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Does Pilates breath inspire dance?

Posted By Adriano Bittar on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Following on from the exciting and intriguing posts from Christine Bergeron (How effective is Pilates as an additional training program for dancers?), and Jennifer Deckert (Breath: A Back-To-School Basic), the focus here is on Pilates and breath, specifically touching upon how they influence the performance of ballet.

The basis for discussion in this post comes from a study that investigated the effects of Fletcher Pilates® in the respiratory systems of young female ballet dancers from a public dance school. This study was presented as a poster at the IADMS 27th Annual Conference in Houston, USA1, and published in Brazil2.

 

BREATH in SCIENCE and DANCE

It is well reported by exercise physiologists and physiotherapists3,4 that breath plays an important role in providing the body with the necessary energy for daily living. Dancers, such as Duncan, Wigman, Humphrey and Graham also used breath to let the body access its full vibrant potency for artistic expression5. The presence of oxygen enables metabolic reactions and processes to take place, transforming nutrients into chemicals that provide energy in the cells (adenosine triphosphate, ATP) and the release of waste products.

Research tells us that breathing is a frequent movement dysfunction in human beings6,7. The shape of the diaphragm which is the primary muscle in inhalation, affects most body systems, because of its anatomical insertions and connections inside the body. You can find useful descriptions and diagrams of the diaphragm here. Postural modifications can indirectly challenge ventilation (breathing), while coordinated diaphragm contraction may contribute to control of the trunk8,9,10. This is one of the reasons why the placement of the neck, shoulder girdle, ribs and spine can be disrupted by bad breathing. The opposite could also be true: misalignment of the body can cause bad breathing. Therefore, applying good breathing principles to our daily living should turn into a regular practice inside and outside the dance studio.

In training, dancers aren’t often educated on how to optimize breathing and the function of their respiratory systems. Even though ballet dancers frequently take Pilates that teaches breath as a basis for body control, breath is not usually used consciously while they dance1. Often ballet dancers are encouraged to not let the audience see them fatigue, to keep the breath steady and to not belly breathe.

Science is starting to understand the benefits of the use of breath and there are lots of reasons why optimizing breathing might lead to optimized performance when dancing too. Dysfunctional breathing has been linked to health problems such as low back pain, anxiety, panic disorder and mood swings, not to mention decreased pain thresholds and impaired motor control, balance, and movement11, 12. Yoga and martial arts have used different breathing patterns, such as the parceling of air in and out in fractions, or holding the breath, that are practiced to boost better overall health. Western medicine has used breath as well, to improve health and sleep, manage anxiety and control energy levels13. Deep diaphragmatic breathing slows heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety14. What makes it all even more fascinating is that dancers could use breathing techniques to reprogram their brains, modify breathing behavior, and break inappropriate breathing habits. Research has shown that a better rhythm of breathing could coordinate activity across brain regions associated with smell, memory, and emotions, enhancing their functioning. In dance, this would allow for a greater capacity to learn and perform, as breathing would organize activity of multiple brain regions to help orchestrate complex behaviors15.

What would be the results of training dancers to understand the relevance of correct muscle activation and mechanics of breathing in daily activities and at work? What would it take to teach them to “move from breath”, so to understand the anatomy, physiology, functions and dysfunctions of breathing? Would they be able to add that other layer of perception to dancing? Have a look at Roger Fiametti’s “Respiration Totale” animation here to aid dancers’ understanding. Would it help to recuperate from their fatiguing routines? Would it also be of help to control posture, enhance performance and bring three-dimensional awareness to movement? These seem to be important questions that need explanation.

FLETCHER PILATES®: breath used consciously

Ron Fletcher (1921 - 2011), an American Pilates elder, ex-Graham dancer and choreographer, developed Fletcher Pilates®/FP, the Fletcher FundamentalsTM/FF and the Fletcher Percussive BreathTM/FPB after more than 22 years (1948 - 1970) of non-continuous studies with Joseph and Clara Pilates. Of all the Pilates elders, just Ron taught this breath, as he thought it would better inform his students of the coordination used while breathing. Ron devoted his life to the understanding of human movement, the use of breath, and the coordination and rhythmic motions of the body. You can find out more about Ron Fletcher and the Fletcher Percussive Breath here.

In the FPB, after a deep inhalation, with air being directed to the lateral ribs and to the front and back of the chest, air is blown out through the back of the teeth, providing awareness, resistance and more muscle engagement16. For more information about Fletcher Pilates, click here. Volume and control are key in the FPB, and aspects of breath such as rhythm, regularity, timing and direction are also important. Fletcher believes the breath should be seen happening in the body, as many body parts move when it is done correctly: “Let the breath inspire the movement. Every body can be improved, inside and outside, because the body potential is hardly ever realized. Body Contrology uses the total person. It is movement that demands thought with spirit with breath with body. One supporting the other”17. Body Contrology refers to the name given by Pilates to his method and later on, known by his surname, Pilates.

It has been evidenced by early research in diverse populations 16,18,19,20,21 that FP and the FPB can increase breathing capacity and lung function, maintain abdominal support of the lumbar spine, improve thoracic spinal mobilization and function and restore optimal posture.

Therefore, would Fletcher Percussive BreathTM/FPB, created by Ron Fletcher, from Fletcher Pilates®, prove to be useful to young ballet dancers, in order to allow for better use of their respiratory systems?

AN EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH TO USING BREATH IN BALLET

An experimental study evaluated 15 female adolescent ballet dancers from a public professional dance school in Brazil. The dancers were injury-free and were already taking ballet classes and/or rehearsing for at least 5 years, for 15 hours per week or more.

They took part in a specific training program with the FP method, that focused on the teaching of the FPB and FF in standing, in 1-hour long classes, for 4 weeks, twice per week whilst continuing their normal dance classes and rehearsals. Dancers were tested before and after the experiment for expansibility of the lower area of the trunk, specifically the thoraco-abdominal region; maximal exhaling time; and muscle strength when breathing in (inspiratory strength).

This study found that the ballet dancers improved their thoracoabdominal expansibility, better coordinating the rhythm of their in and out-breath. The inspiratory strength improved significantly to almost double after the study.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

FP and the FPB had a very positive effect on the breathing patterns of young female ballet dancers, influencing positively the mechanics of the breath and the respiratory muscle strength.

Breathing techniques could play a major role in aiding breathing function amongst young dancers learning ballet. Teachers can incorporate breathing techniques into their classes. Research of different breathing strategies used in the ballet class, before or during performance may highlight other practical aspects concerning the use of the breath in dance and help young dancers to evolve in their art form.

 

INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE?

Of all the references given, start off with:

1.     Calais-Germain, B. Anatomy of Breath. Seattle, WY: Eastland Press, 2006. An excellent book on the A&P of breath.

2.     Roger Fiammetti’s “Respiration Totale” animation, available here.  This video will give you an overview of how breath works inside the body.

3.     Information on the FPB and FP can be found here.

4.     Find out more about Fletcher Pilates at www.fletcherpilates.com.

REFERENCES

1.     BITTAR, A.; MELO, R.; NOLETO, R.; LEMOS, T. The effects of Fletcher Pilates® in the respiratory systems of young female ballet dancers from a public dance school. In: IADMS 27th Annual Conference, 2017, Houston, TX. , p. 78.

2.     MELO, R.; NOLETO, R.; BITTAR, A.; LEMOS, T. As Influências da Respiração Percussiva Fletcher® nas Mobilidades Torácicas e Abdominal, Força e Coordenação Respiratórias em Bailarinas Jovens de Uma Escola Pública de Dança de Goiânia. MOVIMENTA, V. 11, n. 1,  p. 20-34, 2018.

3.     CALAIS-GERMAIN, B. Anatomy of Breath. Seattle, WY: Eastland Press, 2006.

4.     HALL, J. Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology (13th edition). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2016.

5.     SUQUET, Annie. O Corpo Dançante: um laboratório de percepção. In: COURTINE, Jean-Jacques; CORBIN, Alain; VIGARELLO, Georges. História do Corpo: 3. As mutações do olhar: O século XX. Petrópolis: Vozes, 2008.

6.     BORDONI, B.; ZANIER, E. Anatomic connections of the diaphragm: influence of respiration on the body system. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare. 2013; 6: 281-291.

7.     BORDONI, B.; PURGOL, S.; BIZZARRI, A.; MODICA, M.; MORABITO, B. The Influence of Breathing on the Central Nervous System. Cureus. 2018; 10(6): e2724.

8.     HODGES, P.; RICHARDSON, C. Relationship between limb movement speed and associated contraction of the trunk muscles. Ergonomics, v. 40, p. 220-1230, 1997.

9.     HODGES, P.; GANDEIVA, S. Activation of the human diaphragm during a repetitive postural task. J Physiol Lond, v. 522, p. 165-175, 2000.

10.  HODGES P.; GANDEIVA S. Changes in intra-abdominal pressure during postural and respiratory activation of the human diaphragm. J Appl Physiol, v. 89, p. 967-976, 2000a.

11.  KIESEL, K.; RHODES, T.; MUELLER, J.; WANINGER, A.; BUTLER, R. Development of a Screening Protocol to Identify Individuals with Dysfunctional Breathing. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2017 Oct; 12(5): p. 774–786.

12.  KUVAČIĆ, G.; FRATINI, P.; PADULO, J.; ANTONIO, D.; DE GIORGIO, A. Effectiveness of yoga and educational intervention on disability, anxiety, depression, and pain in people with CLBP: a randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice31, 262-267, 2018.

13.  MCLAUGHLIN, L.; GOLDSMITH, C.; COLEMAN, K. Breathing evaluation and retraining as an adjunct to manual therapy. Man Ther. 2011; 16(1): p. 51-52.

14.  RAYMOND, J.; SAJID, I.; PARKINSON, L.; GRUZELIER, J. Biofeedback and dance performance: a preliminary investigation. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, v. 30, n. 1, p. 65-73, 2005.

15.  ZELANO, C.; JIANG, H. ZHOU, G.; ARORA, N.; SCHUELE, S.; ROSENOW, J.; GOTTFRIED, J. Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. Journal of Neuroscience. 36 (49) 12448-12467, 2016.

16.  BITTAR, A.; JUBÉ, L.; HANCOCK, C.; PAIVA, T.; SABIN, K. The effects of Fletcher Towelwork® in women with breast cancer: clinical trial. PMA Conference, Phoenix, 2016.

17.  FLETCHER PILATES, 2018. Retrieved from .

18.  VOLÚ, A.; NORA, F.; BITTAR, A. The Importance of Fletcher Towelwork® in Decreasing Shoulder Pain of a Paraplegic bound to a Wheelchair: case study. MOVIMENTA. vol. 7, n. 3, 2014.

19.  SILVA, G.; RIBEIRO, C.; BITTAR, A. Efeitos do método Fletcher Matwork® na expansibilidade torácica. Artigo de esp. - PUCGO, GYN; 2014.

20.  SILVA, G.; RIBEIRO, C.; BITTAR, A. The Sub-acute Effects of the Fletcher Pilates® Mat on a Group of PE from Athletics Fitness Center. Post-graduation in Pilates, monograph, PUC/GO, 2014a.

21.  SILVA, M.; DIAS, K.; BITTAR, A. The Effects of Fletcher Towelwork® in the Peripheral Muscle Strength and Thoracic Extension of Dentists. Summary II International Fletcher Pilates® Conference. Tucson/USA, 2015.

 

 

Adriano Bittar - PT, PhD, State Uni of Goiás, Goiânia, Brazil; Brazil-United Kingdom Dance Medicine & Science Network, adriano@studioabittar.com

 

 

 

Tags:  breath  breathing  pilates 

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How effective is Pilates as an additional training program for dancers?

Posted By Christine S. Bergeron on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Monday, August 20, 2018

As an active Pilates and dance instructor for over 18 years, I can see the connection and similarity between dance technique and Pilates. Some of the similarities include the focus on body alignment, core engagement, pelvic placement, full body engagement, concentration, and precision. It seems, as a community, we have accepted Pilates as a leading supplemental training method among dancers. It has been accepted and implemented into many university dance programs across the world. Yet questions arise such as, “is the research there to support this whole-hearted acceptance of Pilates as supplementary training for dance?“ and “why have we been so willing to embrace Pilates as a  training method for dancers?” Historically, when Pilates came to the U.S. in 1926, his first Pilates studio was in the same building the New York City Ballet so dancers had immediate access to his method. Dancers such as George Balanchine, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, and Hanya Holm all worked with Pilates. Beyond the historical connection, dancers flock to his method because they relate to so many of its principles and they feel a sense of familiarity. However people have asked me, “Are the similarities between Pilates and dance good for dancers?” I have also been asked, “Should dancers cross train in a training method that has similar principles?” “Should dancers continue to do the same movement patterns they always do or would it be more beneficial to make the body experience something different altogether?” I have my opinions on this question and would love to have a friendly conversation or debate with some of you. However, before we can address these questions, we must first ask, “do we have evidence to suggest that Pilates is indeed beneficial for dancers?”

 

 

Personal Experience

Although the research is limited and unclear, I have seen changes in a dancer’s body following Pilates training. Some of the improvements I have witnessed have been an increase in muscular strength and range of motion, corrected misalignments, better pelvic placement, clarity in movement patterns and improved spinal extension. When working with dancers, my approach varies depending on several factors including but not limited to technique level, injury status, and overall fitness level. Although the exercises may be similar, the focus of the exercises change. I place people on different pieces of equipment based on the dancer’s need and limitations. Do they need more or less assistance in the springs to help them execute the exercise? Are we working more quadriceps or hamstrings when doing leg exercises? These answers, and others, guide me to make selections for each client. 

 

As with most training methods, Pilates has evolved since its inception in the 1920’s, and it continues to evolve as we learn more about the body. Today there are three forms: Classical, Modern and Clinical Pilates. Classical Pilates remains close to Joseph Pilates’ original exercises while Modern Pilates embraces current ideas on movement principles, modifying the original exercises and utilizing new pieces of equipment. Clinical Pilates is influenced by physical therapy and biomechanics to create new exercises and modifications focused on injury rehabilitation. The approaches and thought processes for these forms is different. Are all three forms beneficial for dancers? Is one better than another?

 

Looking at the Research

If you look at the research that has been done on Pilates and dancers, it is not only limited but the findings are inconsistent. In a recent literature review of Pilates and dancers done in 2017, out of the nine peer-reviewed research studies published, Pilates showed improvements in muscular strength and flexibility but appeared to be ineffective in increasing vertical jump height and balance (Bergeron, Greenwood, Smith and Wyon, 2017). However, due to the limited published studies, it is difficult to say one way or another if Pilates is effective or ineffective in regards to balance, muscular strength and endurance, pelvic stability, jump height, etc . 

 

When looking at the research, there were several limitations with the scientific methods of the studies. All had a small number of participants (groups ranged from 10-29 participants), none of the studies were longitudinal in design, and in most of the studies, it was unclear as to what Pilates exercises were performed during many of the training programs. With regard to the testing methods, many were not made for dancers and could be seen as “too easy for the dancer.” For example, one study measuring balance only looked at a static balance task rather than a moving, changing, dynamic balance task that would be more challenging for the dancer (Amorium, Sousa, Machado and Santos, 2011). A more challenging balance task would have perhaps been more representative of dance training. Another study (McLain, Carter and Abel, 1997) used a Pilates reformer to see if improvement could be seen in supine jump. How does this measurement translate to a vertical jump done standing? Perhaps looking at how it would have helped in vertical jumps in ballet such as a sauté in first or fifth would have been more beneficial to dance performance. Furthermore, the studies lacked comparisons of Pilates to other supplemental training methods such as cross fit, running, or interval training. Based on the limited research, all we may be able to speculate is that Pilates improves muscular strength, posture, alignment and flexibility and that it is better than doing no other supplemental training at all. If we don’t compare Pilates to other forms of training how do we know that Pilates should be the preferred training method among dancers?

 

 

Some questions for more discussion

One of the first questions instructors need to ask as they integrate Pilates as a cross training method for dancers is “what is the purpose?” Is the dancer working on regaining strength and/or range of motion while returning from an injury; is the goal to re-teach a movement pattern; or is Pilates being used to gain overall fitness? My approach in developing a plan for a dancer depends on the answer to these questions. A Pilates instructor should learn who their client is, what their limitations and strengths are, the style of dancer they favor, and most importantly what their individual goals are. Once their goals are established then one can better serve the dancer and create an individual, continually changing and evolving plan.

 

As we continue to explore ways to determine the effectiveness of Pilates for dancers, let us ask these questions:

1.     Is Pilates effective for all aspects of dance: strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, etc.?

2.     If it is found that Pilates is only effective in certain aspects, do we look for a training method that supports all aspects of dance or do we think focusing on one or two aspects has its value?

3.     How does each piece of Pilates equipment (mat, reformer, Cadillac/trapeze table (see photo I), chair, corealign [see photo II] and other small props) compare to each other? Are they all beneficial?

4.     Is one form of Pilates (Classical, Modern, Clinical) better than another?

5.     Is Pilates an effective method for recovery from injury for dancers?

6.     How does Pilates compare to other forms of cross training?

 

Conclusion

I know this post raises more questions than answers, but in the end, we don’t have the answers. We need more published research. From my conversations with other Pilates instructors, I know there is more research going on around the world than is reflected in peer-reviewed articles. I urge those of you doing the research for Pilates and dancers to get your findings published. For those of you teaching Pilates and working with dancers, team up and do some studies. As a Pilates instructor who works with dancers, I have faith that the research will support the effectiveness of Pilates on dancers. However if the research doesn’t support this, what will our next step be? Will we continue to embrace it or will we turn to another training method that is proven to improve a dancer’s training and performance?

 

 

For further information check out these resources:

Amorim, T., Sousa, F., Machado, L., & Santos, J. (2011). Effects of Pilates Training on Muscular Strength and Balance in Ballet Dancers. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences. 11(2), 147-150.

Bergeron, C., Greenwood, M., Smith, T., & Wyon, M. (2017) Pilates and Dancers: A Systematic Review. National Dance Society Journal. 2(1)

Latey, P. (2001). The Pilates Method: History and Philosophy. J Bodywork Movement Ther., 5(4), 275-82.

McLain, S., Carter, C., & Abel, J. (1997). The effect of a conditioning and alignment program on the measurement of supine jump height and pelvic alignment when using the Current Concepts Reformer. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 1(4), 149-54.

Owsley, A. (2005). An introduction to clinical Pilates. Athletic Therapy Today, 10(4), 19.

Parikh, C. & Arora, M. (2016). Role of Pilates in rehabilitation: a literature review. International Journal of Therapies and Rehabilitation Research, 5(4), 77-83.

 

Christine Bergeron has served as the Director of Dance Programs and Initiatives at Texas A & M University since 2008. She received a B.A. in Dance Education from the University of Akron and an M.F.A. in Choreography and Performance from Florida State University.  Currently she is seeking her PhD in Dance Science from the University of Wolverhampton.  Chris is certified in Pilates Mat through the advanced level and is an Associate Instructor for the Pilates Equipment work from the Physical Mind Institute and Balanced Body. She is a co-opted member of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee.

 

 

Tags:  cross-training  pilates 

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Pilates: A natural choice for dancers

Posted By Margot McKinnon and Hannah Etlin-Stein, Monday, November 9, 2015

Dance is complex movement that integrates both artistry and physicality seamlessly. Dancers require the creativity and grace of an artist coupled with the strength and control of an athlete.


 

It’s now widely acknowledged by dance researchers, clinicians and educators that supplementary training is an essential ingredient to a dancer’s success and longevity. Dance class alone does not provide the necessary physical adaptations to ensure optimal performance and reduced risk of injury.

 

For most dancers, Pilates is a natural choice when it comes to supplementary training. Founder Joseph Pilates, began developing his movement program during World War 1. He immigrated to New York City in the 1920s, where he gained notoriety with the New York City Ballet. Dancers flocked to Joe’s studio because his method helped them dance better. Ever since, Pilates and dance training have been deeply interconnected.


Dancers feel comfortable with Pilates because the principles integral to dance training are also emphasized in Pilates. Pilates brings our attention to the importance of deep core support, pelvic alignment and full ROM allowing for fluid and controlled movement throughout the body. Pilates teaches us to how to integrate our spine with our limbs so overall movement is more fluid and embodied. This leads to efficient, fluid, whole body movements that are essential principles of dance.

 

 


My experience working with dancers over 15 years has proved that connecting mind and body lead to meaningful results. By building awareness about how movement works, where it comes from and how to connect to it kinaesthetically, dancers can bring a new level of sophistication to their dance practice. They are stronger and more flexible and more mindful of how to move with integrity from deep in the body.


 


Researchers have also started to examine the benefits of Pilates for dancers.

 

An experimental study by McMillan and associates found that a 14-week Pilates intervention improved dynamic alignment in ballet students. As well, a study by Amorim and Wyon found that dancers who participated in a 12-week Pilates Mat intervention increased their levels of muscular strength and flexibility compared to a control group who showed no changes participating in normal dance class. Due to these muscular adaptations, dancers were able to hold a developpé position for an average of 9 seconds longer, and increased their height 4-10°.

 

It’s important to note the importance of conditioning outside of dance class for both improved performance and protection from injuries. Dance movement stresses similar muscle groups because of repetitive movements. Pilates can encourage muscle balance by working joints through full ROM and building support in all layers of soft tissue.

 

 

 

Lastly, Pilates as a supplementary training feels familiar to dancers because it embodies artistry quality of movement and an emphasis on breathing, alignment and adaptation, deep core support and mobility. Because of this, dancers may enjoy and commit to Pilates with ease. This can mean a higher rate of adherence to supplementary training.


All photo are courtesy of Body Harmonics and used with their consent.


References:

 

Amorim, T. & Wyon, M. Pilates Technique for Improving Dancers’ Performance. IADMS Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers. 2014;5(2).

 

McMillan A, Proteau L, Lebe R: The effect of Pilates-based training on dancers’ dynamic posture. J Dance Med Sci. 1998;2(3):101-7.

 

Margot McKinnon is founder of BODY HARMONICS: Pilates studios, integrated health clinics and international teacher education program. www.bodyharmonics.com


Tags:  dancers  pilates 

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