Author: Annika Russo

How To: UpDos Ballet Style!

“Ballet’s classic hairstyle has come to define the dancer herself: ‘bun-head’ is dancers’ own affectionate term for ballerinas and ballet students” -Eliza Gaynor-Minden

It’s true-ballet dancers’ quest for clean technique and proper body placement continues all the way to the top of her head to the bun. Every hair in place. No whispies. The ballet updo epitomizes the dancer’s striving for spotless performance that can withstand any stress. If you’re tiring of the ballet bun metaphor for ballet technique, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty for updos—ballet-style.

Hair in ballet class must be clean and secure. A few simple tools are necessary to achieve a good start: a thick brush to smooth back the hair; two- or three-inch hairpins or bobby-pins (depending on the thickness of your hair; elastic hair bands and a hairnet (optional); and some sort of product to help hold it all away from your face when you sweat.

Here are a few basic and a couple of fun updos to try. No matter how you experiment with your hair, the most important rules to remember are:

  1. Your hair should not distract you. Flowers and headbands are fun and pretty, but if they go flying off your head during pirouettes, it’s going to be more embarrassing than beautiful. Pain from bobby pins sticking into your skull can be distracting, too. Make sure your hair is tight, but not too tight, or you’ll get a headache!
  2. Your hair should be safe for you and other dancers. A whipping braid or launching bobby pins are dangerous – crazy but true.
  3. Keep your bangs and whispies away from your face. They distract you and your teacher; they get all sweaty and gross, and they look untidy for ballet class. Remember our goal is to always look put-together.
  4. Give it a test shake. Always test your updo by shaking your head “no” a couple of times to see if your bun moves. If it does, take some pins out and try to secure it a little tighter.

Classic High Bun:

  1. Start by smoothing your hair back with the brush from your jawline to the crown of your head and securing it with an elastic band.
  2. Twist the ponytail itself and then coil it around the elastic band, making at least one complete circle. If your hair is thick or really long, you might want to try pinning it down as you go. Grab a little hair from the twist in the top teeth of the bobby pin and pivot the bottom teeth of the bobby pin into the hair smooth on your head.
  3. Tuck the end of the ponytail underneath the bun and pin it under.
  4. Before you add bobby pins, this is a good place to add the hair net. If you have layers in your hair or very short hair, you will need a hairnet to make sure there are no spiky ends sticking out of your bun. When you put the hairnet around your bun (three or four times, probably), It will tend to suck the bun to a point. Smoosh your bun back down and use your second round of bobby pins to secure it flat to your head.
  5. Give it a test shake and secure any loose ends with more bobby pins or snap barrettes.


This is a great updo if your hair is short. However, it may make your neck look shorter, so you’ll have to press your shoulders away from your ears even more diligently—good practice for Giselle!

  1. Start by brushing the hair back with your brush and securing it at the nape of your neck with an elastic band.
  2. Follow the same procedure as the high bun, steps 2-5.

French Twist:

This is a beautiful classic updo for ballet-very clean and sophisticated. It’s not easy to get it secure, but if your hair has some texture, this updo will work really well.

  1. Smooth your hair back to a low ponytail but do not use an elastic bank.
  2. Grasp the ponytail underneath, and in a continuous motion, twist the ponytail tightly and lift it up. With your other hand, smooth the hair flat on the side that is away from the twist and hold the forming roll against your head.
  3. At the top of your head, turn the hair back down (try using your finger as a pivot to keep it sturdy at the top), and tuck in the lose end under the roll.
  4. Use bobby pins to grab the hair on the top of the roll and pull it tighter into the twist all along the length of the roll. You will need a few at the top, too, so that it doesn’t pop up.


There are so many ways to do braids and secure them tightly into an updo. Here are some ideas.

  1. French braid your hair (once or twice), making sure it’s pretty tight. Tuck the end of the braid under the braid, poking the tail elastic up with your finger. Tightly secure the braid inside with bobby pins or a large, flat barrette.
  2. This same style can be pinned on the outside of the braid instead of under it. Flip the bottom of the braid up over the top of the braid and the loose tail is totally hidden. Just make sure it is really well pinned. Otherwise, you’ll have a long braid whipping you in the face during pirouettes!
  3. Braid bun. Follow the same procedure as a high bun, just make your ponytail into a braid before you start coiling. This works really well for long hair. Just make sure your second elastic band is tucked and pinned all the way under the bun. A cool way to do this bun is to lay the braid flat against your head while you wrap it into a bun. It looks really pretty and doesn’t stick out like it does when you wrap it around the elastic on its end. Check your lose ends-you may not need a hairnet with a braided bun.


  • Some dancers with thick or textured hair chose not to use elastic bands. Make sure you test your bun before going into class to make sure it won’t move without an elastic band.
  • Keep an extra bag of bobby pins in your dance bag just in case.
  • I have not had good luck with the hairnets that come attached to a comb or barrette as being the only method of securing your hair. I understand the appeal, but they just don’t work without using bobby pins as described above. The same goes for just using rubber bands to hold a twisted “bun” in place instead of bobby pins. It just doesn’t stay in when it comes time to jump and turn. Use the bobby pins!
  • However, some dancers have good luck with large, flat barrettes. You need to look for the ones that are hinged and the clasp comes open by squeezing two release tabs together. If your hair is fine or you have too much hair for the size of the barrette, the clip may break your hair at the point of greatest tension—usually where the hair pulls back into the ponytail. Always test your updo to make sure it’s not going to move. If your updo shakes even a little with a barrette securing it, your hair probably will break free when you jump and turn. You can always do a combination of bobby pins and a pretty barrette for security.
  • If your hair is super long, a really cool way to do your bun is to divide your ponytail into two strands. Twist them separately and coil them around the elastic band opposite each other. You definitely have to pin as you go, but the result is a beautiful, cinnamon roll bun.
  • Experiment with bobby pins versus hairpins. Bobby pins are shaped tight together while hairpins stay open with ridges on both sides of the pin. If you use hairpins, try twisting them just a little between when you put them through the bun and when you put them through the hair close to your head—it makes them stay better. Hairpins aren’t as stiff, so some dancers with sensitive scalps or fine hair prefer them over bobby pins. Whatever pin you use, just test it out with a few shakes to make sure it’s going to stay!

If you’re really having trouble, there are YouTube videos all over the internet to show different techniques. While a parent may have to help a ballerina put up her hair when she first starts, this is definitely a job she will take over as she gets older. Have fun experimenting with your hair for ballet class, but always keep the four rules listed above in mind. Your teacher will help you get your hair back together if a new creation falls during class, or you can come to see Miss Annika or Miss Christina for some more advice.