Our guest columnist is Annette T. Thomas, a dance teacher and choreographer, who has trained at Carnegie Hall, the San Juan Ballet Company, and the Connecticut Regional Ballet Company under world class instructors. With 30 years of dance and figure skating experience behind her, Annette is certified in Russian Method Classical Ballet, and is a member of the Professional Skaters Association, U.S. Figure Skating, the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, and the Wisconsin Dance Council. Annette began working with figure skaters in 1998 and has conducted numerous off and on-ice workshops in the areas of conditioning and artistry. She is also the author of Fundamentals of Alignment and Classical Movement for Figure Skaters, which has received international acclaim from ice and roller skaters and their coaches.
by Annette T. Thomas
In my first piece on Hands, I discussed developing awareness and articulation in your hands to become a more complete skater. Today's post is all about finger groupings.
Hands are an extension of your entire body line so they should be artistically integrated with your arms, head, and torso movements. Ultimately this takes much more than just choreographing hand movements into a program. In classical ballet, Carriage of the Arms (Port de Bras) is considered to be the most difficult part of training, and hand training in particular to be the most painstaking and subtle part of work on the arms.
Finger groupings (think:“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo Buonarroti, see right) are taught from the very beginning lesson in classical ballet as they make the hands look organized, graceful and free of tension. Precise finger groupings are acquired by years of daily practice in hand training and the result looks elegant and deceptively unstudied - freeing the accomplished artist to express the subtlest nuance of music and emotion.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re working hard on a skating element, your hands either get stiff and stick straight out or just flop around, or your fingers gnarl and spread into what I call “Frankenstein” hands? The problem lies in a number of factors beginning with the very natural difficulty of simultaneously trying to concentrate on the movements of legs, feet, torso, arms and head!
To help train the hands into the basic classical finger groupings, my Russian ballet teacher used to suggest a trick which has been passed down for generations in the Bolshoi School and that is to have the student hold a coin between the thumb and second finger throughout certain combinations done in the center of the room. I have used this in my classes for most of my teaching career with much success and have modified it in the past few years to include the below “fun” exercise with my skating students. First, you need two medium-sized lemons per student or for younger students, a bag of the large “LifeSavers™."
Hold the lemons primarily with the thumb and two middle fingers, leaving the first and little fingers free. For smaller hands, try holding the big LifeSavers™ between the thumbs and second fingers with the rest of your fingers stretched out. (see right)
Place your arms in ballet “Second Position” (arms out to the sides, slightly rounded at the elbows and a little lower than shoulder height) with lemons “aimed forward.” Also try to keep your ears aligned with your shoulders and your neck “long.”
Stroke around the rink a few times in each direction while holding the lemons (or LifeSavers™) and stretching your arms out from your center. Try to feel a relaxed extension from the sternum and upper spine as well as your finger positions as you skate. You can also try practicing your Moves in the Field this way.
Now put the lemons/LifeSavers™ down at the boards and stroke around again maintaining the same feeling throughout your neck, upper torso, arms and fingers. You will see an instant improvement in the appearance of your hands as well as your entire upper body line.
For additional information on feet, posture, movement, and pretty much everything else that figure skaters should concentrate on, please check out Annette's website Ballet for Figure Skaters.
Article and photos are copyright 2009 by Annette Thomas. Material may not be copied or distributed without the consent of Annette Thomas.