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You have probably spoken with your dancers at length about how to find the calm in the eye of this storm we are enduring. Even young children and adolescents are dealing with the emotional and psychological ramifications of Covid-19. We, as dance educators can use movement and our bodies to help students find a catharsis of releasing fear, stress and anxiety they may be unable to verbalize.

While breathing is an essential part of dance and its connection to it, using this simple and fun improvisation directive can help dancers tap into different forms of breathing patterns while moving freely and releasing stress.

I would first have dancers begin sitting or standing in stillness with their hands on their stomachs through each of the directives to concentrate solely on the breath. Progress when comfortable by moving through space very slowly so they can initially feel the breath patterns as they incorporate movement. Discuss how different breathing patterns can then change the dynamics of the movement.


  1. Have dancers start moving slowly with an even breathing rhythm. Inhale through the nose/exhale through the nose. Give them enough time to find their own rhythm where breath is initiating the movement.
  2. Even breathing rhythm- inhale though the nose, exhale through the mouth.
  3. Long inhale/Long exhale
  4. Short inhale/short exhale 
  5. Long inhale/short exhale 
  6. Short inhale/long exhale
  7. Panting
  8. (Slow, sustained stretch or stillness) inhale for four counts, hold at the top for 2-4 counts, exhale slowly for four counts

*Notice how the movement quality and dynamics also change with each change.

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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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