Lydia Wellington in The Goldberg Variations. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

3 Pros Share Their Tips for Achieving the Perfect Slicked-Back Bun, No Matter Your Hair Type

Three dancers share how they create (and sometimes fake) a stage-ready ballet bun for their hair type—whether it's short and straight, coarse and curly, or somewhere in between.


Curly Hair: Jasmine Perry, Los Angeles Ballet

Jasmine Perry and Joshua Brown in The Nutcracker

Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

"My hair is very curly and coarse, and comes to about my shoulders. When I was a kid, because it was difficult to manage, I would have my hair chemically straightened every six months. When I moved to Los Angeles at 18, I wasn't willing to pay for that, so I grew it out and let it transition back to its natural texture."

Must-have items: Spray bottle, light holding gel, bristle brush

Bottle of DevaCul Ultra Defining Gel against a white background

The how-to: Perry likes a slick look for stage, but she avoids straightening her curls with hot irons, which can be damaging. "I cheat a sleek finish by either spraying water on my hair or wetting it in the sink from root to tip," says Perry. She then applies DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel for extra smoothing help. "It keeps your hair moisturized, and it holds your hair while keeping a softer texture without any white residue." Next Perry pulls her hair into a preliminary ponytail. Using a bristle brush, she brushes it back "so that the hair from my forehead to the ponytail is as flat and thin as possible," she says. She then redoes her ponytail, using her brush to smooth any bumps and loose hairs before pinning it into a bun.

Tip: Use a clarifying shampoo once or twice a month. "All of that product builds up, which can dry out and damage your hair," says Perry. "I'll do that on my off day to reset, and it leaves my hair curlier and healthier."

Short Hair: Lydia Wellington, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Lydia Wellington in Merce Cunningham's Summerspace

Erin Baiano, Courtesy New York City Ballet

"My hair is about chin-length. It's very straight and doesn't want to stay, even with hair spray. I never do a real ballet bun for class or rehearsal because my hair is a bit too short. Instead, I'll sometimes do barre with it down or half up, and then for center I'll put it in two little pigtails to keep it out of my face."

Must-have items: Small bobby pins, extra-hold hair gel, hair spray, ponytail hairpiece

Bottle of TRESemm\u00e9 Extra Hold hair gel against a white background

The how-to: To put her hair into a high bun for performances, Wellington first applies TRESemmé Extra Hold hair gel to smooth everything up and back. "I do a high ponytail with as much hair as I can, and then I use my gel and do what we call a 'zipper.' " To create this, Wellington twists the little hairs at the nape of her neck together "almost like a French twist," tucking and securing them with pins all the way up to her ponytail. She then uses a ponytail hairpiece to create a fuller bun. "I pin that over my tiny ponytail and do a bun as if that were my real hair. I use little bobby pins to get all the flyaways in place and set everything with hair spray."

Tip: Tilting your head back as you're making the zipper loosens the hair a bit, allowing you to grab more of it with your bobby pin and create a tighter hold.

Long, Fine Hair: Cody Beaton, Richmond Ballet

Cody Beaton in The Nutcracker

Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet

"My hair is longer—to about the middle of my back—with layers and bangs. It's on the finer side, so when I don't use a hair net or product it gets messy."

Must-have items: Firm-hold hair spray, fine-tooth comb, large hair pins, regular hair pins

Gold bobby pins against a white background.

Getty Images

The how-to: "I've found the dirtier my hair is, the easier it goes up and the less I struggle with trying to get it into shape," says Beaton. When she pulls her hair into a ponytail, she uses a fine-tooth comb and a generous amount of Pantene Firm Hold Hairspray to slick everything back and combat flyaways. Since she has so much hair, she first secures her bun with heavy-duty hairpins. "I use these giant claw pins that Bunheads makes that are three inches long and maybe a half-inch wide," she says. "They make a two-inch version and regular bobby pins, too, and I use a combination of all three to help lock everything in."

Tip: "If your hair is straighter and tends to slip out of your ponytail or bun, sprinkle a texturizing powder throughout the length of your hair and work it in a bit before pulling it back," says Beaton. "It helps give it some texture and grip so that it doesn't just slide right out of the pins."

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

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When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

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After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

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CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

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KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

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A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

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June 14–25 and July 12–23

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A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

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SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

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UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

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Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

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Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

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