Ballet

A Show of Hands

Lindsi Dec in Kyon Gaines' M-Pulse (by Angela Sterling)

You’re at the ballet, and a dancer catches your eye. She’s got strength, charisma and a beautiful movement quality—but there’s something about her that bothers you. Then you place it: Her hands! Her wrists are floppy and her fingers stick out all over the place. Small as they may be, those bad hand habits change the whole feel of her dancing.

The way you use your hands in ballet can make or break your line. The cardinal rule—hands should enhance your dancing, not distract from it—is simple enough. But getting just the right look can be tricky. Read on to learn about how different techniques use the hands, and how you can overcome the most common bad habits.

Style Matters

George Balanchine trained his dancers to have rounded and delicate hands. “He would have people hold a little ball so that the palm of the hand would round rather than stay flat,” says Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet. “When the fingers opened from the ball, he wanted them to open like a flower.” In the Balanchine style, all five fingers should be seen, not stuck together, and never held straight or stiff. There should be energy coming from the fingertips and life throughout the hands. In arabesque, stretch your fingers to the limit and elongate your line.

In the Vaganova style, the hands are placed so they follow the natural line of the arm. “The thumbs should be curved and softly touching the second joint, not the first joint, of the middle finger,” says Martin Fredmann, artistic director of the Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C. “The fingers should be separated but not all spread out. It’s a beautification of what’s natural, not an exaggeration.” Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) follows a similar model, but prefers a long line from the shoulder to the fingers, with no broken wrist. Cecchetti teachers prefer curved fingers in demi-seconde, as if you’re holding the edge of your tutu.

Albertson and Bramaz in In the Night (by Linda Hervieux)

All of the styles agree on one point: The hands should be expressive. “Most students forget there’s something beyond the wrist,” Mazzo says. “Always think of your hands as alive.”

Bad Habits

Most ballet dancers have had to overcome some kind of bad hand habit. Getting your hands right can take just as much time and effort as getting your pirouettes right. Lindsi Dec, a soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet, says her hands are a constant struggle for her. “I have one hand that’s more tense than the other, so it looks like a pancake,” she admits. “It’s hard for me to think about relaxing it and being strong in my legs simultaneously.” She focuses on initiating her arm movements from her back, not her fingers, to ease the tension in her hands.

Sometimes a little thing like nail polish can help make you more aware of your hands. When Dec first joined PNB, she even borrowed then-principal dancer Patricia Barker’s rings to wear for class. “They helped me think about my hands a bit more in center,” she says. If you don’t want to wear jewelry or paint your nails, imagine a tingling sensation in your fingertips, which will help you remain conscious of them.

Tricia Albertson, a principal with Miami City Ballet, struggles with another common problem: floppy wrists. “I have to work hard to think of my hand as an extension of my arm,” she says, “so that every line finishes with the fingertips.” She’ll often go through a variation marking the legs but doing the arms full-out, concentrating on maintaining the line of her arm through her wrists and fingers. To avoid flapping her hands during fast steps, like petit allégro, she’ll try moving her arms and legs at different tempos. “I half-time my arms so my wrists don’t respond to the jolt of each jump,” she says.

The best way to develop good hands is to be aware of how you’re using them right from the beginning. “Even when you’re starting your preparation at the barre, think about how you’re holding your fingers,” Mazzo says. “It doesn’t come automatically”—but it will, with practice.

Dance News
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

Getting injured during college doesn't have to ruin your semester. DS asked a professor, a certified athletic trainer, and a student who's overcome injury how you can deal.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Screenshot via YouTube

Look out, 'cause here they come!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ballet BC's Alexis Fletcher says experimenting with structured improv can make you more comfortable with risk. (Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)

The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.

But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?

Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.

Keep reading... Show less
Ashley Wallen's choreography brought The Greatest Showman to life. (Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

The 2018 Oscar noms are here. Which is fun and all; we'll never not get excited about a night of glitz and glamor and, when we're lucky, pretty great dancing. But we'd be a heck of a lot more excited if the Academy Awards included a Best Choreography category. And really—why don't they?

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Via @maudiepooh on Instagram

Maud Arnold is one of the busiest tap dancers on the planet. As a member of the Syncopated Ladies, Maud—along with her big sis and fellow tapper Chloé Arnold—is on constantly the road for performances, workshops, and master classes. For the average person, that kind of schedule could lead to a serious derailment of healthy habits. But Maud's far from average. Here's how the fit, fierce, flawless tap star stays stage-ready—no matter what time zone she finds herself in.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

Future Star winner Basia Rhoden (courtesy Starpower)

The second round of 2017 Future Star winners showcases more dancers with singular talent and ability. We're thrilled to celebrate their success!

Keep reading... Show less
Win It

If you're in need of a piece that's both trendy and sophisticated, look no further than this Só Dança crop top. Featuring elegant long sleeves, a high neckline, and a delicate lace trim, it's both classic and contemporary—perfect for everything from that big audition to a long night in the studio. Enter below for your chance to win it!

Keep reading... Show less
Juneau Dance Theatre student Anna McDowell filming an audition video with Bridget Lujan (courtesy Juneau Dance Theatre)

Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored