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7.13 On Hands

Hand position – some teachers preach the virtues of the cupped rather than flat hand on spins (indeed, on any kind of turns – even simple underarm passes or tuck turns). Reasons include:

  • stronger connection between the partners;
  • allows the follower to steady herself, if necessary, to keep her balance;
  • makes it easier for the leader to indicate multiple spins;
  • after the spin (or simple turn), the lead/follow hands end up in the proper position for the next pattern (which can be anything).

If the follower allows her hand to go flat during a spin/turn, the connection is weakened, and the lead/follow hands end up reversed (so the next pattern has to be something like an underarm pass to get the hands back to the proper position).

In ECS a flat palm allows the follower to easily choose:

  • single or multiple spins (note that a good ECS follower can do two spins in 2 counts in slow-to-mid-speed music)
  • to do something besides a regular spin (like a reverse spin — Donna Barker does this, its nice to watch)

Also, it allows the leader to more easily change hands while the spin is in process. I do several moves where this is necessary. Its also worthwhile to note that in ECS a reversed hand position is OK, and is actually the basis for several moves (a jive reverse, an arm wrap, others).

The _general_ idea that I like the best for describing hand contact while dancing is to imagine that you are washing each other’s hands. The next-to-worst injuries I’ve received while dancing (the worst being stepped on with high heels) have been the results of tight grips… like a grip upon my thumb while my partner was trying to spin. Uh, my thumb – he don’t revolve!

There are two hand signals for an outside turn;

  • changing pressure on the shoulder blade with the man’s right hand, AND
  • rotating the man’s left hand within the lady’s right hand so that the man’s fingers lie horizontally along the lady’s palm, pointing to the man’s right.

The rotated hand is preparatory to a rise to a pivot point above the lady’s head. Individually, the “back pressure” signal may just be a steering move to avoid a traffic jam, just as the wiggle of the man’s left hand may be an attempt at a frame adjustment. The man’s left hand rotation is more visible than a pre-lead alone without it, but for social dancing I would prefer a clear (double) signal to a poor or missed signal. The _combination_ of the two signals indicate a prep-lead, and, as the two people practice dancing together more (IF they do), the signals become more subtle and therefore less visible. Prep leads taught and used this way work well for two-steppers early in their dance career, because the signals are clear.

Ladies – which hand do you present for the man to catch on free spins? Buddy Schwimmer calls the right hand the WCS hand and the left hand the Hustle hand for lady’s free turns.

Maxwell Ho has many helpful things to say about leading. Most leaders are taught, in their beginning classes, to keep their lead hand just above the follower’s forehead in a spin. This is correct, but in addition leaders should be aware of how their hand *gets* there. They should take the shortest line between two points, not an arc through the air. He demonstrated by putting an object on my head with a natural vertical movement, versus an exaggerated curve through space.

Most dance instructors use the terms “stirring” or “cranking”, and tell leaders not to do it (i.e., cranking women makes them cranky”) however, most every dancer has a _different_ idea of what constitutes stirring or cranking. If you stand in front of a mirror and lift your right arm (I said ARM, not ARM AND SHOULDER!) so that your upper arm is parallel to the ground (keep that shoulder DOWN!), and you bend your elbow so that your forearm is vertical, you will see that your fingers clear the top of your head by an inch or so. Now if you place your weight on the ball of one foot, and someone comes over and applies a force to your hand and causes you to turn WITHOUT YOUR HELP IN ANY WAY (i.e., they grab your hand and walk in a circle around you), THAT is cranking. You will feel very off balance, and your turn will have a start-stop jerkiness to it.

You will notice that when you turn in place with you right arm in the position just described, your right hand describes a circle above your head, like an angel’s “halo”. It is the leader’s job to keep the woman’s hand tracing this halo during her turn (while not scratching himself on the horns… ha ha, little joke there). This can be done without raising the follower’s upper arm above a horizontal position by proper control of the leader’s arm and wrist. (Find a phonograph turntable, position your wrist above the spindle, put your fingertips on the table and spin the table, keeping your fingers in the same spot as the table goes around. That approximates the wrist action. First get good at it with either hand, in either direction, then work on the timing.) Note that the leader’s arm should not clear the follower’s head by any more than 2 inches. Note for the followers: Do not push the leader’s arm upward by raising your hand while turning under his arm, and your body and arm must turn together as one – do not let your elbow get behind your body, or cross in front of your chest. Keeping your raised hand within your peripheral vision during turns will ensure that you turn your body properly and will prevent injury to arm/shoulder.

Rather than a vertical forearm (which was only used for demonstration purposes earlier – if a leader has to make a large circular motion with his/her arm, he has to stretch and practically lean over her to do so and he runs the risk of throwing the lady off balance), the follower’s forearm should be angled towards the head, thus decreasing the radius of the “halo” – almost as if she is “saluting” (keep that shoulder DOWN!) – it’s a very tight circle. It should not be held directly over the follower’s head. This latter method is taught in beginner classes where followers are instructed to turn whenever their arms are simply lifted. (if the ladies arm is raised, that is usually a lead for something… but hopefully, she will have other clues as to when to turn, like pressure on the opposite shoulder. – note that in swing an arm raised without a turn happens when the leader drapes the ladies arm over his head onto his shoulder.) If the man just raises the lady’s arm without giving her the proper lead for a turn, Robert Royston says she should just stand there like the Statue of Liberty. Note that you cannot put your hand directly over your head if your upper arm is at the desired horizontal position. With VERY BEGINNING followers it may be necessary to stir or crank – at first. When dancing with someone who is at this stage, try to reduce the diameter of the “halo” with each successive turn. Robert Royston teaches that there is an “On-ramp” to get to the halo, and an equally important “Off-ramp” to get back down.

“*Leaders, do not lift your arm high! It only needs to be lifted slightly (2 inches at most) above the followers head. Lifting the arm high completely alters a followers balance. Reverse roles for a minute and try it. Followers, do not push up with your hand during a turn. Keep it quiet near your head and use the leader’s hand for gaging turning speed – leaders, you must turn her smoothly and on time! Keeping the hands only 2 inches at most above the followers head is at least 50 percent the follower’s job. She must keep her arm” toned. The only time the leader should raise the follower’s hand high is if he wants to keep her from traveling in a turn, like when the man wants to go under himself.

For guys leading spins, the main thing is to be aware of and then avoid what can make a spin go wrong! When first starting out, it is better to hold her hand centered just above the top of her head than off center. When holding it off-center it is easy to pull her off center, until you become very, very, VERY practiced at leading spins by moving your hand around the “halo” with hers. Holding the hand up too high encourages the lady to raise her center of gravity — the exact opposite of what she wants. The lower your c.g., the better your spin.

In initiating turns from closed dance position, I’ve come across several schools of thought on whether the lead is through the man’s left arm, or through his right arm to her shoulder-blade.

One extreme being that you lead turns with the left arm, with no mention of the right arm being made at all (This is possible if the lady maintains good frame through her arm, and keeps her wrist straight, though this is NOT recommended. If she has a limp arm – then the opposite shoulder lead is essential)

The other extreme is that the lead comes from the right hand with a double turn being indicated by a stronger lead. I find leading doubles with a stronger right arm works fine in swing but not as well in C&W 2-step, where the double takes 4 beats. Here I resort to the left arm lead for the 2nd half of the turn but I initiate the turn mostly with my right arm.

Mario Robau says “remember gentlemen, the turn is led with the right hand, not the left” I’ve always heard that the turn comes from the pressure on the lady’s shoulder blade, while the man’s left hand maintains position to indicate where the turn goes. Forcing the man’s left hand forward after the lady’s hand is above her armpit is a good way to injure her.

If the man just raises the lady’s arm without giving her the proper lead for a turn, Robert Royston says she should just stand there like the Statue of Liberty.

 

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