in the beginning of Stay the Night, using dance both as action and metaphor, to help throw together two stubborn characters. Visualizing these two dance helped me nail the flow and pacing I wanted in the scene, too.
This is not to say you always have to have your protag grab the nearest gal and swing her around the floor in every story, but if it's an appropriate time and place, you might give it a go and see how it works for you.
Now, today's assignment for the writers out there: look at a scene in your WIP and imagine the interaction between the two central characters as a dance. How are they dancing, slow or fast, together or apart? Is it hip hop or ballet, the macarena or the foxtrot (or, what dance would be a good metaphor for the action in your scene? How about the emotion?) If you'd like to share your answers, post them in comments.