I have had a continuous love/hate relationship with breath throughout my dance career. Intellectually, I understand that all dancers use breath (or we wouldn’t be able to move), but I have definitely not always used breath to maximize my dancing.
When do we tend to hold our breath?
Personally, I have a tendency to hold my breath when I’m in a state of focus, or when I’m nervous. How does this translate into the work? I will typically hold my breath while learning new choreography and while performing on stage. Both of these situations definitely require airflow to your brain so holding my breath is NOT ideal.
How can we begin connecting breath to our movements:
A) Don’t be afraid to pant. Yes, you read that correctly. It can be intimidating to allow ourselves to let the breath go; especially when we’re trying to land softly out of our jumps, roll through our feet or maintain a soft quality of movement. However, when we give ourselves permission to breathe deeply, regardless of the sound, the breath often develops a natural rhythm that integrates into the movement beautifully.
B) Practice your breath at the barre. Barre is the perfect time to focus on incorporating breath into your movement because of the repetition of familiar exercises.
It’s especially helpful to remember to breathe whenever you are tempted to clamp down with your muscles to “hold”, such as in adage. Although it feels counter-intuitive, if you breathe, you might find that leg soars just a little higher. :)
C) Choreograph your breath into the piece. What I started to do while learning competitive pieces was choreograph where I would breathe within the piece. Experiment with how your body responds to an inhale or an exhale during an arabesque, preparing for versus executing a turn, etc. Many movements will naturally feel like an inhale or an exhale, and your teacher or choreographer can be helpful in determining which would be best. Having my breath choreographed helped to ensure I was actually breathing on stage and added colors to the piece that wouldn’t have been there before.
D) Use your breath to tell a story. We use breath to share how we feel about everything in life. We sigh to express disappointment, we inhale quickly to express excitement. We can have entire conversations using call-and-response breath work and it’s exciting to try and create depth of story in a piece through breathing. Don’t be surprised if genuine emotions follow.
Breathing is something that can sometimes feel tedious or like yet another thing to ‘focus on’. There are so many different types of bodies, types of dancers, and types of personalities so it helps to get excited about the creative process behind breath implementation and recognize how unique it is to each one of us. The breathing patterns you use to help tell a story will be different than other dancers in your company and that’s what makes it so exciting.
Do you have any breathing tips for the SPIRA community?