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]
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) 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!
Specific focus on training the hands to relax, to group, to float and to express, and incorporating these specific directions into the daily study of carriage of the arms will eliminate all the above and cause every movement you do to have infinitely more impact within the whole of your choreography.
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.
(Originally published as a series of 3 articles for Susan Chun’s “LifeSkate” E-zine)
(c) Annette T. Thomas 2015 All rights reserved