Time To Share Your Stories

          February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month, and this blog has always used the month of February to educate the dance community about eating disorders and help create awareness.  This year, I would like to invite any of my readers who have an eating disorder, are recovering from an eating disorder, have survived an eating disorder or have been a parent, friend, teacher or coach of someone with an eating disorder to share their experiences.

         I will accept guest articles from you up until Sunday, February 16, and will celebrate National Eating Disorder Awareness by publishing your stories the last two weeks in February.  Anyone who comments on the shared stories will be entered into a contest to win the 10th Anniversary Edition of Jenni Schaefer's book Life Without Ed.

If you are interested in sharing your story email me, and I will share the guidelines with you!

Reminding Dancers to Breathe

           "He lives most life whoever breathes most air."
                                                  - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

           Last week’s post addressed the importance of breathing when we exercise and how muscles cannot work efficiently without oxygen.  Many dancers, however, often forget to breathe or use their muscles in ways that hinder breathing. 

            When dancers focus on tightening the muscles of the torso or pulling their centers inward, they hold the diaphragm tightly and prevent it from contracting completely.  When the diaphragm cannot contract fully, the lungs cannot fully inflate, and the dancer begins to take shallow breaths and use the muscles of the shoulder area to attempt to make room for the lungs.  Shallow breathing is inefficient and results in a lack of oxygen and a build-up of carbon dioxide in the body. 

            Dancers who do not breathe efficiently will find that they might have difficulty learning and retaining combinations since the brain is not getting an optimal amount of oxygen.  Additionally, dancers may experience muscle cramps due to a build-up of carbon dioxide.  Holding one’s breath can also result in increased blood pressure, which can cause headaches.

            Dancers should focus on lifting their torsos and using the image of lengthening their abdominal muscles rather than contracting them inward.  By doing so, they will be allowing the diaphragm to do its job and be able to breathe more easily. 
            Dancers also need to work on remembering to breathe throughout class.  Tension, created when trying to execute steps correctly and remember combinations and corrections, can also hinder breathing or cause shallow breathing. 

            Breathing tends to be more of an issue in ballet class than other classes like modern where teachers often ask to hear audible inhalations and exhalations.  Although it is untraditional, it can be helpful for ballet teachers to also request audible breathing from their students during warm-ups.  Another idea for teachers to employ is asking the dancers to use their voices when moving.  Singing a familiar song during warm-up sautés forces dancers to breathe.

            Additionally, teachers can actually cue breathing during warm-up exercises:  exhaling into a plié and inhaling when coming out of one; inhaling before a cambré forward and exhaling when reaching the floor, inhaling on the way up and exhaling into a cambré back.

            Yoga classes or incorporating yoga into a dance conditioning class will also help dancers to be aware of their breathing and encourage them to use breath to keep themselves dancing efficiently and in a healthy way.

Why Breathing is So Important When We Dance

"He lives most life whoever breathes most air."
                                                  - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

                                                Oxygen in…..
                                                            Carbon dioxide out…..
Breathing….it’s a functions of the autonomic nervous system that simply happens – until we focus on it -  then it becomes difficult for us to return to our normal breathing patterns….

What happens when we breathe?

            The major muscle involved in breathing, or respiration, is the diaphragm.  The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle found right under the lungs that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen.  When the diaphragm flattens, it allows room for the lungs to expand downward.  At the same time, the muscles of the rib cage contract to pull the ribs away from the lungs and allow even more space for them to expand.

            The lungs fill with oxygen, which is then transported throughout the body by the blood.  When oxygen arrives at the muscles, it is either stored in the muscles for future use or combines with glucose to create energy. 

            Glucose is what our bodies use for fuel.  When the body digests food, it breaks it down into glucose.  When glucose combines with oxygen,  it forms something called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.   ATP is energy and is needed for any type of muscle contraction to occur.  This process of combining glucose with oxygen to create ATP is called aerobic cellular respiration.  In addition to ATP, aerobic cellular respiration also releases heat, water, and carbon dioxide.  The body is able to deal with the additional water and heat, but must rid itself of the carbon dioxide, which it does when we exhale.

            Although the body can create ATP molecules without using oxygen, it is through a process that is very inefficient.  Creating energy without using oxygen is called anaerobic respiration.  Anaerobic respiration only produces 2 molecules of energy at a time as compared to aerobic respiration which can create 36-38 molecules of energy!  

            During exercise it is important to be certain that we are always breathing efficiently so that our bodies can get enough oxygen and efficiently create the energy we need.

            Next week’s post will address why breathing is often a problem for dancers and how they can learn to breathe efficiently and effectively in class, in rehearsals, and in performances.