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Pins, Bows and Hairspray Overload….and why we do it to ourselves

I find something almost ironic about the fact that most female dancers have luscious, long and beautiful locks, only to pull them back, pin them and glue them out of the way for the most part whilst dancing. Perhaps it’s something to do with really letting loose when outside of the studio, I don’t know. But whatever it is, us dancers have a thing about hair.

Most teachers will insist on a neat bun for ballet class (and even if they don’t, they will be secretly wishing you had one). You’ve probably heard many times that a small, flat bun either nestled neatly in the nape of the neck, or on the crown of the head will elongate that elegant neck and shoulder line you’ve been trying to perfect, as well as proving practical in staying put and symmetrical whilst turning and jumping. But, particularly for ballet, there’s something a little more ritualistic about the ballet bun – the very term ‘bunhead’ has been coined by dancers, and they use it with pride to mark themselves out as being in the ballet gang.

On average, girls start trying to do their own hair for dance around the age of 10. Not least because at 11 some may be heading off to full time ballet school and they really need to have that task covered. My own daughter was proud of her first attempt that actually made it to the studio without me having to re-do or touch up. We were in the car on the way to dance – she nearly gassed us both on gel-spray, required two bun nets and used 24 pins. But it stayed in (“even after doing chaînés!”) and it was worthy of a photo to mark the occasion.

Now, the fact I felt slightly twitchy about having to relinquish my dance mum role in the hair department is another matter. I can’t stand straggly bits, or the fact a child has to keep fiddling with their hair after every exercise because it’s drooping/sprouting/otherwise. This has a lot to do with the sheer discipline of growing up on serious ballet classes; lacquer it to the hilt for fear of it moving an inch, and your teacher pulling you up on it. I’ve also always liked to play with a variation or two on the bun.


Inspiration also comes from the likes of ‘trendy’ professional ballerinas, such as Dusty Button, who often rocks a mean bunhawk on her Instagram posts. I personally draw the line at a ‘donut’. I know many a classical ballet teacher that would rather the darn things didn’t exist. But I guess in many ways, better a donut-bun than no bun at all.

Ballet aside, most dancers appreciate the need for a ‘hair tied neatly back’ policy. Have a long ponytail or plait at your peril in jazz class when it comes to the pirouette exercise #whiplash #you’llhaveaneyeoutwiththat.   The advent of commercial dance has relaxed this somewhat (personally I wouldn’t be able to stand my long hair wafting about, getting in my eyes and sticking to my sweaty back, but I guess that says more about my age than anything).   I think maybe the snapback is just a different way to keep it all under control!

Hairspray usage is at its peak at dance competitions. The hairstyle and accessories are all given plenty of thought as part and parcel of the costume, and woe betide anyone whose hair budges during a performance. Lose a hair accessory and your fellow group dancers will be pretending they haven’t seen it lying there on stage, but honestly, that’s all the audience will be transfixed on; “who’s going to slip on it? Will it ruin that patterning they’ve worked so hard on?” And your teacher will almost certainly be thinking “WHO DIDN’T ATTACH THAT SECURELY?!?!”   So the dressing rooms are usually thick with hairspray fumes, along with fraught parents pulling their girls’ hair to near facelift proportions.

I get a sense that you have to have ‘done your time’ in the neat hair department to allow a relaxing of the rules – I see plenty of pros with messy buns and fringes in the studio – having said that, when it comes to a performance it’s back to military precision, or even beautiful pre-coiffed wigs for roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy – not a chance of a stray hair with that!

I’ll finish this blog by giving a quick shout-out to JoJo Siwa (of Dance Moms fame) – thanks for the bows….if they start to get much bigger though I think Claire’s Accessories will have to re-think their small-store-space format, and we’ll have a whole host of dancers growing up having to permanently incline their head to get round a double pirouette.

Katie is a director at dancexclusive, dance teacher, Fellow of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and a devoted dance mum!


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