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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How the hands should move


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I would like some guidance on how my hands should move. When I first returned to class, I was moving my hands about quite a lot. I had always thought that the hands should be very expressive and should lead the arm. Now I am learning that it is the elbow which should lead the arm. Am I right in thinking that the hand should stay soft and let the major movement come from the elbow, unless there is a specific reason to move the hand in a gesture?


How does one learn to keep the hand soft, if so?

Mine get stiff looking and can even look claw like when I feel tense.

I have also been using my wrist too much and now I believe that this is not really correct either?

Does it generally help if one tries not to clutch the barre for dear life?? LOL!


Thanks :clapping:

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The arms do NOT move from the elbows, they move from the back. If the arms are moving from the torso, and the wrists are relaxed enough to allow the hands to move without tension but with energy, then that is all you need to think about. The arms are not lead by the wrists, either. Leading from the elbows is ghastly. Sorry, but I really, really disagree with that idea.


Not gripping the barre is definitely a good idea, for many reasons.

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Thanks Victoria, is it like more from the shoulders or the actual back? I am just learning so it's ok if you think it's "ghastly" ! LOL


How does one keep from gripping the barre....any hints would be very helpful! ;)

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It is from the back, not the shoulders.


The hand on the barre should be resting on top of the barre, without the thumb underneath it, or the fingers gripping over the top of it. The elbow and wrist should be relaxed. It should be slightly in front of the body, not directly side and NEVER behind it. If you grip the barre and use it for your balance, then you are not using the muscles in the body that create balance when there is no barre there. It should be helpful, but not actually supporting you. If you move somewhere, it should go with you, sliding gently forward if you move forward, like in a temps lié en avant, or backward if you do something that moves you backward.

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If you need to grip the barre then as Victoria said you aren't using the muscles and balancing yourself. I try to keep just a finger on the barre. This could partly explain why you've felt rylons, that you aren't looking as graceful as you would like when you dance. I think one has to feel the balance inside yourself first otherwise everything is going to feel off. And if you are too reliant on the barre then in center you are not going to be able to maintain the technique (as you didn't develop the right muscles at the barre). You might want to lift your hand off 1/2 inch off the barre every now and then to make sure that you are balancing yourself and not relying on the barre to support you.


Interestingly the thing that has helped me the most recently has been a belly dance class I am taking. I did not expect to reap any benefits from it in my ballet class, but surprisingly I have. Since there is no barre at all in the belly dance class we have to really use the core to dance--for the isolations of upper body, torso and hips. My teacher was always telling us in ballet to engage the abs, but I wasn't really doing it. I didn't start doing it consistently until the belly dance classes, as I had no choice. This improved my cambre back and in general my "aplomb" in ballet class. I find Pilates boring, but I know that is very helpful with engaging the abs in a way that is helpful for ballet.

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I had a group of teachers that requested we do some barre exercises (that don't involve arabesque) with our hands placed directly side on the barre to keep the shoulder from coming forward. Is that incorrect? Or do you suppose it's because we already had a problem with our placement and that was just to "feel" our mistakes?


Agreed that the hands are not meant to be "expressive" to the point where they flail and flop. I have a problem with moving my hands too often as well. The hands to the fingertips are also a continuation of the entire line from your back, through your shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, etc. Think of too much hand movement being equal to "breaking the line".


Of course, they should not be stiff as well, and certainly you'll find in some ballets that there are stylized movements traditionally found in those particular ballets: eg. Sleeping Beauty (Aurora does a flicking motion with her hands in her solo variation after the grand pas de deux, very particular to this ballet), Swan Lake (lovely wings & feathers), Don Q. (flamenco-esque hand motions).

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Can I follow up Ms. Leigh's comment (and maybe get a comment in return) - I am wondering if in ballet energy always flows from the core - at least where arms are concerned. Strength and movement are initiated at the core, flow to the shoulders, then to the arms, wrists and finally fingers. That is, what happens in the hand reflects what has already been generated more towards the centre of the body. Alternatively, if the hands move MORE than they should depending what the arms have done, they will look as though they are gesturing or possibly flapping pointlessly.


This way, you are communicating a movement that is initiated in the centre of the body - which is how we move naturally. In contrast, an artificial movement may start at the hands, and the body moves afterwards (even if only momentarily). And one of the goals of ballet is to make a highly artificial way of moving look natural.


Am I on the right lines?



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I think you are, Jim. One of the biggest problems I have with students coming into my level is when they have been taught to "hold" or "put" their hands/fingers in some specific position. Hands that are held have no flow at all, but if one is actually motivating the port de bras from the core, and there is no tension stopping the energy flow, then the hands should fall naturally into a very pleasing look.


I know, sounds easy, right? NOT. But I really wonder often if the the not easy part is because they don't learn HOW to do port de bras early enough. Actually, not really wonder any more, just really think that is the problem. They are not taught to coordinate the movement of the arms with movement, and not taught how to find a fluidity in their movement before bad habits of stiffness and excess tension appear.

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This is all very interesting and thanks everyone for the very useful info and comments.

Last night in class, I lightly held the barre...more lay my hand on it and I feel that I did pretty well with trying to relax a bit.

I also tried to remain conscious of my arms moving from the back and the core and I think things looked a bit better. I feel it in my back today..and my shoulder blades way at the back. Would this sound right?

I DID get sme nice commnets from my teacher anyhow... :)

WOW! A ballet class done well really far outruns the gym for causing muscle pain... having starteed four classes a week a few months ago, I always feel some muscle pain...including in my arms, back, hips and even neck. Had no idea all these muscles existed.


Thanks for the help on the hand movement...I think I get it ;)

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A comment I heard a teacher tell a class that was gripping the barre was "the barre is just in case of emergencies." :)

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Our teacher always says to think of the barre as your pas de deux partner, and don't break the poor fella's hand with your iron grip.


One of our other teachers has us do some exercises with just our fingertips on the wall to stop us leaning on the barre.

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I don't know if this is going to translate into words, but I always sort of rotate my arms the same way one rotates their legs: shoulders back, elbows lifted, and wrists/palms rotated upwards. It creates a nice curved line from the tip of the index finger all the way to your shoulder. It keeps the energy flowing and the arms look soft but still lively, as your muscles are working the entire time.

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  • 1 month later...

Here's a question from our respected teachers: If the barre should be an "In Case of Emergency" equipment, then is it proper to place as minimal weight on that resting arm during exercises done en releve?

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Yep! Minimal. Remember that the progression of the work is to some day, be able to be dancing on a stage (without a barre :D ) doing things such as relevés on one leg all the way up to the tip of the platform when en pointe!

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