In the past I never paid attention to my breathing. I used to dance without thinking about it and ignored how important it is not just during dancing, but in our everyday life movements.
One day after performing, a lady asked me if I wasn’t tired after doing so much footwork, which I replied that I was just fine and that my body was used to it. On a second show, another lady approached to me and said: “If I do that I had been exhausted after 2 minutes of dancing”. And many more comments like these made me start thinking about how did I get to that point of dancing for 10+ minutes without fainting after the first Escobilla (Long footwork section in a Flamenco choreography).
I began analyzing the breathing process during the classes I teach. Each teacher begins her/his classes with a big movement adding an inhale and an exhale during it. This is necessary to bring oxygen to our muscles that will then execute the movement with fluidity. “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. You will get used to it after repetition and at some point you won’t even notice that your breath is integrated with your movement (article)”.
But yes, we are talking about a performance where you do not have time to analyze if you are breathing properly or not -even though your body will signal you if you are not doing it right because you will feel like giving up, or having cramps in your legs and toes after it, yes! You read right, Toes! But, with the right technique and enough practice, everything will work as it needs to.
For me, the first thing that works is to have control. Having control of your movement and where do you need to apply it. For instance, I usually start dancing with a gentle walk or marcaje (refers to the marking of the beats of the compas/rhythmic cycle), where you can feel or even hear your breathing. This also helps to bring your nervousness down!. While walking you are controlling how your first footwork is going to be or how do you want it to be. Do I want to do it loud and fast? Or do I want to do it slow and gentle today?. Those first steps will set up the rest of your dancing.
Once I’ve passed the first footwork and Letra (singing verse), I feel my breathing is working in sync with my movement and I can control what is coming next. I tend to go back to a marcaje to gain energy and breath more before I start the long footwork section. For this part, depending on the palo (name given in flamenco to the different musical forms), and the experience of the dancer, in this case me; I like to start on a medium speed. During the footwork, it is essential to keep breathing through the nose. Although I tend to open my mouth a tiny bit unconsciously - to exhale- and this is totally fine and normal. Our focus is on the footwork and our body does the specific adjustments to what is experiencing at the moment. When I get to the peak of the speed and cannot go any faster, I had to make the quick decision to do the Llamada (specific steps that a dancer does to signal the musicians for the next part of the dance). At this moment, my heart is beating fast, and my breathing is going fast too! But this is the best part -for me- because I end up with a big exhalation into the last part of the choreo. I come back to breath through my nose and getting control of the whole experience once more. With the last bit of air I have left, I usually do a quick subida (speed build up), and go back to my seat.
It is incredible to think on how many things we need to add when we are dancing. Our body never stops! And we are never aware of our breathing while we walk, eat, or do the everyday movements. It is an unconscious act. A very natural act in fact! Breathing through the movements makes a big difference in a choreography, and it helps us to be more aware of our feelings while dancing. At least that’s how I feel and how it works for me. Let’s keep breathing and make our movements and our life better through it. <3