And What Do
I Do With My Arms?
& Dan Finch
Dancing is more than just
moving your feet; it is a whole
body experience. Manuals describe what to do with the feet, and some
suggest how to use the arms. But mostly, arm and hand action is left up
dancer as a personal response to the music.
In closed position, we don’t have to think much about the
arms, other than to maintain a proper frame. When dancers go to open
though—be it in Latin dances or American smooth figures—the arms become
factor. In those instances, the arms actually have several jobs to do.
Arms are a natural extension of the body. As the body moves,
the muscles in the torso work in a way that should make the arms want
As the arms move out from the body, they help maintain balance through
Arms that are allowed to hang limply or are used only half-heartedly
get in the way of executing figures. With a little practice, the
movement of the arms will enhance the pleasure of dancing.
Using arms also adds to the
aerobic effect one gets from
dancing. Folding and unfolding the arms can make turning movements
skaters who use their arms to accelerate a spin or to slow down. When
regularly carry their free arms close to the body, between the sternum
waist, their partners know where to find the hand for the next
need to make.
In open facing position in
Latins, hands and arms form the
connection between partners. With tone in the arms, partners will feel
connected, so that when the man moves, the movement originating in his
will transmit through his arms to his partner, becoming the lead. This
connection allows the partnership to work as a unit even when each
doing different footwork. When a hand is not joined with your partner,
should be held in a natural, unaffected way, continuing to have tone
shoulder to fingers. Forced movements detract from your appearance and
It takes practice to become
aware of what arms are doing.
Look in the mirror and practice moving your arms out from the side to
level and overhead. Do it to music as you stand at the mirror getting
in the morning.
Exercises for Better
straight with arms at your sides. Wiggle
your shoulders to loosen them. Think about energy flowing down the
and release fingers (make a fist, stretch it open, repeat). This tells
brain to start paying attention to this part of the body. It also helps
the shoulders and arms.
raise the arms out from your sides. Keep
a little roundness from shoulder to hand, no stiff arms. Keep them
ahead of the
shoulder line. You should be able to see your elbows out of the corner
eyes. If elbows get behind the shoulder, you have that chicken wing
tone in the arms; think of pushing your arm through water.
arms extended to the side, bring them in
front of you at chest level. Raise one hand up over the head. Feel a
the upper arm muscles and back. Let the wrist rotate so the palm faces
you and away from you. Rotate the raised arm back, down to the side and
to the front again. This may hurt unless you stretch the opposite side
ever so slightly to look at the arm as it goes back.
open and close with an unfolding action.
The rib cage moves first in the direction the arm will travel, the
start moving in response. Then the forearm unfolds, then the wrist,
hand and fingers. To close the arm, the elbow comes in first, then the
and the wrist rotates to turn the palm inward.
opening and closing the arms musically:
Open one or both through 8 counts of music. Close through 8 counts.
one arm through 4 counts, the other arm through 4 counts. Open on
counts 1 and
2, close on counts 3 and 4. The goal is to let this movement become as
as moving your feet rhythmically and purposefully.
From a club
newsletter prepared by Dan
and Sandi Finch , September 2014, and
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, March 2016.