How To Do 'Center Stage's "Higher Ground" Dance

As a developing dancer, the movie Center Stage was a must-see film. I spent a huge chunk of my childhood in dance studios and watching the glamour of a movie outline what making it as a dancer (plus amazing dance scenes) brought joy into my 14-year-old heart. Even then I had a healthy sense of reality, so I knew I would never be as good of a dancer as Jody Sawyer, but I still knew how to do the Center Stage "Higher Ground" dance.

After being accepted into the (fictional) American Ballet Academy, the young ballet dancer Jody is having a rough time — her technique and turnout aren't as good as the other dancers. To let loose, she goes to a dance studio in New York City to take a non-ballet class. She runs into American Ballet Company principal dancer Cooper Nielson and the two bond over the jazzy moves they learn, choreographed to Red Hot Chili Peppers' version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."

My dance teacher took the time to learn this dance 15 years ago when the movie first was released. She taught it to my jazz class and we all loved to brag that we could do a dance from Center Stage. Although time has not been kind to my memory (or flexibility), I went back to the "Higher Ground" dance from Center Stage and broke down the dance into three parts. We might not all be Cooper Nielsons or Jody Swayers, but here's a simplified version to get you at least doing the same realm of choreography as the actual dancers Ethan Stiefel and Amanda Schull. (Some basic knowledge of dance terms will help.)

"Higher Ground" — Part 1

I decided to focus on the female part since it's a little less overwhelming. Once you learn that version though, it would be easier to fill in the extra steps the men do.

"Higher Ground" — Part 2

Although this is the shortest part, it's the most strenuous. Good luck trying not to judge my carpet dancing turns and jumps in this section. I also needed to get a little creative since the movie likes to focus on Cooper Nielson being a creep in the corner rather than the actual dance moves.

"Higher Ground" — Part 3

Here's the section with the most notable moves. If all else fails, focus on this last video to impress friends and family who also share your weird (yet understandable) love of Center Stage.

Once you master all three parts, see if you can keep up with Jody and Cooper at tempo. I won't lie — it might not be pretty or easy, but just remember to dance the shit out of it!

Image: Columbia Pictures