Pilates Principles for Dance Teaching – Breathing
Tips for enriching your dance classes
Anyone who knows me would know that I’m an absolute Pilates convert. I’m a woman obsessed. And it’s no wonder why. There’s no other system out there quite like it, and its benefits for dancers are off the charts.
I take two Pilates studio sessions a week (I’d do more if I could squeeze them in!) and they are absolutely non-negotiable…I think I’ve missed maybe 5 classes in the space of 3 years! Pilates studio sessions incorporate specialised equipment like the trap table, the barrel, the reformer, and my personal fav and the Wunda chair. It also involves mat-based work, sometimes with smaller equipment like balls, magic circles and Therabands.
I’ve always learned so much about the movement potential of our bodies from my sessions with my instructors, Rachael and Emily. I’m constantly finding new little strengthening and lengthening techniques to adapt and work into my classes. But it isn’t just about the movement potential of pilates. A good pilates instructor is able to cue the correct movement through careful selection of words, imagery and tactile cues (tapping or placing a hand on a certain part of the body to bring awareness to that area).
With this in mind, Dance Domain recently teamed up with the incredible Rachael Sheridan, from Room For Movement in Annandale, for our latest Professional Development session. During this session, the DD teaching team were given a seminar and practical class that introduced us to fundamental principles of pilates.
This new blog series outlines some practical ways you can enrich your dance teaching practices by incorporating some techniques from the field of pilates.
Step one – breathing. When we’re moving our bodies about in new ways and trying to remember 17 different things at once, often the thing we forget to do is the most basic – breathing!
Who hasn’t finished an exercise at the barre only to take a massive breath and realise, “oh my gosh, I’d held my breath that whole time!?!” We’ve all done it, and we all see it in our students all the time.
During our session, Rachael introduced us to some basic principles of breathing, beginning with different types of breathing. This includes breathing into your tummy, your chest, and sideways into your ribs…even breathing to expand only one side of your ribs!
Best of all were tips on how breathing can affect the quality or execution of movement, like,
- Breathing in allows the body to find more mobility in extension – think arabesques!
- Breathing out allows the body to find more mobility in flexion – think contractions!
Conversely, by breathing out during an extension, we’re able to provide the body with more strength and stability. Try it for yourself! Lay on your tummy on the floor with your hands underneath your shoulders and press into a back extension. Do it a few times breathing in on the upward phase, then swap over to breathing out on the upward phase. Feel the difference?
We tried different breathing patterns for a whole range of movement – kicks, turns, contractions, roll downs, reaching to the side. We even began to think about how we can apply breathing to help negotiate particular pathologies: if a student has tight hamstrings and they tuck their pelvis under when doing kicks across the floor, ask them to breathe in as they kick the leg up to help lengthen their spine. Genius!
You can also apply breathing techniques to achieve particular movement qualities, such as a movement that is more lengthened and smooth or a move that is sharper. We tried throwing one arm up into the air above our head whilst quickly breathing in (the shoulder lifts as the ribcage expands from the breath in and the movement looks and feels longer) and then again while quickly breathing out (the shoulder stays down as the ribcage contracts and the movement looks and feels stronger and sharper). Such a useful little tool to remember when polishing dances and trying to elicit a similar movement quality from a group of dancers.
As teachers, we all know how important breathing is, but a session like this really brought awareness back to breathing in a whole new way. Being able to cue breath patterns in our students, something that is so accessible to students of all ages, we can work on getting bodies moving to their full potential in the safest way.
So the next time you’re dancing or teaching, or even polishing a dance, think about your breathing and try different patterns.
Stay tuned for the next post in our Pilates Principles for Dance Teaching series!
In the Inner West and looking for a Pilates instructor?
Contact Rachael at Room For Movement in Annandale. She’s an absolute magician!