Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is "axis" in dance?

dancer with axis?
Check out my axis
When I teach dance, my goals range from being as specific as possible for that particular person to being as general as possible, that is, what would apply to everyone equally?

Is tricky.

This one day I'm working with a woman on tango moves and I encourage her to do thus-and-such to have a better axis. She has a ballet background and she's pretty sophisticated for a beginner so when she asks me, "what exactly do you mean by 'axis'?" I realize that in all my years of struggling to gain better axis myself I have yet to define it to my own satisfaction.

Dancers describe axis in any number of ways. They say it's about balance, good posture, stance and motion, smooth and controlled movements, core strength, spiral paths, head position, and on. And on. But for every one of those descriptions, there's a movement that defies it and works nonetheless.

I want to give this woman an explanation that will apply not only to her, but to everyone, no matter what their body type, skill level, or dance experience. I want a definition that allows all the secondary attributes to be derivable by the person who actually needs them, when they need them.

Do I set myself hard challenges? Very well then! I set myself hard challenges!

I'm deep in thought for long enough that she starts to do the "no, no, it's okay" thing and I hold up a hand to buy myself another moment. Because I'm thinking hard and I think I'm coming up with an answer.

"Axis", I say, "is what you have when you recruit all your physical  abilities so that you can, at that moment, move in any direction you choose, easily and efficiently."

She has the "aha!" face so I think maybe I've nailed it. But I decide to check with a few dancers I respect. They each mull it over for a moment and agree that it's a good and, yes, useful definition.

If you're slumped or in a physically awkward position, you can't easily move in any direction you want. To take it to an extreme, if you are about to fall over, you can certainly and easily move in one direction, but that's about it.

In general, being able to move easily and efficiently in any direction at any moment produces grace. As I see it, the "organic" movements dancers work for are all about physical efficiency. A professional ballet dancer of my acquaintance says that once you get the movements right, they feel good too. He adds it may take a lot of years and work to get to the point where these motions feel natural, but that's the end goal: to make the movement feel right, which is the body's way of saying, yes, this is efficient, this works. So feeling good and looking good are, ultimately, one and the same.

Axis is what you get when you can, physically -- and I would also add internally and emotionally -- move in any direction you want with similar ease. That definition draws along with it all the other attributes usually associated with axis, but it lets people derive them directly for themselves.

So, dancers: what do you think?

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