These 5 Breathing Tips Will Transform Your Dancing
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.
Practice Breath Integration
Yoga and Pilates can help you link breath to movement. Photo by rawpixel via Unsplash
Learning to connect breath with movement starts before you even begin tackling phrasework. Lauren Sanford, director of jazz, lyrical and contemporary at Image Studio of Dance in Washington, incorporates Graham-style contractions into her warm-up so her students can feel the relationship between breath and movement. She also has them lie on the floor, take deep, slow breaths and imagine that they are sending that breath to different parts of their bodies. This can help dancers think of breathing as an action that involves the whole body, not just the chest and lungs.
Bai suggests dancers take yoga to work on breath control. "Yoga makes you consciously focus on your breath, and eventually that becomes a pattern you can find when you're dancing," she says. Similarly, New York City–based Lindy Fines, artistic director of GREYZONE and certified Pilates instructor, finds that Pilates' focus on coordinating breath with every movement can help dancers breathe fully and use inhales and exhales to facilitate specific types of movement.
Time It Strategically
In fast phrases like petit allegro, you may have to breath during transitions. Photo via Pixabay
Even with plenty of practice, difficult or unfamiliar choreography may leave you struggling to integrate breath. If this is the case, try choosing specific points in a phrase where you will breathe. "When you're doing an adagio, port de bras or waltz, there are places to inhale and elongate," says Bai. "It's harder in fast phrases. In those situations, transitions are where you can find your breath."
Get Comfortable with Panting
Try running or other cardio activities to build endurance. Photo by Bruno Nascimento via Unsplash
Dancing will sometimes make you out of breath. Rather than fighting this, learn to work with it. Don't try to cover up the fact that you are breathing heavily, says Skaggs; it only makes it more difficult to recover and bring in more oxygen. "Dancers have to learn to breathe deeply and continue without collapsing. If you're calm about it, you can go further," she says. She recommends training with activities like running, biking and swimming to get accustomed to breathing heavily and build your cardiorespiratory endurance.
Punctuate Your Movement
Use breath to help elongate your extension. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Dance Teacher
Using intentional, audible breaths can also be an aesthetic choice. "Breath adds dynamics and texture to your dancing. It can help you feel the difference between rough and smooth, staccato and sustained," says Sanford. Try using breath to accent a sharp movement, or to elongate an extension.
When you're dancing familiar choreography, you can insert these intentional breaths spontaneously to see how they might change your execution of the phrase. You can also choreograph breath, but be careful not to overdo it. "I see a lot of excessive breathers at competitions. If you're forcefully breathing all the time, it makes the movement look robotic," says Sanford.
Breathe as a Group
Breathing with your fellow performers can have a powerful effect. Photo via NYCDA
Being conscious of your breath is also a commonly overlooked way to connect with your fellow performers, especially in unison sections. "It's really hard to move in exactly the same way as someone else. But if you match your breath, your initiation and follow-through will be the same," says Sanford. "I love when I can hear a large group of dancers breathing together. It gives me goosebumps."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
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