SANTA MONICA, Calif. — It sounds like such a simple thing. Breathing. In fact, Breath artist Dominic Shodekeh Talifero, who goes by Shodekeh, says it’s something most people don’t even think about.

“And I think that’s a reflection of a larger dynamic,” he explained. “I think we live very disembodied lives.”

It’s something he’s actively trying to change. A professional beatboxer, he spent his life immersed in hip hop culture, but things began to take on a new direction when he was playing music for a dance class at Towson University.

They asked if he could do something more elongated, more environmental, and what came out sounded like ocean waves, rustling winds, distant birds. At the time, he didn’t have a name for what he was doing, but over the next few years of research and experimentation and inspiration, he forged his own path.

This week Shodekeh has been doing a residency at Santa Monica College, collaborating with dance and music classes and holding workshops. 

Dance majors, like Raven Smith, are already aware of the connection between breath and body, but were excited about this opportunity to explore new ways for combining the two.

“The way you breathe can really translate into your movement,” Raven said. “It can really transform the way you dance.”

She and some of her classmates will soon put what they’ve learned to work. They will be participating in a public performance on Saturday at the SMC Barrett Gallery at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center. After this sonic pre-show, as it’s billed, Shodekeh will be performing one of his compositions at the BroadStage in concert with the group So Percussion. 

Breathing is an art, he says, but it’s also much more — a healing force tied to many aspects of life, including wellness, environmental stresses, even social justice.

“Breath art can help unpack some of those things,” he explained.

At least, that’s what it’s done for him. Shodekeh is a survivor of childhood abuse and says he found using his voice as an instrument helped him reclaim his body and his agency.

“You can’t buy that,” Shodekeh said. “That’s priceless. And fighting for that is worth more than gold.”

The pandemic also changed our relationship to breathe. Fear of airborne disease. Masks blocking our faces. We’re still in the midst of it, but Shodekeh also feels that we are on the verge of a shift in what he calls breath culture in the 21st century.

“It’s more than just making cool sounds,” he explained. “Hopefully it can be used as a tool for something way, way, way, way, way bigger than yourself.”

The human body has limitless potential, he says. We just have to learn to breathe into it.