It happens more often than it should, to the detriment of the student, that two conflicting pieces of information are presented by two different teachers. This presents the student with a dilemma: in the pursuit of the “right” or “best” way of doing things, which one to choose?
I would argue that these types of conflicts are really simple misunderstandings. Contradictions are often either 1) two different ways of approaching the same fundamental idea, or 2) complementary rather than contradictory, usually a difference between technique and style.
For example, consider the notion of two centers. Skippy Blair is a prominent instructor who has done more than anyone else to create effective teaching tools for important technique and mechanics. Personally, I think she’s fantastic, and I think she has a gift for being able to communicate complex topics into easy-to-apply exercises (though I should note that I don’t always agree with the technique or ideas she teaches).
Skippy teaches that there are two centers: the Center of Mass (CM), located somewhere around the hips, and the Center Point of Balance (CPB), the point from which we move, located higher near the diaphragm. Like any good teacher, she helps the student to understand these concepts through practical exercises.
On the other hand, Mario Robau, an amazing dancer and an incredible teacher with a real gift for breaking things down into information people can readily digest, argues that there’s only one center, since, after all, it’s the center, which logically means there’s only one.
So who’s right?
I would argue that they both are. Mario is technically right: there is only one center to a given object, human or otherwise. And it is from this center that we move. However, we move from our center with forward pitch, meaning that our upper body is set slightly in front of our lower body (this is true both forwards and backwards). Thus, the two center explanation has great value as a teaching tool for people to mentally understand proper posture and pitch and translate it into a physical response. One teacher gave the straight truth, the other gave advice to produce a specific desired outcome. Both are being effective teachers in their own way.
Another seeming contradiction: heel first or toe first when walking forward. From a strictly mechanical perspective, as far as I’m concerned, this is a no-brainer: heel first. Why? Because that is how your body naturally moves, was designed to move, and how your body facilitates forward movement by rolling through the foot.
So why would someone teach toe-first? Simple: styling. Some people think it makes a nicer line to have a straight leg, others may think the music calls for it. The truth is that as long as you’re moving from your center and your feet are underneath you when you transfer weight, it doesn’t really matter whether you go heel first or toe first. They aren’t contradicting – it’s just two different ways of moving, one being the basic mechanics of walking and the other a stylization.
What other contradictions have you come across while learning to dance? Where does there seem to be a contradiction that is really two ways of approaching the same thing? Where does there seem to be a contradiction that is really the difference between fundamental technique and advanced style? Teachers, how do you reconcile the difference when asked about contradictions?