Basic Centering Techniques

Simple Steps to Relax Onstage

"For Beginners" (ZAGHAREET! (Jan/Feb 2008)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Last time we looked at my Basic Pose and simple variations (changes of direction and body position), what transitions are, and also explored a couple of tempos. In this issue I want to get even more “basic” - although these concepts can help a dancer at any skill level.

I’ve always said that beginner level is the hardest class to teach. It’s so sad that dancers who want to start teaching often don’t know this. Have you ever heard a dancer say that they’re thinking of starting a belly dance class, because even though they’re not that advanced themselves, “at least they can teach beginners”? Oh dear!  Because even with the most skillful of teachers, beginners are problematical.

A teacher wants to share the joy of belly dance, that’s why she teaches (or at least, we hope that is her noble notion....). But how can a teacher share joy with someone who is tense, fearful, and/or distracted? So I want to give you this formula to use when you go to class to make it easy for you to learn and accept what your teacher is trying to give you.

A Four-Step Process to Relax in the Moment

I’ve found four key concepts to keep in mind when in a stressful learning or performing situation.

  1. The first is to relax - or release if you prefer - nothing else will work without it. Literally FEEL your muscles relax into their natural position, where they can do their job holding your body together with the least amount of stress. So relax, or release - and when you move, it will be graceful, because movement without stress IS grace.
  2. When you relax or release, it then becomes easier to breathe. If you’re in a “stressful situation” (like class or before performing) you need more oxygen than usual. You also need to get rid of “used up air” - carbon dioxide - so deep breathing is what we’re talking about, to completely refresh your lungs. This is especially important when using your brain and/or muscles!
  3. A deep breathe goes all the way down to move your belly. That will then help you remember to contact your center - and isn’t “the center” always where it’s at (...“shopping center”, the “center of attention”, “the center of the universe”, etc.)? You may not be giving your center the respect and attention it deserves! It’s inside your torso below your belly button: the spinal cord has opened up into a bundle of nerves hanging down like a “horse’s tail”; scientists have found the “second brain” here (an area of brain nerves inside the digestive tract); where your center of balance settles when your knees are softly bent. And when you think of this center you become actively involved in the neural messages going in and coming out of it - what you put in there, is what comes out into the rest of your body and mind. If you are consciously relaxing, then “good” vibes (neural messages) go in and stimulate good effects throughout your body.
  4. After centering yourself, then balance the rest of your body, just like building blocks one on top of the other: starting with good contact on the floor, up through your legs, trunk, shoulders, neck and head. Don’t neglect your feet - I see so many people with weak or inefficient foot use in class. I guess everyday life doesn’t give the foot a good workout--they’re often in tight shoes, walking or standing on hard floors.... ouch! But obviously, your balance starts on the ground, so start considering your feet!
Here’s an acronym to help you remember this mantra: RBCB (Are-Be-See-Be!):
These four ingredients taken together are truly a magic formula - magic because it works without us knowing exactly how, yet the results are so amazing!

What it Really Means to Share the Joy of Dance

When you’re in class, dancing, or getting ready to perform, check yourself - it’s YOUR body, and it’s YOUR responsibility. Keep doing it, and “checking in” will become a habit. You’ll feel yourself relax, breathe, center, and balance... each one naturally leads to the next.

The way I do RBCB is Relax (inward breath), Breathe (exhale), Center (feel my weight sinking into my hips), and Balance (aligning my upper body in relation to my Center). It all happens within one deep in-and-out breath. It's automatic for me in belly dancing, and I'm trying to make it a habit when horse riding, because I'm a beginner and need more confidence.

Being actively involved like this also helps keep you from spiraling down into negative thoughts, or getting distracted with someone else’s negative energy, or otherwise “stalling” your energy and focus. On the plus side, others may actually benefit from being around you too, and the good feelings multiply exponentially.

“RBCB”! You’ll feel better! Your teacher will find you easy to teach! You’ll enjoy class (or performing) so much more! Yes - this is how you share “the joy of belly dancing”!

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