Use of breath in bellydance

Roshanna

New member
Any thoughts on this, or good resources?

I've found over the years that teachers will often remind students to breathe, and sometimes even include some breathing exercises at the beginning of classes or teach lateral thoracic breathing (i.e. breathing into the whole ribcage) whilst sitting/standing still, but that advice on how to actually *use* the breath and integrate it into dance has been thin on the ground. My experience of pilates (which always coordinates movement with breath) and my reading about general dance technique tells me that breath is important, but I don't have much solid idea of how to apply it well to this dance form specifically. Maybe because of the pilates experiences, I also get a bit anxious/confused if I'm instructed to breathe with something but not told how to actually time/coordinate my breath with the movement.

Alia Thabit has some interesting ideas about rhythmic breathing (i.e. breathing in time to the music), which I've found to be very helpful, but I'd also be interested to know of other methods and approaches that dancers could experiment with :)
 

Daimona

Moderator
Whenever I teach I always remind the students to breathe, because they tend to forget it when being very concentrated. In addition to the obvious getting rid of CO2 and refilling O2, they also get less tense when breathing properly.

For performers, the breath has a very large impact on the emotions you are projecting while on stage as well as giving certain moves an extra impact. Some of my previous teachers have had some focus on it, but the real difference for my awareness of my breathing on stage while dancing was after I joined a workshop with Ranya Renee some years ago.
It has made a difference on my dancing, and I've also realized that if I use my breathe as a tool the audience will unconsciously breathe with me.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
Interesting topic! I don't have much to add, so I'll just sit in the corner and listen.
 

Kashmir

New member
I've occasionally come across breathing in workshops. Apart from the obvious "don't hold your breathe" (singing along is one way to break this bad habit) - the other tip that stuck was to breath out on a shimmy (obviously only works for short shimmy accents not sustained shimmies!)
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
What an interesting topic. At one mile above sea level, we're used to making do with very little oxygen. ;)

When I was first learning, I recall my teacher emphasizing that vibrations were muscular movements and not to be done by panting so that the diaphragm contracted and released quickly. I used to could do vibrations with only muscles but no more.
 

Asra*

New member
I took a workshop with Ranya Renee also where she very specifically talked about the importance of using breath while you dance. It sounds a bit odd, but she breathes along with the music through her mouth (almost like humming along but with the breathe only), and huffs out air on the accents. It serves several purposes:

1) It keeps your mouth very slightly open, which relaxes the face and prevents tense facial expressions

2) It deepens and slows your movements, and connects your body more naturally to the music. For dancers (like me) that need to work on slowing down and getting juicy, this makes a big difference

3) It gets you out of your head and into the moment.

4) It helps with abdominal work (ie breathing out when you pull the abs in for undulations, etc).

This really worked for me. I videoed myself practicing a choreo without this breathing technique and again with. The difference was immediate and very noticeable. With the Ranya breathing, my dancing was much juicier and more relaxed.
 

Roshanna

New member
I took a workshop with Ranya Renee also where she very specifically talked about the importance of using breath while you dance. It sounds a bit odd, but she breathes along with the music through her mouth (almost like humming along but with the breathe only), and huffs out air on the accents. It serves several purposes:

1) It keeps your mouth very slightly open, which relaxes the face and prevents tense facial expressions

2) It deepens and slows your movements, and connects your body more naturally to the music. For dancers (like me) that need to work on slowing down and getting juicy, this makes a big difference

3) It gets you out of your head and into the moment.

4) It helps with abdominal work (ie breathing out when you pull the abs in for undulations, etc).

This really worked for me. I videoed myself practicing a choreo without this breathing technique and again with. The difference was immediate and very noticeable. With the Ranya breathing, my dancing was much juicier and more relaxed.
Ah, that's very interesting! This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for.
Does anyone know if she talks about or demonstrates the use of breath on her DVDs?
 

Roshanna

New member
When I was first learning, I recall my teacher emphasizing that vibrations were muscular movements and not to be done by panting so that the diaphragm contracted and released quickly. I used to could do vibrations with only muscles but no more.
I definitely use my diaphragm for belly flutters/vibrations, with a bit of contribution from my abdominal muscles as well, but I can still breathe at a normal speed at the same time on top of it, which is a bit of a weird feeling (I think this is because I'm powering the actual breath using mainly the muscles around the ribcage, so the diaphragm can relax and continue to vibrate - it's like a very shallow panting layered onto a normal breath). However when I try to actually speak whilst doing it, I feel the abdominal muscles take over more, presumably because I unconsciously start using the diaphragm like a normal human again to give a steady flow of air.

Edit: geeking about movement mechanics! just like the old days :D
 
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Shems

New member
I've been considering lately how I can more thoughtfully or intentionally make my breathing a greater part of my movement approach. I've typically come at it from the perspective of a musician, just like a singer has to breath in before singing a phrase then breathe out to sing. (Which is more or less what I think Ranya does.)

But I'm also thinking about how there is also an emotional component to how we use our breath. How we gasp when we are surprised or hurt, how our diaphragm responds when we laugh, how we lengthen our breath when we are feeling relaxed, how we sigh when we are weary, all of these breath responses can relate to the music or movement we are doing and allow us to feel the emotion of the piece in a deeper way.

There is also a strange rise and fall to our breath in connection to our sense of being grounded. I've learned to lengthen, or stretch on an exhale, like if I'm going to rise into releve, it feels so much more grounded and connected if I do it on an exhale. I used to think releve was an inhale thing, as though I were a rising balloon, but it doesn't carry the same quality for me and I tend to wobble more if I inhale instead of exhale. Inhalation really seems to key in transitions. If I inhale before entering into a move, I feel more ready for it. Inhale has become my contraction before the expansion.
 

Selene

New member
Ohhhh I love this subject!!!

Last year while I was creating my first choreography (first choreo for myself, but I've made group ones before. Strangely making one for myself was much more difficult! back to subject!!) and when I presented it to my teacher, to get some advice and pointers first thing she mentioned was that I needed to breathe, and second that I was rushing a bit. More importantly, she said that by solving the first problem (not breathing enough) the other one would be easier to solve. She suggested that I could choreograph breath. Maybe not in the whole piece, but that choreographing it would make me more conscious about it, and will also help me take my time to make juicier moves.

Well that helped soooooo much!!!! now even when I'm just practicing I try to incorporate "choreographed breathing" when Im repeating a sequence, and of course when I'm dancing to very soft music I consciously breathe to help keeping it slow (as a baby dancer this is the most difficult thing!!)

I love everything Shams said about the emotional component of breathing!
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I'm coming down hard on the side on not choreographing breath. How on earth can belly dance be an honest expression of emotion when one cannot even breath naturally? I once said that one of these days, western dancers would carry choreography to the point of inserting "breath here" into dance notations, but I was kidding.
 

Shems

New member
I'm coming down hard on the side on not choreographing breath. How on earth can belly dance be an honest expression of emotion when one cannot even breath naturally? I once said that one of these days, western dancers would carry choreography to the point of inserting "breath here" into dance notations, but I was kidding.
One would think! But I have to admit, when I became more thoughtful about my breathing, it actually helped me get out of my head and put me in touch with my emotions. It let me be more authentically in the moment.

Of course, in this dance form, for those of us that learn it through classes and not our own cultural upbringing, we have to sometimes take another door to do something that comes absolutely natural to a native. Then we have to practice at home a lot to get those things in muscle memory so that when we get to the stage we don't have to think about it all, we can just dance.
 

Roshanna

New member
I'm coming down hard on the side on not choreographing breath. How on earth can belly dance be an honest expression of emotion when one cannot even breath naturally? I once said that one of these days, western dancers would carry choreography to the point of inserting "breath here" into dance notations, but I was kidding.
Even though I tend to prefer improvisation and I feel that many dancers are over-reliant on choreography, I actually don't think this is a ridiculous idea.

If you're working on using breath in dance, notating breath for certain points in a choreography seems like one good way to get the use of breath into your muscle memory. It would be weird to do it for a whole dance, but I can totally see the use of specifying that you were going to inhale on a dramatic arm raise, for example, or reminding yourself to take deep, slow breaths whilst holding a particular pose.

I'd argue that the aim should be to eventually *not* need to specify it and to make it unconscious, but doing this could probably help you get there.
 

Selene

New member
I can totally understand why it can sound like something that could prevent the authentic emotions to flow during a piece. Actually, it never crossed my mind to choreograph breathing before my teacher suggested it (and I repeat, she suggested to choreograph it in SOME parts of the piece). But now I see it the same way I see drilling a specific move or combination until my body builds muscle memory for it. My dance isn't less expressive because I drill the moves or steps. It is just the way I can learn this dance that isn't part of my culture, that I didn't grow up seeing everywhere. I compare learning how to dance with language acquisition, I write and write and write and read the same thing dozens of times, and even practice whole sentences of greetings and things like that, I practice diction when my mouth is not used to certain sounds, and eventually it all becomes natural, even if at first I "choreographed" what I wanted to say. After enough practice it starts to flow.

Also, I do love improvising and I am building my movement vocabulary and learning as much as I can so that it can become more and more natural to me to improvise. However, I love choreographing and "consciously"dancing too, and choreographed breathing can even be part of the drama, to empathize a move, to help the representation of pain or happiness in a moment in the piece (like Roshanna mentioned).

Something to note too: many new dancers, either because of stage anxiety, nervousness or many other factors, actually do forget to breath normally while dancing. This tenses their muscles, can even be a distraction, makes them even more nervous and in rare occasions can even cause an accident, so reminding students to breathe, even if that means choreographing some breathing until they get used to it, is not such a bad idea, IMO.
 

Euphyllia

New member
It would be weird to do it for a whole dance.

Even this I would consider doing - for practice. I can see how working on a choreo in different ways, focusing on different aspects each time, would help improve it. Just like doing the dress rehearsal. One of the rehearsals can just focus on the breathing... I can see how that would work for me. I love this idea.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Using breathing to control one's mind and emotions is a separate issue from choreographing breath as movement in dance. Middle eastern dancers don't choreograph their breathing; why would doing so make a western dancer's performance more authentically middle eastern?

Learning anything at a young age may be easier than learning it as an adult, but most adults are capable of learning dance as children do: by watching and doing. No one is born with atavistic memories of shimmies, pas de bras, Opbnvk Haco, or waltz steps. We can learn, early or late, by watching our mothers and sisters dance or by watching a teacher or other dancers as they stand in for those female relatives.

Over the last four decades, I've watched changes take place in belly dance in the west, some of them very good (such as more emphasis on understanding cultural context) and some not so good (such as intellectualization of movement and choreographing everything from a smile to a deep breath). The former gives us depth and appreciation. The later produces highly polished results that may appeal to media-driven western tastes but that bear little resemblance to the ease and insouciance of older, less determinedly sophisticated and showy styles.

Shrug. There's room for it all and whatever improves one's art is acceptable, but dancers sometimes think too much thus making it all much harder and more mysterious than it needs to be.
 

Zumarrad

Member
Leila Gamal teaches breathwork. She's very awesome and you should totally take with her if you ever get the chance. She refuses to have footage of herself online apparently, but she is a really engaging and special dancer.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Leila Gamal who was in the movies in the seventies? Cool! When did you get to study with her, Zumarrad?
 
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