The Ultimate 10-Minute Vocal Warm Up for Dancers

As I’ve written about before, warm-ups are important for any performer – physically and vocally. Whether you consider yourself a singer, a dancer, an actor or a combination thereof, it is essential to make sure your body is prepared for anything that might be thrown your way.

Starting out as a dancer, I was very aware of my body how to physically prepare for an audition, but preparing vocally was harder. I see a lot of dancers do simple arpeggios (1-3-5-8-5-3-1) with about 20% of the concentration they would give their physical warm-ups – simply because they don’t know how.

I have devised a simple warm-up that should take no longer than 10 minutes (which is about the amount of time you have to change and “get ready” in the switch from a dancer to a singer audition call) that uses 3 different vocal techniques and is designed specifically for a dancer.

1. Lessac Kinesensic Training

What is it? Lessac Kinesensic Training is a technique developed by Arthur Lessac for actors to use their bodies as a tool in their acting. His amazing book was first published in 1960. This method focuses on developing the voice and body in a holistic way – learning to sense the movement or motion of the body, gathering the information, and using that information for optimal body function, or in this case, optimal sound (see how this is great for dancers??).

Best quote: “The voice is body, and the body is voice.”

1st Exercise: Breathe. Dancers tend to breathe shallow because the abdominal muscles are being held so tightly, while singers must have deep breaths in order to have enough air to sustain long, held notes. Optimal body placement for breathing is an elongated spine, unlocked knees, and a naturally expanded chest/thorax. Let the dancer waft from side to side, front to back and around in a circle. “Feel the breath” without forcing anything. The breath should be lower now that the abdominal muscles have expanded, and the abdominal wall will release on the in-breath. Try doing this exercise without any pitch at first, then slowly add in notes and rhythms with the adjusted “breath feel.”

2nd Exercise: Y Buzz. Think of a slight yawn and hum on “Y” on a descending scale. Now invigorate that “Y” with a true “EE.” Make sure the sensation of yawning is still in your mouth, and think of placing the sound behind the two front teeth on the hard palate. You should feel a buzzing behind your two front teeth, then in your nose bone and cartilage, up into the forehead, and perhaps even in your head and spine. To check to make sure you are staying out of the world of being nasally, pinch your nose and the sound should remain the same. The Y Buzz forces strain and stress to disappear and a natural relaxation to be present (which is very important when preparing for an audition). The sense of forwardness is important to establish before doing any real singing. The breath has to be engaged to get the vocal folds to vibrate, but it establishes the idea that voice is not vocalized breath – more breath does not mean more sound. It also helps the dancer be comfortable with a vocal stream of natural breath rather than pushing or forcing air – simple inhalation and exhalation.

2. Speech Level Singing (SLS) 

What is it? Developed by Seth Riggs, the SLS method basically teaches the idea that “singing is nothing more than sustained speech over a greater pitch and dynamic range.”

Best quote: You don’t sing like you speak, but you need to keep the same comfortable, easily produced vocal posture you have when you speak, so you don’t ‘reach up’ for high notes or ‘press down’ for low ones.”

3rd Exercise: Working through breaks and passagio. On the pitches 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, sing the vowels “Nay,” “mum,” and “soo.” Do one vowel per arpeggio- so you will be doing the same “scale” three times through before switching to the next key. Using the vowel “nay” helps trick the voice into resonating correctly (i.e. resonating in the nasal cavities for high notes). This placement helps the singer ascend and descend through their range with a consistent and even line and with no tonal shifts. “Mum” forces the resonance to the back with the soft palate lifted – basically the opposite of “nay” – teaching the soft palate to stay lifted despite resonance. “Soo” is the combination of both – a healthy, non-nasally sound. Basically, go to the extremes and find a happy medium!

3. Estill Technique 

What is it? Speech pathologist Jo Estill developed the Estill Technique in 1988. Estill’s research led to a series of vocal maneuvers to develop specific control over individual muscle groups within the vocal mechanism. These maneuvers make up the “13 Figures.”

4th Exercise: Sirens with Anchor. While doing basic vocal sirens (swooping the entire range on a “ng,” then a “yah”), make sure that the body is relaxed but anchored, just like when singing in an audition. Anchor your torso by pretending to lift two suitcases (one in each hand), or stand as if about to fall backward, or imagine small balloons under each armpit and squeeze to engage the torso muscles – your pecs, lats, and quadratus lumborum muscles. Anchor your neck by “shivering” the head to the left and right, or press the back of your hand against your forehead to engage your neck muscles, the sternocleido-mastoids. Anchor your head by snorting! Sneering and flaring nostrils while breathing normally helps engage the muscles around the soft palate.

5th Exercise: Thyroid tilt/Cricoid tilt. Gently moan, cry or siren on “ng” – feel the thyroid cartilage move by putting your hand gently on the front of your throat. This exercise helps stretch the vocal folds and create a gentle larynx movement. It stretches the full voice and gets the larynx down for more of a classical sound. Next, say “hey mom” in full voice before belting the phrase on ascending pitches. Say the phrase each time before singing it. This helps the thyroid stay stable while the cricoid tilts up, which is preferable for belting. The larynx slowly moves up into a position healthy for belting or “healthy shouting on pitch” and should prepare you to successfully pull off those money notes!

Even if you aren’t a dancer, I hope these exercises can help you get the most out of your vocal warm-up. Also, if one of these techniques really speaks to you, check it out! There is so much information out there about all three of these methods, including certified teachers in your area!

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