That flick of a finger, those shaking shoulders, the swooping arms -- part of achieving the proper form when dancing is arm styling. The arms should move gracefully with the music to elevate the performance. And this goes regardless if you’re training for competitive dancing or you’re casually social dancing.
Arm styling makes you look like a complete pro on the dance floor. And to master the technique, you need to be mindful of the way your hands and arms move while dancing. You have to learn how to use your upper body like that of a professional salsera!
What is Arm Styling?
Arm styling is the body action Dancing involves coordinating different body parts, moving together in unison in time with the music. Arm styling can be considered a form of self-expression. When done right, arm styling makes the performance unique and your movements, expressive and graceful.
When dancing, you need to think about the link between arm positioning and the shoulder line. Your arms shouldn't look like a broken chicken wing when dancing; instead, the arms, elbows, wrist, hand, and fingers should be positioned and extended at the right beat to achieve a beautiful form.
Always think about the flow and pace of the arm movements while dancing. The flow of the arms from one position to the other should be smooth, never stopping abruptly. Do not shoot your arms or jerk away from the starting position to the ending position because the sudden movements would look mechanical. The pace should always be in time with the music.
Arm styling is applied in all dance styles, ballet, Latin dance, ballroom dancing, even hip-hop, and break-dancing, because the arms, just like the rest of the body in motion, adds impact to the performance.
Getting Started: Tips to Proper Arm Styling
Don’t be self-conscious: To begin, let your arms drop loosely by your side. Don’t overthink it because you’ll only look self-conscious. It feels odd to hang the arms loosely, and that’s normal; it’s all about looking as natural as possible.
A lesson in Ballet: Yes, you’re dancing the salsa but knowing basic ballet is a great way to develop fabulous arm styling! Ballet is all about achieving the perfect form, and includes proper foot and arm movements in parallel. Try experimenting with different arm movements in ballet; see how the dancer switches from one arm position to the next. The transition must be graceful, natural, yet calculated. Be sure that the arm movements from one position to the other are smooth to look natural.
Practice: Position your arms as if you’re wearing an arm sling; bring your free arm up and out to the side of the body, just above the waist. It will look weird but try placing your free hand on your wait if it feels off to you. Practice this position. A good technique is to pretend that you are wading in a pool of waist-high water, the arms floating over the torso, with the elbows slightly away from the body.
Moving the Arms
Extend to the Sides: Extend the arms to the side of the body, allowing the elbows to lead the movement. Then, move the lower arms, the wrists, the hand, and the fingers, in that order. Extend the arms and then slightly bend the elbows in front of the shoulder
Side to Front: From the side position, bring the arm to the front of the body by bending the elbows sharply, then bring the lower arm in first, wrist second, the hands, and the fingers.
Side and Up: From the side position, bring the entire arm up like an arc, pivoting from the shoulders over the head.
Up to Side: From the ending position of side and up, bring the arms up to the side by taking the entire arm down, pivoting from the shoulders into a wide arc to the sides.
Basic Arm Styling for Latin Dancing
Different Arm Styling Techniques in Latin-American Dance
Rumba and Salsa Arm Styling Tips
Learn the Basic Body Motions
Whether you’re dancing the rumba, the salsa, or the bachata, you have to focus on getting the basic body motions right to achieve the perfect form. Rumba and bachata, for example, are quite sensual, and you need to learn how to move the hands, shoulders, and arms to project sensuality. But don’t overthink it! Let your arms and hands move naturally too, and try not to focus too much on doing everything by the book. In the social dance scene, we’re all about having fun dancing in our Yami dance shoes. Relax, have fun, and let the natural movements flow.
Maintain Your Space
You’ll need some space to execute specific arm movements as well as to maintain poise in a routine. In rumba, for example, you have to perform arm circles, and you need to have more room, so your arms are not touching your core when they come in towards the body. Lift the left elbow just under the shoulder height, then extend the forearm out to the side. Extend through the wrist and then the fingers, palm down. As you move your hands, your feet follow.
Are You a Leader or a Follower?
A cute outfit and a pair of dazzling Latin dance shoes are not enough to look the part. You need to embody the role that you’re playing when dancing. Are you the leader or the follower? If you’re the leader, you need to have a commanding presence that stops onlookers on their tracks. You’re leading, so the arms must project that distinct air of confidence as you dance. Keep your arms more rounded when out to the side and slightly in front of the body with the palms facing up.
If you’re the follower, you need to show that energy by fluting. Fluting is a type of stylized finger movements performed by extending your arm to the side, pressing the palm down, and flexing your twist downward with the fingers angled upwards.
Arm movements in Latin dance are dynamic, rooted in the movements of the body. The arms are not static, never rigid. It’s essential to understand the proper arm movements, so you don’t end up ruining your posture and body alignment, as well as to maintain your connection with your dance partner.