Developing a Neutral Free Arm

West Coast Swing Online Styling

Styling with the free arm is one of the most common ways to add interest to the dance. Your arm can complete a movement, make the dance louder or quieter, lyrical or funky, and more. But what do you do when you don’t have a specific styling in mind?

Developing a comfortable neutral position for your free arm is the foundation for all styling. If you have a quiet, relaxed neutral position, it’s easy to draw attention to your styling when you want to. Conversely, having an awkward or unnatural free arm position immediately detracts from the look of your dance. Fortunately, it’s easy to develop a comfortable neutral position.

The Drill: Without a partner, stand in front of a mirror. Turn so that your free arm side is towards the mirror. Pretend to hold a bottle of beer (or soda, if you’re underage). While holding your drink, bring your free arm up so that your forearm is parallel to the floor or just below parallel (i.e., your wrist is no higher than your elbow).

Once you are in this position, go through the following list of tweaks:

  • Your elbow should be at or slightly ahead of your shoulder You don’t want the elbow to sneak behind your shoulder, since that creates an ugly chicken wing.
  • Your forearm should be relatively level. It’s ok for the wrist to be slightly below the height of the elbow, but not by much. The wrist should not be higher than the elbow.
  • Your wrist should be straight. Don’t bend the wrist down or up—think of the hand forming a straight line with your forearm.
  • Your imaginary beer or soda bottle should be relatively straight. If it’s turned too far outward, the bottom of your arm will be facing up. If it’s too far down, the side of your arm will be facing the mirror instead of the back of your arm.

Now, without moving your arm, rotate yourself so you are looking in the mirror. Make the following adjustments, if necessary:

  • Make sure your elbow is not pinned to your side. Think of holding a tennis ball in your armpit (or actually use a tennis ball!)—this should create a couple of inches between your elbow and your side.
  • Your wrist should be slightly closer to your body than your elbow. From a perfectly straight position (where the forearm is pointing directly at the mirror, just bring the wrist in an inch or two.

Got it? Notice how this position feels. Now drop the arm to your side and relax. Try to go back to that same position, and use the mirror to check yourself. A good goal for beginners is to find that neutral position five times in a row.

Bonus Variations: Once you can find the neutral position on your own, try incorporating that position into your basics. With or without a partner, dance your basics and stop periodically to check that your arm is still in the correct position. With the exception of two-handed or closed position moves, you should be able to dance any pattern with this neutral arm position.

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