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.
Hands: Classical Hand Training
by Annette T. Thomas
Previously I wrote about hand articulation and finger grouping. This article focus a little more on the ballet influence of hand training that is integral to becoming a more graceful and aware figure skater.
Your hands say a lot about you. They show the audience either tension or affectation (just flipping around and keeping occupied), or that you truly understand the music and the intention of the piece you are skating to. Training the hands to say exactly what you want them to say is part of what classical ballet teaches.
It is difficult today to find a ballet school which teaches correct classical hands and it is evident in many of today’s ballet performances that “hand training,” as it is called, has been fairly ignored. The result being stiff, merely stylized hands that are “stuck on” instead of being an integral part of the entire body line as well as expressing the quality and temperament of the character being portrayed.
The hand is the termination of the arm outline; it is what makes the arm dimensionally complete. …The leading role in the movement of the arms as they go from one position to another, or as they are opened and closed, is played by the hands. They give a colouring and direction to the whole movement, and concentrate in themselves the whole "life" of the arm.
[Original text translated from: V. Morits, N Tarasov, A. Chekrygin. “Techniques of Classical Dance Training”. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940, p.14]
There are two basic hand positions initially taught in classical ballet: Arrondi (rounded) and allongé (elongated). At the beginning of training “Arrondi” is taught with the thumb held firmly against the 2nd phalanx of the 3rd finger in order to ingrain the correct finger groupings. Later, “scenic” hand positions as they are called are taught in conjunction with various roles being studied in the more advanced classes.
One of the most important factors in hand training is that the movement of the hand and arm itself is to be initiated from the fingernail tips and pads. [From Leonid Zhdanov, Margarita Yussim. “The Perfection of Dance” .1994, p.45 &p.47.] Training for sensitivity in every joint of the hand ensures that classically trained hands will “speak” to the audience as eloquently as each note is played in the music.
Figure 1 below: Arrondi from the preparatory position (beginning study):
Figure 2 below: Arrondi from second position:
Figure 3 below: Arrondi from third position (Cecchetti 5th):
Figure 4 below: Allongé
Head, eye and hand training is an essential part of classical ballet training and should be introduced at the very first lesson. As the skating arena is so large, it may seem rather unimportant for figure skaters to learn the minutiae of this area of training, but an ingrained vocabulary of head, eye and hand training will provide such grace and articulation of expression as to travel with eloquence to the topmost bleacher.
In today’s skating scene of multiple jumps and contorted spin positions, hands are often left to flick around with little or no connection to the movement, music or character being portrayed. And never are they integrated into the entire body movement as a complete “composition” throughout the entire program. But times may change and those who work on hands as a language of communication in their current training will benefit both now and then.
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.