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Infusing your dance with Breath


Anjuli_Bai
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In another thread there was a request for some thoughts on how a dancer can (and should) use his/her breath to change how a dance sequence is performed, felt and seen. Hope this helps.

Life is made up of pulse beats - this includes music and your breath. When you dance it is necessary to put the two of these elements together. And, when done correctly your breath can aid your dance - the way you feel it - and the way it is perceived.

It begins at the beginning in pliés. In a simple 4 count grand plié a la seconde, on the first count as your arm begins the port de bras and you begin to descend, (count one) inhale; at the bottom of the plié (count two) exhale; as you begin to rise (count three) inhale; and as you finish (count four) exhale, and the arm finishes at the same time.

In a simple pirouette combination, stand in fifth position, right foot front, inhale as you tendu a la seconde, exhale as you close to 4th position back, inhale as you pirouette to the right en dehors, and exhale as you finish the pirouette, fifth position back. You will find that your breath has infused the pirouette with quite a different quality, and that it sustains you and smoothes out the entire performance of the turn.

This is also true of turns in arabesque and attitude where the feeling of lightness is of paramount importance. You can dance on top of your own breathing, and it is then part of the music. All of the same fabric.

In adage, time your inhalation to coincide with the extension of your leg. If you do that and at the same time visualize a hand beneath your thigh lifting your leg, and another hand picking up your instep by the ribbons on top of your foot, you will find, I believe, that the entire leg is much lighter to you. And it will gain the appearance of lightness and effortlessness that the ballet dancer wishes to impart to the audience. It is no longer "work" - but dance.

The same is true of grand battement, as you strongly push off and thrust through the tips of your toes into the height of the grand battement, time the breath to it and let the force of the push off - lift you as you inhale, then lower the leg - don't drop it, as you exhale.

For small jumps, it is crucial to keep the diaphragm from sagging, even a little bit, each time you land. In a simple petit allegro combination - glissade, jeté, coupe, assemblé - it is the jeté and the assemblé that must have the lightest appearance - and that is where you inhale. Of course some of this is governed by the speed of the music - but to the extent that you can adjust your breathing, do so. You might need to make it in 8 counts rather than four - if the speed of the music warrants it. Study the combination, before you do it - and pick the parts that you want to emphasize with lightness - like exclamation marks in punctuation.

Breathing at the height of a jump can infuse it with lightness as well as longevity and give it that floating quality - ballon. Practice it in grand jeté and time your inhalation as you sweep up into the height of the jump. You will not only find that your jump will be lighter, but also the landing.

There are three main reasons for shortness of breath:

1. The first is holding your breath - we do this to a great degree when we are stressed - so be aware of it - keep breathing.

2. Letting the diaphragm sink, even a little, every time we land a jump - will cause the breath to be expelled from the lungs. When you land nothing goes down except your foot upon the floor.

3. Breathing through your mouth. When you breathe through your mouth, a portion of the air goes into your stomach - where it does no good at all. It is very natural to do that - but you can learn to breathe deeply through your nose - where all the air goes into your lungs.

Let your breath become part of your reverence at the end of class too - breathe in as you pointe to seconde, breathe out as you cross to fourth back, breathe in for a moment as you face your audience, and then finally exhale as you bow. Breath is life - and if you infuse it into your dancing - your dancing will take on new life. It will be one with the pulse beat of the music and the music will become visible.

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Wow, thank you so much Anjuli.

 

Can you tell me more about jumping? My dd sometimes gets excessively out of breath during jumping - not so much petit allegro but even then in soubresauts and changements she wants to jump so high that she sometimes tenses her upper body and even her face. The physio mentioned trying to expand the ribs as you jump but I didn't really understand - does that make sense?

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In jumping such as soubresaults and changements - it is the feet which do the work - the body "sails" above it. If the upper body is tensed then the dancer is usually holding the breath - rather than continuing to breathe. So, the physio is correct, only I wouldn't say to expand the ribs, I would say continue to breathe through the nose throughout the exercise. Let the feet do the work. The plié in the landing is not the end of the jump, it is the preparation for the next jump. Visualizing it that way will give it the elasticity it should have.

 

If the upper body is allowed to sink into the plié which initiates each jump, that knocks out the air from the lungs - as small amount as that might be. So, the division is made at the waist - the body above is quiet and breathing. The lower body is doing the work. The upper body is engaged but not tense.

 

The concept of "letting the feet do the work" - means using the entire foot - feel the energy for the push off clear through to the ends of the toes. This engages every muscle in the leg-foot, which helps to propel the dancer into the air. It uses every asset in furtherance of the exercise/dance.

 

When I was working on this (and when I taught it), I worked up to it slowly. First I worked on this concept in four 4 jumps (changements). Then 8, and on up to 64. Eventually, we were able to do it fairly easily. No one bent over or in distress at the end.

 

I hope that helps.

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Thank you, Taxi, I would relish that but unfortunately, I have never been to the UK - though I am surely an Anglophile - as you can probably tell.

 

If I didn't live here, I would choose to live there. British literature, British history and the people have always held my interest. Could reading Ivanhoe at the age of 8 had something to do with it? :)

 

I haven't flown since 1987 after a series of in-air mishaps and now I am comfortably retired and content to stay home.

 

But - back to the topic at hand......

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Though I have gone on several cruises - I am a poor sailor - choosing to skip lifeboat drill rather than fact a rolling sea.

 

And, then, there is a fairly large continent betwixt me and the Atlantic.

 

However, cometh thou hence - I can promise the best Mexican food this side of the border.

 

Olé!

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I'm a bit of a cruise addict, although a childhood spent sailing competitively probably accounts for my love of being out on the water. When money next allows (probably at least 5 years' time!) I'll be there Anjuli!

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Anjuli - thanks so much for posting this (and everything else you have written!) I love your phrase 'dance on top of your own breathing'

 

Youngest DD is really struggling with breathing in class at the moment. From what I can gather she is focusing so hard on 'pulling up' that she is becoming too tense to breathe properly. During a recent (fairly stressful) class she forgot to breathe completely and ended up hyperventilating. Any additional advice on how to maintain relaxed breathing whilst still 'pulling up' (her phrase) would be greatly appreciated :)

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Sometimes I do wonder about using the phrase "pulling up." Unfortunately that often seeps into the shoulders. I had a teacher who taught us to see the body as different - separate parts. The stomach's four quadrants were equally used, the upper torso/chest is riding above that and the shoulders are kept down but moveable - which allows the arms to flow and keeps the neck and head mobile. The power and steering center is the four quadrants of the stomach.

 

Perhaps "keep engaged" might be better. To a young student "pulling up" or "tighten your derriérre" or "pull in your stomach" - means to lock everything down which makes it difficult to move and use the different parts. I like the word "engaged" better. It means "in use" - not locked up.

 

As for using one's breath - as I noted above - it begins with the first exercise at the barre - plié's. Then tendus - learn it with the slow stuff and gradually add it to successive exercises as they get quicker and more complex. Constantly check to see that the breath is coming through the nose - as much as possible. This makes the most efficient use of the breath.

 

The use of the breath is part of listening to the music - really hearing it. The pulse of the music is the pulse of the breath. That's one of the reasons I think it is fundamental for the teacher to provide interesting ever changing music. Music that the student must - well, more than that - wants to - pay attention to. If the music is repetitive from class to class the student ceases to hear it. And, thus, a chief reason for dancing no longer exists.

 

I know there is so much to pay attention to and this is one more thing, but somehow - as we all know -- it does comes together.

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Anjuli_Bai, last week DD2 had a very special private lesson with a famous teacher in Paris who helped her prepare her audition for POB which is tomorrow. I sat through that lesson and had to think about you as the teacher repeatedly told her to breathe, explained her even how and when to breathe and kept on saying things like "I can't hear you breathe" or "I can't see you breathe"...

That was a few days after you posted your original message and the very morning I got my 2 eldest DDs to read what you had written about breathing!

They both tried doing pliés, demi-pliés and pirouettes following your advice and said it really helped them!

 

Thank you very much for your advice, dedication to helping us all and the fun way you go about it...

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Anjuli_Bai, last week DD2 had a very special private lesson with a famous teacher in Paris who helped her prepare her audition for POB which is tomorrow. I sat through that lesson and had to think about you as the teacher repeatedly told her to breathe, explained her even how and when to breathe and kept on saying things like "I can't hear you breathe" or "I can't see you breathe"...

That was a few days after you posted your original message and the very morning I got my 2 eldest DDs to read what you had written about breathing!

They both tried doing pliés, demi-pliés and pirouettes following your advice and said it really helped them!

 

Thank you very much for your advice, dedication to helping us all and the fun way you go about it...

 

How very kind of you, Afab, to take the time to tell me this.

 

Eventually - when the breath and the dance become one it will seem the most natural thing in the world and your daughters will wonder how they ever did it otherwise.

 

I wish her every success in her audition. As for fun - hard work doesn't need to be dreary.

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