What is the situation in most dance schools or dance studios around the world? What’s usually the first thing students learn in their first lessons?
That’s right – steps! Forwards, sidewards, backwards, in place- wards 😉 …
Is that wrong?
Hmmm.. I wouldn’t necessarily put it like that… But there is something missing. What’s missing is the source of these steps. Why is it a step forwards or to the side? Where does a change of direction come from?
What’s missing is often the connection between the steps and the rest of the body.
Like the connection to the upper body, or even just to our thoughts – our ideas.
When we started teaching steps as a consequence of a movement in the upper body to improve the harmony in our own bodies and thereby also the harmony within a couple, over a decade ago, we raised a lot of questions.
Isn’t it about the steps first and then the harmony?
Of course we stayed stubborn and stayed on our path. I guess everybody has to choose themselves…
Which brings us to the answer to the puzzle in the title – The common misconception is that the position of our feet comes first and the rest follows.
How often do we ask these questions in a class – what do the leader’s steps look like? Where does she step? Where do I put my right foot?
The right question should be a different one – what happens to my center point of balance?
Our center point of balance
Our center point of balance (CPB) – is really the central element in our dancing. Maybe that’s where the name comes from. 🙂
It’s located around the hight of our solar plexus and is about as big as a tennis ball.
It’s really what should be the source of most movements in dance. If that’s not the case, our dancing ususally looks out of control and “synthetic”. Not quite natural, I’d say.
But what does that mean?
Well, in our everyday lives we also move like that: we move our center point of balance first and then our feet (right afterwards). If you don’t believe me, try and take a few steps and you’ll realise your upper body starts to move before your feet, wherever you go.
So there is a connection! 😉
I’ve even extended this analysis to the couch…because what happens when I want to get up from the couch? Right! My CPB gets up first! 😉 And when we dance and our movements should be more precise and coordinated, this connection becomes even more important of course.
In other words, we dance a step forwards because our center point of balance moves forwards and the step is then placed under our body. Otherwise we’d fall over! 🙂 That simple…
So we’ve moved our bodies forward and the step itself stays under our center. At least it does in the basic version for – depending on the dance and the dynamic of the movement we want to create – our free foot can move ahead to welcome the incoming center gently, to let it move on freely or just to accelerate or slow down.
In any case, what we don’t want is for the position of our steps (and feet) to decide on the position of our center.
Our center of balance shouldn’t move because of the steps, it should far more be the other way around. Ideally our center of balance should move because of an idea (e.g. getting up from the couch) and then -without really thinking about it – the rest of our body follows “automagically”.
That way we can hardly ever make steps that are too big or movements that we can’t control.
So in summary I’d say:
Find the IDEA why or to what end you want to create a movement, activate your center point of balance and voilá, the steps will follow naturally of their own accord.
Yeah yeah.. and now I bet you’ll say: “OBJECTION! What about the rhythm & timing?”
That’s exactly the point that’s the real challenge for most people. Finding the rhythm to the music and then implementing it in the idea.
That’s the important thing to learn in any new dance. By which I mean how do I find the rhythm in that music? Can I recognise it and snap my fingers to it, clap to it or sing along to it?
And yes, you’re right, the best way to learn that is by listening to lots of music and just moving to it freely (in the beginning even without a partner). That makes “learning to dance” a lot easier.
But this approach will need it’s own article. Or even it’s own book… 😉
But there’s one more important ingredient we need for our “automagical” steps…
The “Sending” & the “Receiving” Leg
To gain more control, we use the principle of the “sending leg“. By that we mean the same as a standing leg, just that this leg has more responsibility & potential than just standing. The sending leg sends the body forwards and the recieving leg absorbs the movement.
So far so good.
But why is this principle so special?
I’d go even further than that. I’d say it’s genius!
It’s genius because we usually complete our steps with our so-called free leg and then we’re taken over by it. Instead we should far more create our steps from our supporting leg or the sending leg, because this leg has a more direct connection to our center point of balance.
Between sending and recieving there is a tiny time frame in which our body is hovering for a short time. Skippy Blair calls this body flight. And that’s what leads to the famous gliding over the dance floor.
That way we get much more elegant and controlled movements and we appear to be more experienced dancers.
Who wouldn’t want that?!
So in the end what we’re left with is one important question:
Where do we want to move(or turn) our center of balance to?
The steps (feet) will follow. Period.
That way we invest more into the actual function, we want to create with our movements, rather than just into certain lines or shapes.
Function comes first.
One example in a Salsa Cross Body Lead:
The simple function is the leader opening up a path for the follower to pass him. Then he follows her and in the end turns back to face her.
So he turns his body to the left (OPENS), so she can pass him, OBSERVES her while she does it and then, after she has passed him, he turns back to her (CLOSES). And during that time they should both stay in the salsa-rhythm. Finita la fiesta, as our dear Alberto would say.
And the steps?
Oh yeah – underneath our bodies! Full stop!
Any more questions? 😉
Over the past weeks and months we have realised more and more, how essential this concept of movement is and how much it helps our dancers keep track of everything, so that they can then use the right tools in the right situation and master the dance accordingly.
We hope to have made this idea a bit easier to understand with this article.
Step underneath your body,
Dance And Make A Difference