Breath and Intention : An Exploration of Movement Clarity Within the Ballet Form

Date of Award


Document Type

MSU-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


College of the Arts


Theatre and Dance

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Christian von Howard

Committee Member

Apollinaire Scherr

Committee Member

Diann Sichel


As the world begins to move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a heightened awareness of breathing as a complex motor task – both automatic and deliberate in nature. My research for this thesis project studies how unique personal breathing habits affect the body and, in turn, how the body affects breath, specifically in the ballet aesthetic. While in modern dance the breath is often embedded in the training, for American ballet it is not as thoroughly engrained. As a dance educator, I find ballet dancers often rely on the automatic nature of the action rather than accessing and exploring the breath phrase of their movement to bring greater authenticity and total body awareness to their dancing. In this MFA project, I investigate the dancer as a physical storyteller and breath as the catalyst for this whole-body engagement. This thesis project explores how breath patterns can inform the body in motion and be used as a choreographic and storytelling tool.

Collaborative efforts from the dancers and composer regarding their relationship to breath formed the foundation from which this choreographic process developed. The creative presentation portion of my thesis project titled Breath Taking is organized into five sections, reflective of the varied ways dancers relate to breath. Danced en pointe and en terre, this work reveals how breath can further enhance ballet dancers' fluidity of movements, relationship to music, and connectivity to other dancers while performing. My academic research regarding breathwork and my study of breath integration in select somatic practices and modern dance techniques offers implications that attention to breath needs to be an integral element of American ballet pedagogy.


The performance video is restricted to the Montclair State University community but the PDF file of the thesis, which is located at the bottom of the screen, is available to anyone interested in reading it.

File Format


Herrin, Rebecca_Redacted.pdf (1564 kB)
PDF file of written thesis

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