Centering by Skippy Blair

The NUMBER of “Centers” in one individual dancer seems to be the biggest question on “Centering” today (March 2002). Logic tells us that any object has only one “Center”. In my study of the “Psychology of Learning”, I was fascinated with how the “rules” carried over into dance. The idea that we “learn MUCH faster if we have only one definition for one word” was one that I had always subscribed to – even before my detailed study. The study also confirmed my belief that simplicity is the key to fundamental learning. Many times, I have been asked to make a dance decision as to who was right and who was wrong. Fortunately, my mind usually cuts through the fuzzy stuff and is able to observe that both parties are saying the same thing – but each person is expressing it in a different way. I have a favorite saying: “NOTHING is wrong – if you are doing what you set out to do.” The flip side of that is that “what you set out to do” might not be the highest level that you are capable of performing.

When it comes to “Centering” – or any other concept – my MAIN concern is that I want the student to LEARN. I spend many hours dissecting information and rearranging that information in a way that will assist the recipient in developing better dance habits. It is important to me that the student be able to immediately apply each new concept once that concept has been presented.

When it comes to “Centering”, The Universal Unit System® maintains that there is only ONE center. However we DO acknowledge, and regularly refer to, three separate “ZONES”:

Shoulder Zone: Encompasses the area from the top of the shoulder, down to the bottom of the rib cage.

Hip Zone: Starts at the top of the hip bone and goes down to where the leg connects to the hip.

Center Zone: Covers the lower edge of the rib cage – down to the upper edge of the hips. The Center Zone ties all three Zones together.

Let’s pretend that you have a wide support belt that goes around your waist. (You can even purchase one at your local medical supply or drug store.) Place this support belt tightly around your waist, with the top of the belt barely covering the lower ribs – and the bottom of the belt – barely covering the top of the hipbones.

This center “support” has now pulled the body all together into one dynamic dance machine. Once the whole “Center Zone” gets controlled, you can narrow down the concentration into the top of the Center Zone which is the “Center Point of Balance.” When you concentrate on your “CENTER” and move that center, you will feel the effect on all three zones of the body. A feeling of power and control starts to develop. You begin to experience a cooperative effort among all of your body parts. It’s a very secure feeling. You can experience this feeling rather quickly (with the aid of a support belt) or you can experience this feeling by pulling all of your abdominal muscles up into your center. This process takes a little time and effort, but I guarantee that it’s worth the effort. This exercise has become known as: “squeezing the banana”. It feels like someone squeezes all of your center area into your middle forcing your center upward and your shoulders back and down.

LOCATING your own CENTER (CPB) – which is short for “Center Point of Balance”. Unlike a center of mass (used in martial arts for a lower base stance) or a center of gravity (which seems to change location with every body type), our “Center Point of Balance” is located in the same place on every person. It is located in the Solar Plexus – right in the center – where the ribs come together. If you stand with your feet together you will find that you can move your “derriere” 4 inches forward, backward or sideways and still not lose your balance or have to move your feet. You can do the same with your head – shoulder – arm – foot – but NOW – move your “Center” four inches in ANY direction and you will have to move a foot. Your “Center” has changed the location of your body to a new location. That is the whole point of “Centering”.

Another way to identify the location of your center is to assume that your body is a mannequin. Place a fist into its Solar Plexus – that’s the area where the rib cage meets well above the waistline and well above the naval.

Placing a fist in the Solar Plexus area, we could lift a mannequin a few inches off the floor. The feet would fall directly under it’s “Center” and the head and shoulder area would stay upright. If we placed a fist in the lower abdomen of the mannequin, its top half would fall over. If we placed a fist in the shoulder area, it would immobilize the shoulders producing stiffness and a lack of flexibility and body flight. Dancers who use their hips or shoulders as their “Center” are easily identified by those who understand the concept. It is amazing to see the difference in the level of performance once they learn to tighten the zones and move from the “Center Point of Balance”.

INDIVIDUAL CENTERING

Being “Centered” lines up the Power Point of the foot, through the knee, through the “Center Point of Balance”, and up through the chin, in one coordinated movement that allows the body to land precisely ON the beat of the music. Correct, individual “Centering”, produces great posture and a sense of body dynamics. It creates a look of power and a feeling of professional performance. You can identify this look on specific dancers, but if I tried to list the ones who have it, I would certainly miss someone and get myself in trouble. The next time you are observing social dancing where upper level dancers are simply enjoying the dance – look around. You will be able to identify that extra element of “centering” by the tingle it creates in your own spine.

In evaluating the performance of a ballet dancer or a jazz dancer, the same degree of professionalism exists. Movement is classified by how well the dancer moves from the “Center” and not foot first. They are not evaluated by how fast or how complicated but how well the body moves from the center. “FOOT follows FRAME.”

The center moves first. Once you can control the center to move on the “&” count – prior to a weight change – moving from the center becomes the focal point for all movement. That one act alone immediately adds an extra “Dynamic” to your dancing. You will be able to FEEL the difference. It takes a little time before you can maintain the feeling, but just feeling it ONE time, allows you to experience that the dynamic exists and is within your grasp.

 

PARTNER CENTERING

It is very difficult to perfect “Partner Centering” if the individuals involved are not “Centered” themselves. However, one partner that is well centered can have a positive influence on the centering and total performance of the other partner.

STAGE ONE in learning “Partner Centering” is what we call the “Flashlight Technique”. This simply teaches each partner to aim their center either toward each other or toward a destination. This will help even basic dancers to start the centering process.

For the Man: His “Flashlight” (Center Point of Balance) will be aimed either at his partner or in the direction that he wants the partner to travel. This makes a strong connection without the necessity for arm leading, and also maintains a sharper slot. (A wonderful feeling for the follower.)

For the Lady: Her “Flashlight” will aim at her partner’s chin. This tends to lengthen her upper torso which in turn develops better posture and centers her whole body toward her partner’s center. As she rotates in various patterns, her “Flashlight” will return to him as quickly as the tempo of the music allows. This one technique alone will elevate any performance that was lacking proper centering.

Competition Observation: “Centering” to the judges is not considered good taste. There are times when centering to the judges is part of the natural unfolding of the routine when both partners are actually facing the judges. However, there are times when either the leader or the follower seems to center their “Flashlight” toward the judges instead of toward each other when it is not appropriate. In judging circles, we refer to that as “mugging the judges”. It is particularly noticeable if the lady faces the judges on every anchor instead of facing her partner. It not only detracts from the performance but also loosens the “center” connection of the partnership.

STAGE TWO of developing “Partner Centering” requires more control of each partner’s individual “Center”. More than having each partner simply face each other – a certain degree of leverage (based on a tight control of the 3 zones and a lifted “Center”) – develops a more professional “attitude” which is the hallmark of the upper level dancer. When two partners are really “Centered” to each other, an astute observer becomes aware of the action/reaction that takes place in one split second. If you are part of the partnership, you should be able to feel that action/reaction. The leader’s “Center” moves on “&a” and the follower reacts to that lead. This allows both partners to land – at the same time – precisely on the beat of the music. Both partners may choose to dance different rhythms – even different syncopations – and still be totally “Centered” because they are connected from one partner’s “Center” to the other partner’s “Center” – THROUGH the hands – but not only BY the hands.

As a teaching technique I sometimes use slightly flexible ropes to show how the “Center” does the leading rather than the arm. The rope is wrapped around the man’s “Center” while the lady holds on to the rope. He finds out that his “Center” needs to move in the direction that he wants the lady to go. Their hands are not connected and yet she is able to follow his lead. In the real world the lady frequently has to compensate for an arm lead in order to make the move look more fluid. However, the reverse is also true. Many ladies strong-arm their partners, believing they are doing a better job of following. It is sometimes impossible to determine who did what to whom because “arm leading” leads to “arm following” and perpetuates the problem from both sides. MOST patterns are best led with body leads, directly from the “Center”.

This article is a more detailed version of the original article on “Centering” that appeared on the April “US Open” Website. It is interesting to note that this article actually “grows” – as people send questions that require additional explanation. The completed, updated article will be posted on the www.Swingworld.com website in May.

Of special note: There have been enough requests for more material on the subject of Centering” – “Connection” – and “Critical Count” – that we are making a special video covering these three subjects in detail. If you are interested – let us know and you will be notified as soon as it is available.

Not already on our email list – but would like to be? – Please email SkippyUUS@aol.com or phone (562) 869-8949. Also ask about our 1-day – 2-day – or even one of our three “week long” Intensives: August in Downey , CA ; May in Atlanta , GA ; January in Monterey , CA .