The Meaning of Mime

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Choreography is more than steps–it conveys meaning and emotion. But in many ballets–especially full-length works or those with a plot–mime (most likely borrowed from that used in 16th-century commedia dell’arte) provides more nuanced information that choreography can’t. Context is important; for example, the gesture for “marry” could mean “marry me” or “I’m engaged.” Watch for these common ballet gestures in story ballets such as Swan Lake, Coppélia, Giselle, Nutcracker, and Cinderella.

Maria Kochetkova in Balanchine's Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Maria Kochetkova in Balanchine’s Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Dance: circle the hands around each other above the head.

via GIPHY

Love: cup the left hand with the right and hold both over the heart.

via GIPHY

Marriage: point to the ring finger.

via GIPHY

Vow: raise right arm on a forward diagonal, extending the index and middle fingers together.

via GIPHY

Death: with hands in fists, cross the wrists low across the body.

via GIPHY

No: shake head and cross, then open, both arms low in front of the body.

via GIPHY

Indicate a person or place: gesture toward them/it, palm open and up. If angry, point.

via GIPHY

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