The following is an excerpt from an imaginary conversation between a student and master teacher. It explores the platitude of “Find your Center,” from my series about the dangers of traditional teaching that uses misunderstood concepts.
Student: Oh, great wise master, how can I find my center? My` teachers always tell me that I must dance from my “center,” but I find that very difficult to understand. My “center” feels so elusive and I can never hold onto it.
Master: That’s because it is not something to be found or placed in any specific spot in your body. Instead it must be felt. Let’s set the stage with something practical, which may first appear very cosmic. In the realm of infinity, of which you are a product, there can be no measurable center. If a center could be found space would find itself finite, or limited.
Remember again that you are a product of infinity, which is endless. Therefore we must develop a sense of what your center may mean by feel. Is the sun the center of the solar system, or is it the center of the planets that spin around the sun and create the inertial gathering of the whole?
Consider the sun the theme of a musical piece, with the planets as harmonic arms that create the composition called Solar System. Then the composite of many solar systems which create Galaxies. And then the infinite number of galaxies which create the Universe or infinite space.
It is therefore the interplay of many centers that creates the inertial swing of movement.
Student: But I don’t see what that has to do with dancing. I’m a person, not a galaxy.
Master: Well, it’s very much like the interplay of your arms, legs, torso, and hips. They are interdependent on one another, and on your understanding of all the parts and their relationships, like the to and fro of a teeter-totter. It depends on the interplay of the weight being thrown up and down or side to side, to say: if one person jumps off the teeter-totter suddenly, then the mechanical center of the teeter-totter is worthless. The dancer, not being a mechanical device with a fixed point, must cultivate a strong sense of center that is flexible and agile. This then leads to the development of the to and fro in their bodies, the prolonged action that creates balance.
Student: So balance moves? I always thought it meant staying still.
Master: No, and there is an easy way to find this out. Stand with your feet together and parallel. Close your eyes. Breathe calmly and steadily and observe the sway that your body takes with each breath. Even though the body is swaying forward and back, almost creating a figure eight, the more you practice the smaller the figure eight becomes and you remain upright. In other words, balance is movement, a prolonged action, not something stagnant or in stasis.
Student: But teachers always tell me to hold the abdominal muscles, and that the pelvis is the center and you have to move from there.
Master: That would be like asking the sun to hold still or squeeze itself smaller. The solar system would no longer function – the planets would start revolving erratically and perhaps even collide with each other. An over emphasis in a particular area of the body will restrict the range and quality of motion of the rest.
Student: But all those other teachers can’t be wrong.
Master: Well, most teachers only say that because they were told that. If you asked them to move from those places you would have nothing but glorified hip-hop or exotic dancing. Which is actually what I do in a sense, because I want a lot of sensuality coming from the dancer. That’s what dance is — an affirmation of sentience.
If one were to move their legs, body, and arms like wallowing on the floor, they would eventually find themselves creating movement from their hips, because that is where all the major muscle groups come in contact, which is then connected to the sacrum, spinal column, and brain. We have no choice but to move from there.
Student: So we should focus on the pelvic region?
Master: No, I’m saying that you have no choice. It’s going to happen anyway. The basic function of the body is like an orchestra – hands could be percussion, legs a fiddle, arms horns, it doesn’t matter – but once you are fully conscious of the whole you know how to arrange its parts. So when someone hears them playing together they are pulled to the center, or sensual part of the music; in this case the body of the dancer. When you concentrate on one instrument too much, you have imbalance. If you concentrate on the melody, you have no harmony to embellish and support. And sometimes the harmony is more important than the melody. In other words, the arms may facilitate the movement more effectively than the hips, in some situations.
Student: But I don’t understand. If you’re moving from your hips, shouldn’t you focus on your hips?
Master: Not necessarily. There must always be a counterpoint within your body that allows the balance to shift. An example of this would be for you to try to lift your leg to the side and grip your hips. You will find yourself rigid and unable to lift your leg because it is too heavy. You will fall over onto the side of the leg that you lift, your body riddled with defensive tension. But if you simply lean far enough away from the leg you will discover that it gets lighter. So then, wherein lies a true sense of center – is it in your hips?
Or in your understanding of an applied concept referred to as the ‘rule of opposition’, which relates more to the idea of center of gravity and how the whole of your body interrelates with it. In other words, when you stand up free of extraneous support, you are for the most part centered. The challenge for the dancer is to transfer that experience into all of their movement.
Student: But then how can you strengthen your sense of center?
Master: Well, let’s first assume that the dancer is entrenched in their sense of consciousness from head to toe. Now we must give it purpose, a place to center itself as a whole. The very same place that inspires a piece of music. When you hear your favorite rock tune or jazz piece, you find yourself on your feet moving around to it, swaying back and forth, compelled by the music and rhythm and the melody that inspires that primitive part of you to move; and when you find yourself in line with the rhythm and melody, it seems like you could continue moving forever, because no one is watching and you are free of inhibition. You do things that no one ever sees you do and manage not to fall down, throwing your body to and fro: the purest form of center. You are at one with the grunt of existence, “a primal dance to the sun,” with some magical purpose behind your movement.
Student: So that’s the center then — your purpose?
Master: Yes; or I would like to refer to it as the intensity of your intent, which is strongly compelled by the music. At first it is like the outside of a tornado, being thrown around by its force, an unrefined sense of center; the next place would be in the middle of the tornado which is dead calm, the eye of the storm, a refined sense of center. The dancer, like the musician, presents the rhythm, intent and pulse of the music, rather than following it.
Student: I think I understand now. Thank you, Master, for your wisdom.
Master: Not wise at all — simply practical.