The Surprising Similarities Between Blogging and Hula Dancing

I just got back from two weeks in Hawaii, relaxing, playing on the beach, snorkeling, and generally enjoying one of the least “American” and most beautiful of these United States. By sheer luck, it turned out that the Merrie Monarch Festival was also taking place on the Big Island of Hawaii while we were there.
The Merrie Monarch festival is the premier hula dancing competition in the world and there were dancers and enthusiasts who flew in from around the globe to participate. Hawaiians are generally darn proud of their cultural heritage, of which hula is an important aspect, and there was a lot of talk about hula dancing because of the Festival. It was extraordinarily interesting for someone focused on business communications.

Merrie Monarch Festival: Hula Dancers. Copyright 2006 by the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Photograph © 2006 by the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Here’s what you didn’t know about hula dancing: it’s all about storytelling and there are often two different stories being told simultaneously, one through the movement of the dancer or dancers, and another through the song being sung / chanted. It’s not just Hawaiian girls wiggling their hips, it’s actually a powerful method of reinforcing specific cultural values, of conveying part of the oral history of Hawaii and telling a good story.
As the Festival organizers put it, “Hula and its accompanying chants recorded Hawaiian genealogy, mythology, and prayers of the heart and mind. The hula was the means by which the culture, history, stories and almost every aspect of Hawaiian life was expressed and passed down through generations.”
Contrast that with what a savvy blogger — particularly a business blogger — is trying to accomplish when he or she fires up an editor and starts typing…

What makes a compelling blog entry is no different from what makes any sort of compelling presentation: it has to be built around a story.
Consequently, good storytelling skills are critical for good weblog authors: the best bloggers I know are also great conversationalists, because, well, blogging is having a conversation with your marketplace or peers, just in a somewhat time-delayed fashion.
If you and I could meet face to face, you’d find that I talk just like I write, and if you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ll immediately recognize my meter, grammatical structures, common phrases, and even humor.
But when you’re writing a blog entry, are you pulling your readers into your view, getting them caught up in your story, engaging them, or are you staying detached, uninvolved, just presenting facts or even encouraging them to skim for “nuggets”?
I believe you can learn a lot about effective communication by studying effective communicators (which makes sense, I hope!) Watch a real master like Tony Robbins or Tom Peters address a crowd. They’re not presenting facts, they aren’t offering an overview of recent market research, they aren’t regurgitating others ideas, they’re telling stories and sweeping you along in their abilities.
That’s where I see a strong parallel between bloggers and hula dancers. Really great, amazing hula dancing is relating an important story in a way that engages you, catches your emotions, and excites you. The chants or songs that go with the dance are exciting too, but it’s the physical activity that makes it so effective as a way of conveying information.
I’m not suggesting you put on a grass skirt before you start blogging, but when you are writing for your audience, are you trying to tell a story? Are you recognizing the power and import of your title, your lead paragraph, your word choices, how you structure and convey your key messages and ideas?
Are you dancing, or just talking about it?

5 comments on “The Surprising Similarities Between Blogging and Hula Dancing

  1. Ah, great minds think alike! I think we’re part of a movement, soon to be a “Tipping Point” regarding storytelling or The Business Narrative! OR do you think we’re there already? I feel redemmed, anyway, because I had been told -“you can’t write the way you speak.” Well, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I can prove it. 1st, I just came back from the Rocky Mtn. Storytelling Conference and wrote a post on the experience, on my brand new blog-site(aren’t you proud?). Then I wrote one yesterday called the “The New Narrative Age” hope you like it,
    Storytelling is a social situation in which people associate ideas freely and good stories stay alive and are referred to for a long time. And, if we want our clients to be our salesforce, a story is more likely to be passed on than a brochure. I’ve got to go, and sign up a creative story writing class!

  2. I’m new in blogging, and business blogging at that. Thank you for your interesting allusion of blogging to hula dancing. My boss before also told us to write the ways we speak. To test this, you need to read your article aloud. If you have a tongue twister then you better rewrite. Thus, I agree with you that blogging is like telling a story. I believe this is the very reason why business blogs are becoming popular as opposed to those hard-to-read-and-digest business reports.

  3. Dave,
    Great post. Another similarity between hula dancing and blogging is that both are inherently social. Bloggers are “connective” people — and write very much with an audience in mind; just as dancers relate to their audience.
    A former editor of mine used to say (in pre-Internet days): “Books belong to authors; magazines belong to editors.” In other words, the writing therein is skewed to satisfy a different individual. To that, I’d now add that blogs belong to the audiences.

  4. Mahalo for sharing your experience of the Merrie Monarch Festival.I have been dancing/teaching hula for 40 years. My mission is to entertain and educate. I am constantly amazed by the misconceptions of this beautiful graceful “folk” dance. Although in premissionary days its focus was religious, today any “body” can hula. It is the most wonderful experience, and I encourage folks to look for opportunities to add hula to their life experience. Did you try it? 😉

  5. What a great article. I’m a hula dancer married to an editor. You married the two concepts well. Hula isn’t just telling a story, it’s being a part of the story. We don’t dance to the music, we dance with the music.

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