You wanna know the Big Secret?

What’s the difference between an average dancer and a really good dancer? If both do the same patterns and movements, why does one look smooth and graceful and the other less so?

Sure, one is more technically proficient than the other, and one makes nicer lines than the other, but if you ask me, the difference is really rooted in one particular aspect of technique: moving from the center.

In the past, I have often tackled multiple aspects of technique that I believe make for better dancing, but I have found that each of these can draw the student’s mind in a different direction, making it more difficult to achieve any significant progress in one’s overall dancing. It’s like moving one part of a Rubik’s cube, only to discover that you now have to move even more pieces into place. However, in recent years I’ve found that getting the student to focus on the center produces much faster results and tends to improve many different aspects at once.

Earlier this week, I taught a class designed to enhance the students’ connection by working on moving from the center. We looked at how to improve body lead and follow at the beginning, middle, and end of basic patterns. At the beginning of the pattern, we focused on both partners moving from the center first. For leaders, this means moving the center before the hand, moving backwards from the center. For followers, we worked on moving the center forward before the foot. In the middle of patterns, we looked at continuing the motion initiated at the beginning of the pattern. For leaders, this translates to pointing your center where you want the follower to end up, and for followers, it means continuing down the slot, keeping your center ahead of your feet, and making sure your center is following your hand. And at the end of the pattern, we looked at moving backwards into extension, where both partners move their centers back while maintaining correct posture.

The idea is simple; the execution is not. Of course, nearly all students walk into class with the right technique. And so, as I often say, it is our job as teachers to remind the students how to walk, that dancing is really just “walking… with style” – and no dance more so than West Coast Swing.

What do you think about moving from the center being the root of so many issues? What problems does this not fix? How have you improved your ability to move from the center and what have the results been? Teachers, how do you work on this with your students?

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