SanderO

Hands

29 posts in this topic

Mods, please feel free to quosh this or move it...

Hands are one of the most expressive parts of the body. I personally have been attracted to them and fascinated by them long before I had an interest in ballet. I always loved the hands of Michelangelo's David in Firenze for example.

But dancers take hands to a whole new level of beauty and expression. They seem to often be the "place" where the final bit of "energy" flows off the dancer.

And of course they are used to hold another dancer and so forth. I imagine dancers learn what do with their hands etc. because most of them clearing have the most graceful looking hands I have ever seen... in repose.

Poor hand gesture or whatever it is called can spoil an otherwise wonderful movement, but a perfect one really is something to behold.

I would like to hear other's comments about dancers and their hands. Who has the best hands and uses them well. What choreographers put more emphasis on the hands and so forth.

Let's discuss hands.

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Great topic! Hands are so often forgotten, and so misused. For example:

The biggest NO-NO that many still use is a "droopy wrist", which completely breaks the line of shoulder-epaulement, down arm/elbow/hand, to fingertip(s) and beyond. Or even worse, in arabesque: the line from toe to opposite fingertip & beyond. Yet how many times in Swan Lake have we seen droopy-wrist syndrome in Odettes and corps!? Even Cynthia Gregory and Nina Ananiashvili of the 'liquid' swan arms have flapped their wrists, destroying the effect, and the delicacy of their hands.

It has also taken years for many to overcome that other noticeable hand habit of dropping the middle finger--in some cases overly so, so that it almost meets the thumb!--as we were all taught (unless very lucky) in beginning ballet for moppets. Paloma Herrera still does it, but at least they don't look so "schooled" and stiff lately as her upper body has come more into play.

The best advice I ever received about hands was to RELAX the hand and allow the line to flow from the center back or chest, down the shoulder and high rounded elbow, THROUGH the hands, to FLOW OFF THE FINGERS. In short, think of a stream of air/water flowing down your arm(s) that will be deflected, bent, or abruptly stopped (like a rock in midstream) if the wrist breaks or the fingers abruptly bend/clench. And of course, one must always consider how the hands extend & finish the line created through correct body placement, epaulement, AND with consideration of what your partner is doing as well.

RE dancers (recent times)... My favorite for expressive hands (even though they were proportionally a little too large) was Alessandra Ferri, who knew how to use her fingers or a simple rotation to convey a totally different emotion within the movement itself. Lately, since most of my experience is with ABT these days, I've thought Julie Kent has probably the most effective line, and in consequence, long fingers/hands used to extend it. As for the guys, there is only one dancer I ALWAYS watch hands because I am so fascinated with how he uses them, and who taught him to do so with such grace, flair, and cognizant (or not?--innate instinctive?) effect to mirror and extend line.

Hope this wasn't overkill. Apologies to all.

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As for the guys, there is only one dancer I ALWAYS watch hands because I am so fascinated with how he uses them, and who taught him to do so with such grace, flair, and cognizant (or not?--innate instinctive?) effect to mirror and extend line.

Are we supposed to guess? :)

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Marga, I was guessing that it was David Hallberg being spoken about. At least for me, I enjoy looking at the way David uses everything from head to toe to hands. I noticed that he has very large hands (good for partnering I imagine) and yet they look very elegant. He seems to use a natural pose with the index finger slightly raised giving his hand a refined yet masculine look. Agree?

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From the modern dance world rather than ballet...

Early modern dancers, in their desire to leave anything balletic behind them, made a big deal out of hands, frequently choreographing very specific shapes and phrases for them. It took some time to find 'default' hands in most modern styles, but by the time we get to Jose Limon there does seem to be a standard, at least for men, with a sense of weight and strength. Taking class with Clay Taliaferro, who was a long-time Limon dancer, he would frequently talk about 'hamburger hands' -- both the tactile sense of kneading ground meat, and the substantial nature of product.

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Taking class with Clay Taliaferro, who was a long-time Limon dancer, he would frequently talk about 'hamburger hands' -- both the tactile sense of kneading ground meat, and the substantial nature of product.

That's funny because one of my childhood ballet teachers (British) used the term "hamburger hands" derisively. It's how she would chide dancers for sticking their thumbs out, as though they were gripping Big Macs.

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I don't much experience observing hands, but Julie Kent is one of my favs for sure. I think 4mrdncr describes the feeling Julie Kent can convey with her hands.

Is there a "position" for relaxed hands in repose so to speak? Can someone describe it?

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No such thing as repose. There is always a flow of energy through the body, including the extremities, even when "still."

Fingers must have air between them, the thumb close to the palm, the pointer slightly higher than the others, the middle finger slightly lower.

There are videos on Martine van Hamel's Ballerina Gallery page. Check the "bouree" variation from Raymonda (3:24) if you want to see textbook hands.

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Tension in dancers seems to show up in the hands and neck. I very much admire a dancer with easy relaxed yet "correct" hands. I also want to see energy. It must be such a hard skill to achieve.

I remember reading Patty McBride recalling how Balanchine told her to carry a red ball around in her hand while doing barre to achieve the correct placement of her fingers. Does this really work?

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I see very little "tension" in the hands of female dancers. Am I missing something?

I do see what appears to be energy flowing from them is a rather serene way.

What sort of "training" do ballet dancers go through concerning their hands? Are their "formal" positions and "moves" as there are steps for the body? Or is the hand positions always a part of the larger body step or movement?

I do love the delicate way dancers in some ballets "point" to themselves and others. Sorry for the loss/absence of words to articulate my thoughts.

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The finger grouping and line of the hand as it relates to the arm is one of the first things that should be taught in a ballet class. Often this aspect of ballet teaching is over looked. "Bad" hands can not only detract from the beauty of a dancer but deter the dance student from accomplishing many aspects of technique. Holding too much tension in the hands makes it very difficult to feel the body, legs and arms. When any part of the body holds too much tension, other aspects of training will not be accomplished. For the most part, if a dancer succeeds in attaining employment, the "bad" hands situation is not evident.

Different schools of ballet teaching have different finger groupings and hand alignment. What may be beautiful usage of the hands and arms in one method of teaching may be frowned upon in another. :angel_not:

Edited by vrsfanatic

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The best advice I ever received about hands was to RELAX the hand and allow the line to flow from the center back or chest, down the shoulder and high rounded elbow, THROUGH the hands, to FLOW OFF THE FINGERS. In short, think of a stream of air/water flowing down your arm(s) that will be deflected, bent, or abruptly stopped (like a rock in midstream) if the wrist breaks or the fingers abruptly bend/clench. And of course, one must always consider how the hands extend & finish the line created through correct body placement, epaulement, AND with consideration of what your partner is doing as well.

That's fabulous, 4mrdncer. Hands are probably the last thing to develop in American-schooled ballet dancers, regrettably, and they're the first thing to go when a dancer encounters difficulty doing a particular move in performance. Nothing wrecks a performance for me as a spectator more quickly than a dancer who doesn't appreciate what she is doing, or supposed to be doing, with her hands. Teachers struggle all the time to find imagery that the dancers can relate to with regard to hand shape. One time I saw a teacher get so frustrated that he said - 'Look, don't try to make this a religious experience. Just straighten the wrist, straighten the hand, and slightly curve the middle fingers.'

I agree with regard to Ferri's hands. I recall that Marianna Tcherkasky's were especially exquisite.

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I remember reading Patty McBride recalling how Balanchine told her to carry a red ball around in her hand while doing barre to achieve the correct placement of her fingers. Does this really work?

According to Suki Schorer's book, the ball is used on younger SAB students for them to get a feel for the curved position of the hand that Balanchine preferred. In this position, the pinky is raised higher than the others, and the middle finger comes closest to the thumb, which is not hidden but curved towards the other fingers. Vrsfanatic is right in saying one school's hand position would be reviled by another. I've invariably heard this hand position called rose petals or claws.

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Another comment on hands, not related to ballet. I remember reading somewhere (it was either John Mueller or Arlene Croce, can't remember) that Fred Astaire would pull in his middle and ring fingers in an attempt to hide the large size of his hands.

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I remember reading Patty McBride recalling how Balanchine told her to carry a red ball around in her hand while doing barre to achieve the correct placement of her fingers. Does this really work?

According to Suki Schorer's book, the ball is used on younger SAB students for them to get a feel for the curved position of the hand that Balanchine preferred. In this position, the pinky is raised higher than the others, and the middle finger comes closest to the thumb, which is not hidden but curved towards the other fingers. Vrsfanatic is right in saying one school's hand position would be reviled by another. I've invariably heard this hand position called rose petals or claws.

That particular claw/petal formation of the hands and fingers has been a major complaint of classical ballet teachers since it began and has been politely referred to as choreographic. It doesn't extend the arm's line and really transforms the line of the arm into a line segment - as does severely breaking the wrist. The classical school wisdom that I always heard was that if you are doing anything that trunckates the line of the arm, you are engaging in someone's choreography. Same holds true for winging the feet.

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Another comment on hands, not related to ballet. I remember reading somewhere (it was either John Mueller or Arlene Croce, can't remember) that Fred Astaire would pull in his middle and ring fingers in an attempt to hide the large size of his hands.

Astaire's self consciousness about his hands was widely noted. I remember Leslie Caron remarking on it in an interview, too.

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No such thing as repose. There is always a flow of energy through the body, including the extremities, even when "still."
Great point. Coincidentally, we worked on this in beginner/intermediate Monday night. It's difficult!
There are videos on Martine van Hamel's Ballerina Gallery page. Check the "bouree" variation from Raymonda (3:24) if you want to see textbook hands.
Thanks, carbro, for that link. It's beautiful to see van Hamel again. That's a lovely Raymonda variation -- and so are the other clips, including Sylvia with Patrick Bissell. Great memories.

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That particular claw/petal formation of the hands and fingers has been a major complaint of classical ballet teachers since it began and has been politely referred to as choreographic. It doesn't extend the arm's line and really transforms the line of the arm into a line segment - as does severely breaking the wrist. The classical school wisdom that I always heard was that if you are doing anything that truncates the line of the arm, you are engaging in someone's choreography. Same holds true for winging the feet.

If the fingers are extended out further yet still maintain some curvature, I think the position can be lovely and I don't think it breaks the arm's line. It's the wrist position that breaks it.

Sometimes the pointer finger can be raised too high. It's not really fair to judge from a photograph since dancing should allow for fluidity in the movement of the hands, but I've seen some dancers that exaggerate the position of the finger too often.

Regarding Van Hamel, the first time I saw that video that was the first thing I noticed: how expressive and delicate her hands are! And personally, I don't see a huge difference between her hands and the supposed "choreographic" hands...her fingers are held relatively far apart.

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That particular claw/petal formation of the hands and fingers has been a major complaint of classical ballet teachers since it began and has been politely referred to as choreographic. It doesn't extend the arm's line and really transforms the line of the arm into a line segment - as does severely breaking the wrist. The classical school wisdom that I always heard was that if you are doing anything that truncates the line of the arm, you are engaging in someone's choreography. Same holds true for winging the feet.

If the fingers are extended out further yet still maintain some curvature, I think the position can be lovely and I don't think it breaks the arm's line. It's the wrist position that breaks it.

Sometimes the pointer finger can be raised too high. It's not really fair to judge from a photograph since dancing should allow for fluidity in the movement of the hands, but I've seen some dancers that exaggerate the position of the finger too often.

Regarding Van Hamel, the first time I saw that video that was the first thing I noticed: how expressive and delicate her hands are! And personally, I don't see a huge difference between her hands and the supposed "choreographic" hands...her fingers are held relatively far apart.

I found VanHamel's hands in that video extremely choreographic and far from text book. There are teachers out there who might want to tape her thumbs down. But what she is doing appears to be, for the most part, the choreography, including all the wrist movements. That's different from letting the thumb, pointer finger and little finger take on lives of their own and thereby distort and segment the line.

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i've always found FONTEYN's hands very expressive and individual and full of 'gesture' - here's a photo of her as Ondine - it's ident. simply says her name, and claims to show 'Les Sylphides' and is dated from the newspaper foto archive that held it: jan. 17, 1964 - prob. in the paper's files for a royal ballet tour around that time.

post-848-1190590105_thumb.jpg

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in a letter from Ann Hutchinson Guest to THE DANCING TIMES May 1998 the following illustration was published by Guest to illustrate Nijinsky's own notation (see top drawing on musical staff) of Cecchetti exercises for 'the position of the hand at the barre'

Guest writes: '(observe his wish to transpose the indications for the five fingers with the 2/4 indication of the meter) with the equivalent in Labanotation and the best I do in drawing a picture of the position:'

post-848-1190591463_thumb.jpg

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THe women of the Bolshoi Ballet have a remarkable, highly stylized placement of the fingers that I've never seen elsewhere -- the fingers extend, almost to the point of curving BACK, but the whole hand is held like a tight budded flower, so it looks like a slender tulip. It's actually very beautiful, and the more you study it the stranger but lovelier it becomes.

Examples are legion -- Bessmertnova's hands exemplified this look. Ananiashvili, when she danced the DYing Swan, used her fingers in a mesmerizing way which can be seen in a youtube clip -- she'll close a phrase by letting the fingers curl in as if they were wilting; it's especially noticeable in hte curtain call, where it's almost like a Photoshop effect. What incredible atention to detail!

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THe women of the Bolshoi Ballet have a remarkable, highly stylized placement of the fingers that I've never seen elsewhere -- the fingers extend, almost to the point of curving BACK, but the whole hand is held like a tight budded flower, so it looks like a slender tulip. It's actually very beautiful, and the more you study it the stranger but lovelier it becomes.

Is this an example of what you're talking about? I wonder if any particular classical hand position could have been adapted from folk dance. Nina's right hand in the photograph looks very oriental to me. With the fingers extended back like that and the fingers spread apart, it looks like a common hand position used in traditional Chinese dance, except the thumb would be touching the middle finger.

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Ananiashvili, when she danced the DYing Swan, used her fingers in a mesmerizing way which can be seen in a youtube clip -- she'll close a phrase by letting the fingers curl in as if they were wilting; it's especially noticeable in hte curtain call, where it's almost like a Photoshop effect. What incredible atention to detail!
An extraordinary performance. Thank you, Paul, for calling attention to it.

So many dancers do this piece. It's always moving. But I am actually surprised when I am moved to tears by the artistry, and not distracted by irrelevant feelings about the sadness of animal abuse.

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The finger grouping and line of the hand as it relates to the arm is one of the first things that should be taught in a ballet class. Often this aspect of ballet teaching is over looked. "Bad" hands can not only detract from the beauty of a dancer but deter the dance student from accomplishing many aspects of technique. Holding too much tension in the hands makes it very difficult to feel the body, legs and arms. When any part of the body holds too much tension, other aspects of training will not be accomplished. For the most part, if a dancer succeeds in attaining employment, the "bad" hands situation is not evident.

Different schools of ballet teaching have different finger groupings and hand alignment. What may be beautiful usage of the hands and arms in one method of teaching may be frowned upon in another. :smilie_mondieu:

Balanchine was very specific in how dancers held their hands (see remark about Patty McBride) and the turn-out from their hips. SAB produces dancers with a definite style of holding themselves. I onced asked a ballet teacher who was not from SAB or NYCB if he could tell where dancers or students trained by the way they danced. He said the give-away was how they held their hands.

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