Dance Tips

Arm Styling

General Rule #1: Never let a free hand drop below your belt line. Any time you are holding a partner with only one hand, hold the free arm almost as if it were in a sling, elbow relatively close to the side with your forearm roughly parallel to the ground. (Another way to think of it is to imagine being in a pool with your arm(s) floating in ribcage-high water.) For men, keep your free hand in a loose fist. For women, keep the wrist bent slightly in a "v" shape with the hand tilted upward, fingers almost straight but with a slight natural curl and the index finger slightly higher and more pointed than the rest of the fingers. (Swing in single handhold is a great exercise for this!)

General Rule #2: All arm styling consist of a common starting, transitional and finishing movement. The start happens at the initial point of movement (usually when letting go of a partner's hand,during a transition from facing one direction and changing to face another direction, and when leading or being led through a movement other than a closed position step). The finish is the point at which the movement is complete (this is usually supposed to match a particular foot placement in a step). The transition is the action of getting from the starting movement to the finishing movements.

General Rule #3: In every type of arm styling movement I can think of, there is one thing in common: how the arms move throughout the transition of the arm movement. The arm moves from shoulder to elbow, from elbow to wrist and then from wrist to fingertips. The top arm styling video above demonstrates this very well.

General Rule #4: Keeping Tone in the Arm: All the way through the movements, you MUST maintain some form of tone in your arm muscles to create a fluid, natural and/or powerful look. What this means is that you must keep a little tension in your frame, not just move limply (of course if we were maintaining our frame we wouldn't be moving limply now would we, hmmm?(That comment dedicated to my dear friends Carol Clark and her husband, my mentor, The Maestro, Johnny Clark). On the other hand, you don't want to look like Arnold Schwartzeneger doing a muscle pose either!

Final Rule of Thumb: Pace the speed of your arm to match the timing and footwork of the section of pattern you are dancing: The cha cha arm styling video above demonstrates this, notice how the final point of the movement happens the same time you do "rock" of rock step. The common mistake is to simply "shoot" the arm to where we want to finish instead of letting the arm flow through the movement smoothly at one pace. The key is to pace the movement to last exactly as long as the steps we are taking. Try to move your arm styling and your feet at the same pace and you'll WOW them every time!.


With your weight evenly balanced, feet shoulder width apart, hold your arms in front of you as if you were holding ski poles. If you now open your palms to face an imaginary partner, you have what is known as "Neutral" position in arm styling.

Imagining your arm being in a cast in that "Neutral" position, rotate the right elbow clockwise about an 1/8 to 1/4 of a turn.

Without consciously changing the arm position, think of moving only the section of your arm from your shoulder to your elbow toward the center of your body(Note: the rest of your arm will come with it).

Leaving your right hand where it is (palm facing you about 8 to 12" from your breastbone) rotate your right elbow only, upward and outward till the forearm is roughly parallel to the ground. Up to this point we have finished the starting movement and proceeded into the beginning of the transition movement.

Still without changing the original position of the full arm, begin to swing (smoothly and slowly) the area of the arm from the shoulder to the elbow to the right until the wrist opens to shoulder width.

When the right wrist is passing the right shoulder, stop moving shoulder to elbow and begin slowly opening only the area of the arm from the right elbow to the right wrist to a point well short of having a completely locked elbow, while rotating your palm towards the floor. Whew! That was a lot to swallow.

At that point, stretch the wrist through the fingertips to finish the movement out. If you followed along correctly, the feeling should resemble the arm movements of treading water (if you can't tread water you'll have to deal with the technical explanation for now, sorry)

This movement or styling can be used all "break" patterns and most patterns involving walking a partner in single handhold in Rumba, Mambo and Cha Cha. It can also be used in virtually any open position smooth pattern involving single arm contact in full Bronze level and above.