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Bunheads 101: How to be a ballet dancer…or just look like one

It’s easy to pick a dancer out of a crowd. You know what I mean: dancers have that certain je ne sais crois, key traits like grace and poise that separate them from everyone else.Whether you’re a ballet dancer-in-training or simply wish you were a dancer, here’s how to get the the look.

The posture: Imagine you have a metal rod running through the core of your body that keeps the spine ramrod-straight. Reach the crown of the head towards the sky to create length in the spine while keeping the chin high. Pay special attention to the area around the neck and shoulders: press the shoulders down away from the ears to create the illusion of a long, swan-like neck.

Photo © Alexey Yakovlev

Photo © Alexey Yakovlev

The walk: focus on maintaining an outward rotation in the hips, which will cause the feet to splay at a forty-five degree angle in the classic dancer duckwalk. Suck in the gut, tuck the buttocks under and cinch the shoulder blades together, broadening the chest. Swing the arms gracefully and move quickly—like there’s no time to waste as you hurry off to your next rehearsal.

The hairdo: Slick the hair back into a high ponytail, taking special care to tame any and all stray flyaway strands. It is imperative that every hair lies flat against the skull so use gel, mousse or pomade if necessary. Separate the ponytail into two sections and tug firmly to ratchet the ponytail into a high and tight position. Twist the ponytail until it begins to curl around itself; continue twisting as you coil the hair into a bun. Wrap the tail end under the bun and secure in place with bobby pins. To complete the look a hairnet is mandatory! Be sure to choose the shade that most closely matches your hair color. Cover bun and pin in place. Shellac the whole hairdo with a liberal shower of hairspray.

The outfit: All clothing must be chosen with movement in mind. Shoot for a cotton lycra blend or go for something feminine and flowing. Choose pants or leggings with a fit that accentuates those leg muscles. Tops should be gauzy, filmy, or ruffled, A-line, clingy, silky, or stretchy. Extra points for cut-outs, off-the-shoulder, elaborate embroidery, and yummy textures.

Alexandra Danilova 1948 ©Carl Van Vechten

Alexandra Danilova 1948 ©Carl Van Vechten

The bag: Find the largest bag you own. A tote or duffel bag is preferred if you are going for authenticity. Stuff the bag liberally with enough long-sleeve shirts, t-shirts, leotards and tights to last for several days. Additional mandatory items include: warm-up clothes, protein bars, water bottle, medical tape, band-aids, ace bandage(s), gel toe pads, hairbrush, hairspray, stray bobby pins, make up bag, mp3 player with headphones, sewing kit, emergency feminine hygiene kit, deodorant, pointe shoes, ballet slippers, TheraBand, wooden foot roller, tennis balls or other massage tool, tiger balm, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste. Extra points if you have pink toe-shoe ribbons dangling over the edge of your bag.

The accessories: This is your chance to go wild and add a bit of your unique personality to the look. Remember that sparkle and glitz is always better. Hair accessories with fake flowers and/or feathers and rhinestones add flair; be certain they are secured firmly so they don’t fly out during turns. Earrings are another way to add some sparkle; choose a pair that won’t catch on hair or clothing. During the colder months, add fingerless gloves or wrist warmers to add color and texture to what you are wearing.


Follow these simple rules and you are on your way to looking like a true bunhead.