FOCUS: Backs  & Breathing

“Proper phrasing of the breathe adds fullness to the movement…” – Joan Lawson

I believe that talking about ‘backs’ and ‘breathing’ together is a good combination because both need to work simultaneously and harmoniously.

About a year ago, I was given a book called The Teaching of Classical Ballet by Joan Lawson. One of the chapters is titled, “The Training of the Back & Breathing”.

After reading the chapter it helped me better explain to clients the importance and mechanics of breathing for pirouettes, breathing for adage, breathing for allegro! And how to hold the scapula and shoulders in place to improve your classical line.

A fabulous read if you’re into ‘technical’ books. You can purchase it from Amazon here…



From ‘The Teaching of Classical Ballet’…

The classical dancer, both boy and girl achieve the best results when the spine has been straightened to its fullest extent. But so often when this happens the spine is stiffened and becomes strained because it’s three natural curves have been eliminated and deprived of their true function. These three natural curves act as shock-absorbers, therefore they must be trained to respond at all times to the total movement of the body.


In order to do this, the spine must be trained to bend in three places without disturbing the true centre of balance which every dancer must acquire if he or she is to maintain the turn-out, the preparation and landing from any jump, pirouette, pose etc.

So what are these three points?

  1. The First Bend (Head Bend) – is our head. Our head must be able to move freely and independently whilst the shoulders remain relaxed and unencumbered.
  2. The Second Bend (Shoulder Bend) – starts with the shoulder-blades. These must be slid down and inwards towards the spine.
  3. The Third Bend (Waist Bend) – comes from the diaphragm, which must be lifted to allow a ‘still’ pelvis during any extensions.


I repeat, the lower half (lumbar and sacrum) do not move during most classical ballet movements. Obviously there are a few exceptions; for example you can’t perform a grandé battement derriere without releasing the pelvis and lumbar spine, however it should remain very held throughout port de bras, tendu and most à terre (on the ground) movements.

Breathing in ballet can be difficult, because we are told to not ‘suck in’ or ‘stick out’ the stomach. Unlike other practises like Yoga where it’s often ideal to see the stomach rising and lowering with inhalation and exhalation.
As classical dancers, we must hold the diaphragm comfortably and breathe with minimal disturbance of the ‘flat’ aesthetic we’re trying to accomplish.
  • Place your hands (palms against body) under your breast bone
  • Start focussed, even breathing.
  • Try to maintain a small waist, whilst expanding the rib cage on the inhale…
  • …and drawing the fingers closer to each other on the exhale.


TIP: Next time you’re performing a plié exercise; inhale on the plié and exhale on the return from the plié. Even in the grande plié – only inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up.


*Which is also great for opening the hips!
  • Simply lay on your back (ensure spine is straight with neutral neck/head position)
  • Open your legs into a comfortable ‘froggy’ position
  • Place your hands (palms to roof) just under your knees
  • Imagine on every exhale your knees getting closer to your palms
  • Don’t ‘pop’ the rib cage

Speaking of ‘popping’…

TIP: No one likes a ‘pop star’ in ballet. This is the horrible position where the stomach is sucked in, ribs protruding and to top it off the tailbone is tilted. Ew. Don’t do it.


Last week in my adult ballet technique class and junior classes, I gave exercises that helped the students focus on the three bends and breathing. I think the combination worked really well. After all, you can’t do one without the other. Try breathing with slumped shoulders… it’s hard work!

How do you concentrate on your breath in class? I’d love to know…

Peace & Pliés,

Georgia x