How to use your free arm

West Coast Swing Online Styling

When you are dancing, you probably are thinking about your feet, your handhold, and your center. But, it’s easy to forget about your free arm.

West coast swing doesn’t require elaborate arm styling—often, the best arm styling is quiet, so that it doesn’t call the audience’s attention. However, there is a big difference between a relaxed, neutral arm and the dead arm look that occurs when your attention is simply diverted to other parts of your body.

The Drill: In this drill, we’re going to focus on being conscious of where the free arm is. Put on a song and dance your basics on your own. As you dance, spend the entire dance noticing where your free arm is. Don’t try to adjust where your arm is yet—just pay attention to where the arm ends up normally.

(Even if you have a partner, it’s good to do this drill solo. Dancing alone eliminates one possible source of distraction—your partner—so that you are better able to notice your arm position.)

By the end of the song, you will have almost certainly felt moments in which your arm was in a weird or awkward place. It may have been pinned against your side, it may have been limply flopping around, or it may have been held stiffly away from your body.

Try dancing another song solo, and this time focus on letting the arm be relaxed but not limp. Think about the arm as a buoy, attached by a rope to a boat, floating on the surface of the water: as you move the arm will float along, but it does not move exactly with the body because it is not rigidly attached to the body.

This exercise will feel weird for a while, especially if you are a logical thinker who likes to know exactly where to place your body parts. The goal of this drill is to develop a kinaesthetic sense for where your arm is located and how it moves through space, and the only way to develop that sense is by practice.

As you continue to practice this drill, you may wish to video yourself or dance in front of a mirror in order to see how your arm looks, as well as how it feels. This can be a really valuable learning tool, but remember to give yourself time to practice between video takes. A good starting ratio is three songs practice to one song of video.

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