“With a host of experienced dancers and dance teachers reading this I am confident there is no need to provide any step-by-step instructions for producing the perfect ballet bun. That said, there is one area often neglected:
…the student experience.
For generations, young dancers have endured having their hair roughly manhandled by parents and teachers – usually in a hurry to get the next student ready – and have tolerated the pain and discomfort of having their scalps scratched and scraped, hair yanked from the roots and pins stabbed into their crown, all the while being told to be quiet, stop whinging, and most of all sit still ! (Sound familiar?)
Beyond the often brutal act of screwing the hair into a bun in the first place, there are also other issues which may plague and distract the dancer throughout their exam/performance long after the bunmaker has moved on; the off-putting sensation of a not-centered ponytail, the distraction of painfully placed pins, the off-balancing effect of a bun-coming-loose.
Now, there may well be little lasting harm done to these dancers by putting up with this, yet, I advocate that a comfortable dancer is a happy dancer, and I believe in prioritising our students’ welfare. Moreover, a happy dancer is more likely to perform better.
By making the bun-making process as painless and the bun itself as comfortable as possible, not only are we making happy dancers, but we may well indirectly boost their exam results.
Here are a few things that can be helpful to remember if acting as hairdresser, and tips on how to overcome regularly encountered problems:
If you are providing hair products for the students, check in advance that, wherever possible, they are hypoallergenic to avoid any risks. As this can be a more expensive option, perhaps officially add ‘hairdressing’ as a service you will be providing on the day, and charge a small extra fee to all students to cover costs.
Brushes & Combs
Make sure you have to hand a variety of brushes and combs to accommodate different hair types:
- Curly, unruly and thick hair is usually best managed with brushes with strong/coarse wide-spaced bristles (the Denman styling brush is ideal), whereas tighter-packed or bendy bristles often generate frizz (read: knots) without managing to actually detangle.
- Radial/round brushes and those with a small ball on the end of each bristle should be avoided for students with thick/curly hair as they often cause painful-to-remove tats and knots.
- For lighter/fine hair, baby-soft bristles should be used, as the strong bristles for curly hair will be too painful.
- Sparse-density hair requires soft tightly-packed bristles, so as to avoid separating the hair too much and leaving the scalp visible (which some dancers find embarrassing or even upsetting).
- Lastly, it should be remembered that Paddle brushes, whilst versatile, are not the most suitable when attempting to contour the hair into a tight smooth ponytail – particularly on smaller heads!
Have on-hand different types of hair ties (also called ‘hair bands’ or, in the UK, ‘bobbles’). While useful for light hair, thin hair ties, particularly if they have a metal clasp, should be avoided for thicker hair as they tend to snag at the hair and cause knots. Thin ones should also be avoided for thick or very long hair, as they usually have less elasticity, and are more prone to snapping under force.
Hair ties with ornaments or decorative pieces such as small plastic ballet shoes etc. should be entirely avoided as they can easily get knotted into medium-thick hair (especially if curly), and often need to be cut or ripped out. For the same reason, avoid hair ties with a scratchy or rough surface.
Bonus Tip: A good home-made option is to cut up the legs of a pair of opaque tights into 1-2inch loops. This is great as this material doesn’t snag at the hair, is easily put in/taken out, has great stretch for getting that ‘last twist’ you so often long for with the ‘bad bobble’, and you can pick colours which blend in very well with different hair colours.
Hair Brushing & Detangling
Often it is quickest and easiest to get the student to brush their own hair to get rid of any tats/knots, followed by your own quick pre-styling brush through. This way they are in control, and when things get uncomfortable they can make accommodations to tackle difficult spots, rather than wince as an adult ploughs through.
If the student is too young to brush their own hair, avoid rough strokes and be mindful of their body language (if you have a quiet one!) A good tactic is to start at the bottom and work your way up, rather than starting at the top and risk matting tangles by dragging them down-over. Also, when tackling big knots, hold the hair tightly near the scalp but slightly away from the head; that way, the pressure of pulling and tugging on the hair is against your own hand, and is not felt by the student. Spritzing with water or Detangler can also be useful tactics.”
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