Relationship between breath and expressivity in dance

by Miguel Balsa Vidal
(Cantabria - Spain)

Hello, I would like to know more details about breath and expression and how Graham, Limón or Wigman used breath to make their work. How breathing translates into dance. Is it written in a dance score how or when to exhale or inhale? Thank you very much, from Spain.

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Apr 01, 2013
Maria's reply
by: Maria

Dear Miguel,

I'm not a specialist of any of the three techniques you mention above, so unfortunately I only have some shallow information concerning your question.

I know that Limon taught to use the diaphragm to breathe, but I have not heard that this specific issue of his teachings had an explicit expressive goal.

The same thing happens with what I know about Martha Graham. I understand that Graham's contractions should be executed simultaneously with the exhalation and her release should be coordinated with the inhalation. However, I've never heard of an explicit goal of expressivity for this fact.

In the case of Wigman's teachings, I haven't heard anything related to breath. You know there are some researchers that state that Wigman did not even create a technique, in the same sense the Americans of her time did. However, I do have a document that consists of 75 pages of Labanotation scores of exercises from the 'Wigman Technique'. The title of the document is in German, as follows:

Die Frankfurter Seminarreihe in Wigman-Technik mit Prof. Gundel Eplinius (Zusammenfassung) Kinetogramm: Anja Hirvikallio, Frankfurt 1990/91

There's no writing of breath or breathing anywhere. Considering that this was notated in 1990, if the technique included any type of conscious or voluntary breathing, one could think that the notator (laban-writer) would have written it.

I do have labanotation scores that include the moment of inhaling or exhaling and the length of those actions. You know, it is more common to find the consciousness of breath or breathing in contemporary dance techniques from the somatic paradigm, like the variety of release techniques, the BMC and so forth...

Here's an example of a score in which breathing is notated:

Labanotation score with notated breathing

The example above is taken from the following document in French:

Les exercises fondamentaux de Irmgard Bartenieff transmis par Angela Loureiro, CMA. Notation : A. Loureiro et J. Challet-Haas, 2002-2003

The vertical column of the most extreme right corresponds to the breathing. The action starts by inhaling and then repeated exhalations and inhalations of different lengths follow.

Now, if you wish to do some research about the relationship of breath and expressivity in any of the three techniques mentioned first, I think it is better that you look for a specialist of each of the techniques.

Warm regards,


Apr 01, 2013
Following my last comment...
by: Maria


You may find related bibliography or useful links at our following pages:

Graham Technique

Jose Limon

Mary Wigman


Mar 09, 2015
Sway on
by: Secila

Any one who is professionally trained in dance will know these facts. The way you breath and the strain that you take during each expression you give results in your stamina and the overall out look of your dance. All these are related.

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