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Dancing the Breath

Dance Trains the breath to be just as malleable as movement of the body, of the thoughts, and of the emotions.

I have a very tight neck and jaw. Dance teachers and some who are Pilates instructors, say to breathe regularly and with more ease. Easier said than done. I enrolled in breathing classes that practiced specific exercises to get me to breathe into all areas of my lungs. I took Yoga to coordinated my breath with specific movement patterns. I learned to follow a counting sequence that slowed down my breathing.

Because my learning curve takes longer I was patient. Or probably I was learning to force myself to do things that were contrary to the source of my tightness.

I changed direction and tried several forms of both sitting and moving meditation. I was looking for a way to get beyond my tightness and to somehow deal with my focus upon commanding myself to breathe. Of course the worst suggestion was to “just stop thinking so much.”

Actually what did help was moving my thinking in many different ways. I found Modern Dance technique as a way to simplify movement into parts and then to practice the movement through improvisation. Then I did years of study of using imagery as a basis for both the technique and the improvisation.

There was a sensation associated with my breathing. The breathing sensation would capture my attention as I followed a Deborah Hay image like seeing only what is above my head or seeing with every cell of my body. My body and my breathing were totally engaged in the image that revealed changes of sensation and surprises beyond my imagination.

Every thing about me was malleable, shifting and changing at every moment. My breathing and my movement were exploring the contours of my conscious and released relationship to the image. Everything was aware or everything was flowing on its own. Movement surprises would take my attention and then disappear into the variation of another improvisation.

I was able to put words to this effect on my breathing after adding improvisational singing to my dancing. Musically I was opening areas of myself with phrases.

Dancing puts together phrases that flow melodically and rhythmically. My breath could be used to begin phrases and continue them as long or short. Musically my breath could emphasize a movement or make the movement a kind of quiet secret. The shifting image could take me to a conscious focus on these kinds of musicality or my focus could shift to my involvement in the phrase with my whole body.

My breathing was able to change with the interaction of my sensations and thoughts. An image guided the discovery of a variety of phrasing that captured the attention of my breathing.

As I learn more about the ease of breathing for singing, I the union of my breath with dancing. Both dancing and singing rely on the rising of a phrase followed by the continuous release of the phrase into a state of receptiveness.
Tim Hurst 01/23/18

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What’s Movement to a Dancer?

What appears to be physical changes of position and poses is for the dancer a refining of complex networks of signals connecting, dissolving, and reconnecting throughout all the systems of the person.

These signals travel in curved pathways that have been understood by dancers for centuries and are now studied as Structural Integration. It is the curved pathways of signals that a dancer experiences as continuous movement of sensation, anticipation, initiation, completion, and transition into multiple directions at once.

The dancer’s tools of compression and extension are related to signals that are continuously in motion. What appears as stillness or a pause is actually another state of movement.

An audience can immediately identify the delight of a dancer’s simple movement. For the dancer also the movement is an instantaneous connection of physical, emotional, and intentional signals.

From the viewer’s point of view, the movement looks automatic as if a body memory has taken over. For the dancer, there is a rapid shifting of many kinds of focus. One type of focus is from the micro view to monitor a specific skill and the macro view of the entire person at once. Another type of focus is in the awareness which shifts the view from foreground to background.

Even though it may seem as if some movements are directed and others automatic, for the dancer patterns are variations of experience that work at levels sometimes called heightened awareness and sometimes requiring less attention. Both levels of the patterned skill are interconnecting with each other, the difference is the focus on foreground or background.

The dancer’s view is more of a malleable system that is in continual responsiveness. Automatic movement and muscle memory do not adequately explain their complex process.

For the viewer and often for the choreographer, the pattern is seen as a repetition, a replica of a specific movement. For the dancer, the pattern is also a malleable experience that is varied by the thoughts, emotions, and energy of the moment. This is one of the reasons that no two dance performances are the same.

Another astonishing perspective is the dancer’s ability to alter the experience of any movement with a set of modulators. A physical analogy is a musicians sound board. Any sound can be modulated and blended with dials that give more or less of different qualities.

The dancer modulates not just speed or duration but also the qualities that bring emphasis, heaviness or lightness, subtlety or boldness, to name only a few. Like the musician the outcome is a confluence of emotion and interpretation of melodies, rhythms, and harmonies.

Imagery is a tool to assist the dancer with the complexity of shifts in focus and with interconnecting the centers of movement, emotion, and formation of meaning. Signals are shaped and managed with imagery.

Also the anatomy of the body is managed with imagery. Physically, the dancer is also working with the body as a malleable system. To do this the dancer has developed imagery within a training processes for understanding the body movement.

Imagery is often indicating the direction of energy flows. Using the image of signals different areas of the body can be viewed as signal initiators and receptors. Rather than commanding a body part to move, the signal begins at a location and travels back and forth to other sites in the body. These specific locations are interconnected into networks.

Signals move between different areas of the body are called diaphragms and platforms. They usually cross the entire body and give the perspective of the dancer as moving three dimensionally and in every direction. Each one is a major sending and receiving point for many nerve endings and flows of energy.

The platforms are the arches and surfaces of the feet, the palms of the hands, the collar bone and scapula that suspend the shoulder girdle, the base of the skull, and the Fontanelles or meetings of the cranial bones at the top of the head.

The dancer makes detailed studies of each platform to refine the nerve and energy flows to and from each area. Then they connect their access to each by establishing networks between them.

The diaphragms are muscular and give clues to the dancer’s detailed training of large and small muscle groups. The diaphragms are the pelvic diaphragm also known as the pelvic floor, the lower rib cage diaphragm also known as the respiratory diaphragm, the mid chest diaphragm also known as the dancer’s diaphragm, and the Centrum Brain diaphragm with one known moving part the soft palate.

The diaphragms are the dancer’s keys to lifting up from feet to head, to spreading the body horizontally to engage front and back muscles, to arching and rotating the spine, to connecting the torso and the spine to movement of the legs and articulation of the knees, ankles, arches, and toes of the feet.

What difference does the dancer’s perspective make? Movement is a springing motion rather than a pounding one. A balance of extension and compression takes less effort and training goes past the desire to try too hard. The shifts of focus bring a sense of delight to movement. Every area of the body is accessible and trained as a supportive network.
Tim Hurst 10/09/17