Arm styling for ladies is often seen as one of those dark arts in Salsa.
Few do it well, and most have little clue where to start, other than copying other dancers or teachers.
From my conversations with ladies who are at the level where they are just starting to think about arm styling, the biggest struggle is knowing where to start…
What to do, how to do it, and where to put it in the dance when there’s already so much else going on and you’re feeling like a rabbit in the headlights wondering what move is coming next.
But really there are three things that you need to master in order to develop beautiful arms in Salsa:
A – Arm positions and transitions
B – Body Motion
C – Confidence
Where To Start
Firstly you need to develop a basic flowing arm motion.
This is produced by your weight transfer from one foot to the other, which causes the hips to swing which in turn creates a contra-movement of the ribcage.
Because the shoulder blades are anchored on the back of the ribcage, if the arms are relaxed enough, this ribcage movement will naturally make the arms move.
Therefore this circling arm motion should be perfectly integrated with your basic step.
Above the elbow, the movement is fairly constant, but you can play with what happens below the elbow, turning the arms out, shaping the fingers, rolling the wrists, making it spiky and sharp, or soft and feminine.
You then need to build a repertoire of basic arm movements that you can execute with beautiful technique:
These can include arm extensions at various angles, haircombs, wrist rolls, shoulder shimmies.
It can feel very alien at first, and make your dancing feel too “big” and flamboyant. But generally, any styling movements you make look about 50-75% smaller than they feel.
When to do it
The next step is figuring out where the opportunities are for you to put these into the dance. And it doesn’t stop there…you need to time them perfectly so they synchronise with the timing of your steps and look connected to your body.
And you need to make sure that you’re not doing anything that prevents the guy from delivering the lead…if you’ve just flung the arm out that he wanted to lead you with you’d better get it back quick!
How to make it look good
This takes practice and dedication and hours of mirror work.
But the first thing you need is to create a great deal of mobility at the shoulder and wrist so the movements look free flowing without any sticking points.
All arm movement in Salsa is initiated by movement of the ribcage, so the basic arm circling motion is a holding pattern from which all other arm styling radiates out from.
Learning how to time this and make the transitions look natural will be a work in progress for many months, but will ultimately give you a platform for much more creativity and expression in your Salsa dancing.
So don’t be scared to style your arms.
Just appreciate that it is a journey and one that you’ll most likely need help with 🙂