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Where Do You Hold Your Tension? 6 Top Trouble Areas and How to Ease the Strain

Anna Greenberg of ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

All dancers have their go-to tension area: shoulders that creep up towards the ears, a hand that becomes a claw, or feet and ankles that grip. Yet "Just relax" can be the hardest correction to apply. We spoke with four teachers for their tips on releasing tension throughout the body—and how it's all connected.

Arms and Hands

"There's a fine line between being engaged and being tense, and how much leeway the hands have between being overly flowery and overly stiff," says Susan Jaffe, dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

"Do barre with energy coming out of your whole body," says Jhung, reminding dancers that barre is about more than just the positions. "Reach your arms out in second, then put your hand on the barre, fingers over. Press down strongly, so you feel your shoulder, your lats."

Jaffe stresses the arms' and hands' connection to the back. "Port de bras requires pliancy." She has her students imagine they are holding a big helium balloon during pirouettes. "There's pressure out towards the walls, and you have to press slightly in. It's an expansive, buoyant feeling."

To reshape a clawed hand, Jaffe suggests holding a straw across the top of your middle finger with the two neighboring fingers. But it can be more helpful to think of how your hands are integrated into a bigger picture. "Your core is pulling in and your limbs are reaching out. Your energy extends past your fingers, drawing long lines through space."

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