What are Spirit Fingers?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The term spirit fingers may derive from the idea of jazz hands, used in musicals like Fosse. The move brings the hands close to the face with the fingers outstretched, often in a popped motion. The fingers may or may not wiggle, but spirit fingers definitely do. They are often performed with arms outstretched instead of hands at face level, with stiff stretched hands and fingers waggling and wiggling in controlled form. The hands appear to shimmer with “spirit” when the move is performed.

Woman exercising
Woman exercising

Another use for spirit fingers can occur even if you’re not a cheerleader. If you spend all day cramped over a computer, occasionally breaks to stretch your hands and arms can help renew your fingers for your more typing. While stretching the arms out, and keeping the fingers unbent, try a little spirit fingers action for a few seconds to give your hands a rest and different positioning. Of course, given the humorous nature that some people view this gesture, you might want to try this move in a private area, or you may evoke some laughs. On the other hand, you may start a spirit fingers revolution at your office, which might be fun for all involved and lighten up the day.

There are a few other definitions of this term that have nothing to do with cheerleading. Spirit fingers can literally mean someone who has “spirit possessed” or “spirit controlled” hands. Such a term might occur with someone who claims to provide spiritual healing or who is a medium.

An additional definition can include the practice of lying down with your elbows resting on the floor (or bed or couch), and the palms facing upward. Often performed while people are listening to music, a person simply closes their eyes and allows their fingers to move as the spirit wills them. This is not necessarily an occult practice, but may instead focus on meditation to music and allowing the body to express its own movement as it sees fit.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@turquoise-- I don't think anyone knows for sure. I once heard that spirit fingers was first used by a popular American jazz singer. I think his name was Al Jolson. I don't know if it's true or not, but it's a high possibility.

Regardless of who came up with it first, spirit fingers is such a fun move. It's kind of cheesy and exaggerated, but when lots of people do it together, it's amusing.


I was fourteen years old when Bring It On was released and I absolutely loved that movie. The part where the teacher is showing the girls how to do spirit fingers was the funniest part! I've also seen Bring It On Again but my favorite is the first one.

@anon182158, @turkay1-- Do you guys know which came first-- jazz hands, spirit fingers or spirit fingers in deaf language? I assumed that jazz hands came first. Like the article said, the original jazz hands don't shake, that was added on later. But since cheerleading is also dancing, it must have derived spirit fingers from jazz dancing.


@anon182158-- That's so interesting! I knew that deaf people used spirit fingers to show applause but I didn't realize that that's where the spirit fingers in cheerleading came from. But that makes sense.

I was never involved in cheerleading in school, so the only time I've done spirit fingers is to relax my arms and hands after working out. Of course, it's not the same thing because my hands are looking down towards the ground. I think everyone knows that spirit fingers can be done during exercise. I've never gotten odd looks doing it.


Spirit finger may also mean to applaud. Since deaf people can't hear the applause they shake their hands and fingers in the air to applaud. Over time that became Spirit fingers in cheerleading. Many sports signs you see in football, basketball, baseball, etc all came from the deaf community.

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