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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How do you remember to breathe?


Striving for Grace

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Between my stomach pain (I have an ulcer- I've gotten the medical go-ahead to dance) and the nervousness/excitement/anticipation/fear of being back in the studio, I'm finding that I am holding my breath almost all the time. I've had this problem before, and was able to solve it quickly and easily by simply telling myself to breathe, but that's not working this time. :hyper:

 

It doesn't help that it's final exam time and I'm doing triple time in the studio because my teachers are forcing (yes, forcing) me to perform with the rest of the class (in 3 days!!!!!!!!!! :) ) at the year-end Fine arts gala, and I have to learn my parts. (Heads-up folks, this is what over-eagerness gets you). :D

 

I've just come back from rehearsal and this whole not breathing thing is freaking me out a bit. I felt like I was going to pass out quite a few times. :hyper: I'm scared that it may be worse during the performance, since I am normally the world's most nervous performer. Does anyone have any suggestions for remembering to breathe? I'd be forever grateful if you could share them with me! Thanks,

 

Grace

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I also have this problem and often hear my teacher shouting out "Jane breathe". I am afraid that i dont have any hard and fast advice, i take some deep breaths before starting anything to see if it will jog my memory to breathe.... sometimes it works sometimes it doesnt.

 

As for being the worlds most nervous person..... i am there with you and i would strongly urge you to buy some Bachs Flower Remedy - Rescue remedy or Star of Bethlehem. They calm your nerves and now that i am thinking about it, it relaxes you so your breathing comes naturally and you do not find yourself worrying about it. Over here in the UK we can buy it in Health shops so i guess you can buy it in the states... you just pop a few drops under your tongue then away you go.

 

Good luck with everything and enjoy it. I hope this has been some help.

 

Skippy :)

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What helped me was to practice a dance that I knew very very well, and didn't have to think about the steps. I would practice that dance several times with the primary goal being to remember to breathe at the beginning of the dance. I had no problem breathing at the end, as I was usually hyper-ventilating from being out of shape. But as I remembered more and more to breathe at the beginning, I also remembered to breath during classtime as well.

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For your performance, think about how breathing works with the phrasing, and rehearse with that in mind.

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Ami's right - you really need to think about breathing in terms of your movement. Your breathing is part of your movement actually!

 

There are a number of threads where brathing has been discussed, and I'll try to find them for you, but also think about the basic way we're taught about breathing in class - exhale during the movement that is most effortful - eg the leg going up on the grand battement. You might have to think consciously of where you breathe for a time in class to get the hang of it, but it can become very easy and actually really help you in the hard bits.

 

One thing about contemporary class is that most contemporary techniques, such as Graham, or release work, really focus on the harmonising of breath and other bodily movements. YOu really can't do a contraction without the proper breath control and use of your diaphragm.

 

I've done, and now teach, pretty basic voice work for actors, and the principle is much the same for dancers. You should be aiming for 'diaphragmatic breatjhing' ie down in your centre (connection with Pilates work as well), rather than the high 'clavicular breathing' up near your shoulders. Breathing up in your shoulders is a clear route to hyperventilation and black outs!

 

In fact if you've ever seen someoe hae a panic attack, that's exactly what they're doing - clavicular breathing, and the physiological effects of hyperventilation seem only to increase the sense of panic. Hence the methods of controlling and lengthening and deepening breathing for those prone to panic attacks.

 

Think of your lungs as in 4 lobes - right & left obviously, but also upper and lower lobes. The aim is to get the breath in and out of the lower parts of yopur lungs. Your need diaphragmatuc control, and it's luckily :) the same set of abdominal muscles that keep you navel to backbone (my old teacher's favourite saying). So breath and other movements should all work together - don't think of breathing as something separate from your dancing - it's got to be part of your body's movement.

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Thanks for the tips, guys.

I've been breathing more frequently (and more correctly) in rehearsals over the past two days. I told my teacher about my problem and she has been periodically reminding me to breathe throughout practice, and that, along with your suggestions, has helped... which is a good thing, since performance is tomorrow afternoon! YIKES!

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Learning to keep your body relaxed and workable under stress is an important part of dance training, and it is difficult. I never really understood how to breathe until I studied the Feldenkreis stuff, which is also similar to Yoga. Once you really learn how to breathe, you will never not-breathe again --- because you learn that breathing is a major way to enable your body to do difficult steps and hold difficult positions. So it becomes an intrinsic part of your technique, not just an afterthought.

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As primarily a contemporary dancer, where breathing and coordinating breathing with movement is a really big deal, I’m going to be absolutely heretical. It is just about impossible to hold your breath and exert yourself maximally for more than about 15 seconds. After then, believe me, you will breathe though you remain exerting yourself maximally.

 

My sense is that holding your breath as you begin to perform is more about performance anxiety than about breathing. The only cure I know for performance anxiety is to perform a lot. Until you learn how to deal with your own performance anxiety, you are in a learning phase, which you should welcome.

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Garyecht, I don't think you're being heretical. Holding your breath while trying to do any movement which requires more than minimal exertion is pretty near impossible, I should have thought. As well as being rather bad for the body & brain ...

 

Your experience with contemporary dance & the observation that "breathing and coordinating breathing with movement is a really big deal" is absolutely spot on, and we should use that principle with ballet as well.

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I don't think you're being heretical either.

 

In different kinds of training, some train that the breathing be timed with the movement, and some make a point only that you breathe continuously and freely. Ballet training, in my experience, is almost always in the latter camp.

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I sometimes forget to breathe during exercises, especially, when I don't perform them well. One of my teachers gave me accurate instructions for certain exercises when to breathe in/out to support the movement.

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Ami's right - you really need to think about breathing in terms of your movement. Your breathing is part of your movement actually!

 

I've done, and now teach, pretty basic voice work for actors, and the principle is much the same for dancers. You should be aiming for 'diaphragmatic breatjhing' ie down in your centre (connection with Pilates work as well), rather than the high 'clavicular breathing' up near your shoulders. Breathing up in your shoulders is a clear route to hyperventilation and black outs!

 

It's more than just a knowledge thing for some of us, though. I teach singing for a living and have done "diaphragmatic breathing" for singing since I was a child so it's normally a reflex for me. But sometimes I have to work so hard at the whole chin-level-shoulders-down-abs-tight-knees-over-the-toes-turned-out thing that I just plain forget to breathe at all :) I know that probably sounds idiotic to the natural dancers out there, but I know I'm not the only one.

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You teach singing? Yay! Its so nice to see other dancing singers/singing dancers!! Classical or popular music?

 

Trained classically, but I teach elementary school music, so a little of everything. And I have a new admiration for those who can sing & dance simultaneously, because I SOOOOOOO can't do that! :yes:

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