After my morning workouts I usually tune into my favorite news radio program on my Iphone. A few days ago, Mario Zambrano and his new book Lotería had my fullest attention. The first thing that made me so interested was hearing that Zambrano was a contemporary ballet dancer before dedicating his time to writing fiction. Not too many people on this morning news program come from an artistic background. Mario has lived in Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Japan, and has danced for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballett Frankfurt, and Batsheva Dance Company. He graduated from The New School as a Riggio Honors Fellow and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as an Iowa Arts Fellow, where he also received a John C. Schupes Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction. He discussed his book and its definitely on my list to read next. But don't take my word for it. Read his post for Spot La about his new book and his life in the dance field below.
The day after I started dancing when I was eleven years, no one could sway me from believing that dance would always be a part of me. During that awkward stage of trying to find myself (though, as you go through life you're always trying to find yourself), I was so passionately in love with dancing that I was intolerant to anyone who'd suggest my feelings would change. I joined my first company at seventeen, with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, left to Europe to join Netherlands Dans Theater three years later, and from there, joined Batsheva Dance Company in Israel before ending my career with Ballett Frankfurt, led by William Forsythe, when I was twenty-seven. By that point I was completely worn-out and I needed a change, but I still had a creative itch that needed to be tended to.
But who was I if not a dancer?
I tried choreographing—making pieces for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Nederlands Dans Theater 2—but found, after awhile, that I was uncomfortable with the process. My creative insecurities were heightened in the face of the dancers, and I didn't feel at ease. What I decided to do was to go back to school. While studying literature through an online university while living in Spain, I took a fiction class and found a perfect practice that suited my creative and solitary disposition.
At the time, I felt as though it were the most absurd thing in the world. To be a writer. I'm not a writer, I thought. But it didn't matter because I loved doing it. And little by little, I started writing a book that would eventually become my first— Lotería, recently published by HarperCollins.
It's a story about a young Mexican American girl named Luz Maria Castillo who tries to piece her life together using a deck of cards from a traditional game similar to bingo. There are fifty-three parts, each a vignette corresponding to a card, and in a way the novel is built like a house of cards. But what I found interesting during the revision process was that I'd lay out the cards on a table and move them around in whichever sequence I wanted them to be in. In a way, it was as though I was choreographing a piece.
When people ask me if there are any similarities between dancing and writing, I mention the act of improvising. As a dancer there are those moments when you step into a studio and improvise, sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour, and there's this incredible focus that gets activated. Something very similar happens when you write a story, especially during the first draft. You lose yourself in the act of doing it, and like dancing, you can write for as long as you like. There's no interdependency, but rather, an independence.