Allegros and long variations can be quite challenging. Ballet is athletic. To sustain longer and harder variation, you’ll need to practice to build muscle strength. Including cardio activities such a running, rowing or jumping rope could also help you prepare for these aerobics part of your ballet practice.
What do you already know about the muscle on the picture?
How do you think it relates to improving your ballet technique?
We often think that the answer to better arabesque, jumps or turns is in stretching this or strengthening that. To us, the quality of your dancing skills comes from understanding how you can use your body’s capabilities to your advantage. Know the fundamentals of your placement and of efficient movement. Your body is your instrument, master it!
Key basic skill: stamina, the ability to sustain long effort.
The overall ballet class is more geared towards anaerobic efforts: many short exercises with a little time to rest in between. Long allegros and variations represent a small part of usual day. So including cardio in your routine like going for a run, or rowing, is a great way to improve your stamina.
But before that, there’s one simple change to get better stamina quickly: breathe efficiently. No one thinks about breathing: it’s natural. Obviously, breathing brings oxygen to your blood and muscles, and gets rid of the waste. We all know that, but there’s more to it.
Your breathing pattern affects your whole body
The following is a simplification of our anatomy focusing on basic principles. The purpose of this website is general education and awareness to help you with your practice.
When you breathe, your lungs inflate and deflate, expanding and contracting your rib cage. To inhale, the most important muscle is the diaphragm (shown in the picture). To exhale, your abdominal muscles are the primary muscles. On the exhale, the abdominals bring the ribcage back inwards, the diaphragm relaxes and is pulled back up, expelling the air outwards.
Due to the central position of your rib cage in your trunk and the attachment of so many muscles, bones and soft tissue, it affects many parts of your body: your spine (think balance), your shoulders (think port de bras), your abdominal and iliopsoas engagement (think leg extension), your hips placement (think pretty much anything!).
So breathing efficiently is much more important that it seems, yet it is an aspect of your dancing that is often overlooked.
How do you currently breathe?
Do this experiment with us. There’s no right or wrong answer at this stage, just awareness.
Breathe in deeply and gently, then allow the air to leave your body slowly and naturally, just let the exhale happen. Pay attention to your breathing pattern and notice how you currently breathe.
Where does your rib cage move? Is it through the front, the top, the sides, the back? Is your tummy relaxing, tightening, always tight? Do you feel your spine shortening and lengthening or does it remain steady?
You should not fight with your breathing pattern: you want to be aware of how you breathe and get the most of it.
Inefficient breathing range from a shallow breath to holding your breath
Inefficient breathing is when your rib cage barely moves, when you hold your breath most of the time, or, commonly among dancers, you breathe from your upper chest keeping your stomach very tight: your chest lifts up and open wide to the sides but there’s no movement of your rib cage in the back. For a dancer, these patterns are suboptimal because you don’t get the best gaz/blood exchange possible and your center of gravity is raised by your spine extension, which means suboptimal balance and partnering skills.
What does inefficient breathing feel like? How should we breathe?
Breathe in: let the air flow in
Pilates Principle No 1: Breathing in 3 Dimension. What does this mean? It means expanding the rib cage in all directions: the front, the sides and the back. The back is often overlooked. An exercise to learn efficient breathe is to flex forward up and over your knees as demonstrated by Roxane Stojanov in the photo.
Breathe in naturally: just allow the air to flow in. You want to feel the ribs widening in all three directions: front, side and back.
Then breathe out with pursed lips, which is as if you’re gently blowing through a straw to make small bubbles in your drink. Pursed lips help engage your deep transverse abdominus muscle that wraps around your waist like a girdle and is essential to the stability of your spine (think balance, turns, jumps, partnering…). That’s the level of abdominal contraction you want to maintain all the time, not just on an exhale.
This is the first change you want to make in your ballet routine!
Use your breath to facilitate ballet movements
Now the thing is to be smart and align your breathing with the movement. Choose a couple of ballet movements and identify how you can ‘flow through them’ and get more insight on breathing patterns to improve your performance.
Next time you enter the studio, pay attention to how you breathe: Do you hold your breath in those extensions, during the allegro? Do you breathe continuously?