Wheels powering the engine?

Dancing is all about movement of the center. Our most basic form of movement – walking – demonstrates how movement of the center drives all other functions: footwork, posture, timing, balance, and stability.

Yet most dance teachers emphasize footwork. They comment on where to put your foot, which part of the foot you should use, and the size of your steps. When these teachers mention the center, it is often in reference to your feet – as in “get your center over your foot” – or in reference to your partner – as in “point your center at your partner.” Admittedly, I used to teach that way, and when it comes to brand new beginners, it helps to direct the students’ feet to provide some framework for the dance.

But I have found that by repeatedly putting the focus on moving the center, rather than on footwork, the student gets the desired results with less effort. This is because, again, movement of the center drives all sorts of other functions, including the feet. If the student can get the center to move first, it helps to fix posture, balance, and stability by aligning the center directly over the foot on each step. And by moving from the center, it creates more continuous movement, cleaner body flight, and provides more flow in the dance.

The center is the engine. The feet are just the wheels.


  1. I think it's better to explain this to beginners from the get go. It can be difficult to change how you think of the dance for many as later on all they care about is "style".

  2. I agree with Natalie. Especially for people who are serious about improving, having to "unlearn" movements that you've trained your body to do later in your progression as a dancer can be difficult and frustrating. Better to learn proper form and technique the first time around.

  3. Pam, Natalie, and Jen: Thanks for your feedback! I get flack for being "the technical teacher" but I fully believe in teaching people the right way – right away. (A topic for another blog post!) My question for you (and everyone else reading) is this: how is what you learned at a higher level different from what you learned as a beginner?

  4. So what would you consider a good 'exercise' in relation to having the student 'understand' the concept of center first feet second. My experience is the student, either 'butts out' or 'head forward' or both, LOL. Coming up with something that they can relate to might make the results quicker. What are some of the tools that you use??????

  5. Sometimes I feel like what I'm learning now "breaks" what I learned as a beginner. For example, not tripling all the time! And, at other times I feel like what I'm learning now is some of the clarification around center and what dancing from center means. People can tell you "dance from your center" all they want, but as a student if you don't know how to turn that into something actionable in your body, you're out of luck! (People with experience in other dances might be fine, but the rest likely aren't.)That's related to your other blog post about teaching — I think a quality of a great teacher is someone who can explain something in many different ways, so that maybe the student can identify with one of those ways and figure out just how to translate that into movement of their body. Telling someone the same thing over and over doesn't help if they can't do anything with it, and doesn't help if the teacher can't get the student to move their body in the appropriate way so they can see what "right" feels like.

  6. Dawn: I can't tell you how many times I have reminded people how to walk. It's by far the most common thing I teach: how to move from your center. There are many ways I skin this cat, but here's a quick exercise: Have the student stand with her feet together, weight in the middle of the feet. Have her shift her center (chest/diaphragm) forward until the weight is over the ball of the foot, then the toes, and then forward enough to transfer the weight into a step. Lather, rinse, repeat. I'd be happy to show you in person sometime!Jen: You've just given me a topic for another post – thanks!

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