For the past few weeks (since my last post on breathing), I’ve been focusing on improving my breathing during dance class. I’ve done some research and found a range of ways in which poor breathing can affect our dancing – some of it is pretty impressive (in a negative sense).
- Poor breathing reduces the amount of oxygen to the brain, minimizing the effectiveness of our sense organs that detect balance and making us less stable.
- Blockages in the nasal passageways can alter our aplomb as the body tilts forward to help open the airways.
- (Adult) ballet dancers tend to hold their breath and tense their diaphragms, limiting breathing in their upper lungs. This shifts their centre of gravity to the upper chest making turns more difficult (I am so guilty of this!).
- Improper breathing makes movements (especially in classical ballet) look rigid and less graceful.
- Poor breathing also effects our energy levels and can decrease our ability to concentrate – yikes!
So, what can we do to improve our breathing, you ask? Here are a few tips I’ve been trying out for myself:
- Know thy self…and thy breath
The first step to better breathing is to understand your breathing pattern. From what I gather, each of us breaths differently – some have shallower “chest breaths” while others breathe deeply from our bellies. Spend a day paying attention to your breath, when do you breath most deeply/shallowly? Is your breath fluid, with uniformed inhales and exhales? Or do you hold your breath at certain times? Knowing how you breathe is the first step to figuring out how to improve it.
- Let go…
A big mistake I make when I dance, which happens to be common with many dancers, is sucking my stomach in. I’ve learned that not only does this limit your breath capacity (which means less oxygen to your muscles), it has also been shown to decreased hip flexibility and turn out! Make sure never to suck your stomach in, concentrating on tensing (stabilising) the core muscles instead. It also helps to imagine breathing “into your back” – imagine your breath is creating space between your shoulder blades as you inhale and try to engage the muscles just under your shoulder blades (Lattisimi Dorsi) to exhale.
- Slow it down and follow through
The goal should be to maintain a slow, steady and deep breath at all times. This means breathing fully in and, more importantly, exhaling fully, too. Many dancers (myself included) tend to forget to breathe out fully, again limiting the oxygen to the brain and making them look rigid. Slowing our breathing down can also keep us calm enough to execute complicated pas and combinations.
- Know when is best
Mme. R., my ballet teacher, has told us time and time again that you cannot separate the movement from the breathing that goes with it. There are very specific times in movements that demand an inhale and others that require an exhale. She taught us a simple trick to help know when to do what – breathe in when you’re going upwards and out when you’re going downwards. Simple, right? Now, if I could only remember to do it in class!
- Practice makes perfect
Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation – there are numerous ways to learn how to improve breathing but a good method that can be done (for free) at home is “diaphragmatic breathing”. I’ll leave the explanation on how to do this to an expert – please watch the video below (demonstration starts at 2:23).
I hope these tips help breathe new life into your dancing (pun intended).
Let me know if they help!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. The tips listed above are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Seek the advice of a medical professional if you are worried about your breathing patterns.