On breathing

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I recently started to reread Taking Root to Fly: ten articles on functional anatomy, by Irene Dowd. As I hadn’t read it in almost twenty years, I was amazed to find how much I use her concepts in my teaching. This week, I want to talk about her article, On Breathing and the information she provides about breathing in order to dance better.

Dowd's suggestions for improving breathing techniques in the body:

  • Exhale as much as possible, but don't force it. By exhaling as much as you can, you get more oxygen into your body, which allows you to use your muscles better and avoid fatigue. By not pushing the exhale, you use less effort for breathing, reducing the amount of oxygen your muscles need to function. Reducing the amount of muscle tension you use to breathe also releases the muscle tension in your torso, which relaxes what Dowd calls "the body-mind"--just what we are looking for in tango!
  • Let laughter and humor be a part of your dance. This helps you breathe more easily than focusing on making your body breathe. You will notice that a lot of the games I give you in class make people laugh. Many of you noted that you were having fun, or that the movements seemed easier after such exercises. What you don't see because you are dancing is that you ALL move more easily when you laugh and smile! Letting the tension go helps tango.
  • Find one picture or idea to think about for breathing, rather than trying to open the lungs, don’t raise the shoulders, relax the solar plexus, breathe into the sides of your lungs, etc. all at the same time. Here are some images to try that Dowd mentions in her article:
  1. Focus on the breath going up and down the central axis of the body (this is what we do to prepare for the Force Field exercise).
  2. Think of your entire trunk as a cylinder expanding and shrinking in all directions simultaneously
  3. imagine the breath is a fountain shooting from out of the very center of the top of the head and flowing down the back, taking all tension with it (this is a basis of my Force Field exercise).
  4. think of being a tree whose trunk shoots up through its center growing always taller as the sap flows upward. Just as the tree’s branches and leaves move in the wind, your shoulders, arms and ribs hang, without effort. The less muscle tension and focus that you devote to holding your body upright, the more energy you have to give to your partner and to the dance (we'll do I Am the Fat Lady next week, which works on these ideas).
  5. think of your whole trunk as a big elastic balloon. The balloon fills and empties by itself, focusing on the flow of air. Dowd suggests making a sound when exhaling to focus on this (think Superpower and Energy Bunnies!).

Many of you have shared with me that you find it difficult to work on breathing when you "don't know the steps yet." Breathing is MUCH more important than the steps in tango: it connects you with your partner and allows a dialogue of movement that the most careful step execution cannot.

Which is more important for you: perfection or connection? For me, it used to be perfection (and, yes, I'm aware that I am still a perfectionist!), but connection has gradually become more important. After a tanda (dance set), I don't usually bemoan the lack of perfection, but if there was no energy and no connection with the other person's body-mind-soul, I feel cheated. BREATH is fundamental to connection, balance, focus and enjoyment.

Dowd (and I) suggest doing breathing exercises on the floor before trying them standing up. Trying them while dancing is step three. If you would like me to show these exercises to you, we can do that in the next class (just ask). Otherwise, breathing and posture exercises justify a private or small group lesson.

Next week: front ochos and turns at the cross for Tango I; intro to boleos for Tango II. See you then!!