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The importance of breathing for a dancing body

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In order to have strength, eloquence and beauty, the movement should propagate from the core of the body, finding a connection with the primordial rhythm of breathing. It can be intense and completely human, or gymnastic, mechanical and entirely empty.


Inhalation and exhalation occur through the contraction and relaxation of certain muscles, including the diaphragm, the most important respiratory muscle, which separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal one. There are two types of breathing: if the action of the diaphragm predominates, it is called diaphragmatic breathing, while if the action of the intercostal and scalene muscles predominates, it is called thoracic breathingIn diaphragmatic breathing, by inhaling, the sternum is projected forward. Raising the ribs allows the expansion of the chest cavity and lungs, which is necessary to take in air by airways. A contraction of the diaphragm occurs, which flattens and descends downward, compressing the organs that are contained in the abdominal cavity. As a result, the belly swells. Conversely, on exhaling, the diaphragm is released and, rising upward, lets the compressed organs regain their lost space. In this way, the belly deflates. The thoracic cage compresses and the ribs, which had previously risen and expanded, are released.

Proper balance between thoracic and diaphragmatic breathing is crucial in dance. Breathing occurs "laterally" at the level of the diaphragm, which, by producing a lateral expansion of the ribs, sets the pace for a deep respiratory flow. Breathing above this type, predominantly thoracic, would not allow us to take in all the oxygen we need, would be insufficient and would disturb the posture of the upper body.


In the Humphrey-Limón technique, the arc between two deaths is connected to both movement and breathing. As the dancers move in space, they can experiment fall and recovery actions for the purpose of performing movements in a way that is synchronized with breathing, using a rhythmic structure or their own natural rhythm. In fact, the act of breathing has its own dynamic phrasing, connected - through diaphragmatic action - to the organic rhythms of the body.

Inhalation is life, nourishing the entire body and constituting its central force. During this action, dancers seek an expansion and elongation of each extremity of the body. The flow of the breath follows the direction of energy as it spreads from the center of the body upward in the head, downward in the legs, and outward to the sides in the arms and hands. Inhaling is an Apollonian action, as it is connected to recovery, effort and suspension. As we inhale, a deceleration of movement takes place, in which, up to the peak of suspension, we can accumulate energy to be used in the ensuing falling action.

Instead, with exhalation the direction of breath flow is reversed. The upper body, relaxing its energy, falls downward and inward. The arms, which had reached their maximum extension through the successive action of - shoulders, elbows, hands - now retract in the same order in the direction of the body. Exhaling is a Dionysian action, connected with falling, releasing muscles and letting go of body weight. As we exhale, in falling actions, an acceleration of movement takes place, in which we can use the energy accumulated earlier, and which continues to be generated, to create movement.


The breath establishes a natural rhythm and brings shape back to the movement, giving it texture. The dancers benefit from this, greatly improving the quality of their movement. However, the same texture can be preserved even without having to use breathing schematically. In fact, although the technique allows the development of coordination between breath and movement simultaneously, these need not necessarily be joint dance actions. The dancer aware of the energetic power of breath is free to choose whether to use a movement sequence that simply evokes the illusion of the act of breathing. The rhythmic idea of breath - inhalation, suspension and exhalation - can be illusorily transferred to any part of the human organism: one can breathe with the arms, with the knees or with the whole body. Within the Humphrey-Limón technique, the rhythms of breath are subject to infinite variety, both in terms of the components of the body, the longer or shorter duration and the different uses in space. The body becomes a veritable orchestra, in which each of its parts is transformed into a musical instrument.

Breathing, moreover, acts as much on the body as on the mind; for example, if it is done slowly, it releases both from potential tensions. It is therefore closely related not only to actions, but also to emotions, according to which it can become calmer or labored, slow or fast. Just think of the varied types of breathing that can occur when we experience fear, anger, relaxation, excitement, or during hiccups or laughter. 


Rhythmic and controlled breathing should become part of every dancer's technical background. Breathing is an unconscious and often taken for granted act, but it is at the same time a bodily function on which we can consciously work. This awareness applied to movement allows us to perform exercises and dance with greater control and truthfulness.


Remember to breathe.

It is after all, the secret of life.

Gregory Maguire

Written by Matteo Mascolo.

Translations: Text translated into English by Alberto Rabachin and Bianca Pasquinelli, into Spanish by Matteo Mascolo.

Source: The information is based on my personal learning about Limón technique and the book La tecnica di danza di Doris Humphrey e il suo potenziale creativo, Ernestine Stodelle, preface and appendices by Sandra Fuciarelli, Bologna, Massimiliano Piretti, [2012] 2015.

La Tecnica di danza di Doris Humprhey: Chi siamo
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