How to Hold Your Hands in Ballet

Ballet Dancers Practicing the Nutcracker Ballet
Gaetano / Getty Images

The way that you hold your hands in ballet dancing is just as important as how you point your toes. 

A ballet dancer's hands and wrists should always appear relaxed and natural. Your hands act as an extension of your arms, so they should flow along softly and gracefully. Never flex your wrists, and always leave space between your fingers.

Proper Ballet Hand Position Basics

Here's how to achieve the proper hand position in ballet:

  • Shake your hand out in front of you.
  • Now that it is relaxed, let your hand go limp.
  • Extend and elongate your index finger slightly, then do the same with your little finger.
  • Pull in your thumb so that it is directly underneath your index finger.
  • Make sure none of your fingers are straight or curled under. They should neither touch each other nor be spread too far apart. You never want your hands to look stiff. Your goal is for your hands to appear as a seamless branch of your arms, to help extend the all-important long lines of ballet. 
  • Don't forget your wrists. Keep them lifted to continue the line of the arms. 

There are many other variations of hand shapes that ballet dancers may use. The hands often play a huge role in portraying different characters in dance. But whatever their role and intention, your hands should always appear natural.

Consider Variations of Finger Placement

Various details can affect the specific details about how you place your fingers: the style of ballet, the character you are playing, the mood of the music or the message of your movement. Even the slightest details can matter. 

Some types of ballet place the thumb against the middle of the middle finger to form a small circle, keeping the pointer finger more relaxed than the pinky. Balanchine dancers keep their fingers more separated and subtly lift up the thumbs, almost like they're cupped over a tennis ball. Vaganova ballet dancers lift up the pinky.

Beware of Common Mistakes 

Hands that are too stiff can disrupt the flowing lines of the limbs and ruin the lines of the arms. Keep your fingers engaged and active, but not tense.

Never let your wrists bend downward, especially not while doing an arabesque (a common mistake). 

Don't go crazy with your lifted pinky. It's appropriate to keep it lifted slightly more than other fingers, but this isn't a tea party; a too-stiff or too-jutting pinky finger ruins the whole hand. 

Training Tip

If you're struggling with the shape of your hands while dancing, try practicing on the barre while holding tennis balls. Although this is not the exact position you will want to use in performance, it's an easy way to train some muscle memory into your hands without requiring a lot of extra thought.