Hands are magical. They’re one of the most sensitive parts of the human body, and can even feel large microscopic molecules on a flat surface. We also generally rely pretty heavily on the hands for social dancing. Of course, it is possible to not use the hands in social dancing – but it is difficult.
But, there are things that your hands can do in social dancing that you may not think about regularly.
1: They can tell your partner when you don’t want to do something
The hands can be a valuable tool for communicating to a partner that you don’t want to do something.
For example, a follow can use a free hand to push or grip onto a lead if they don’t like what is happening. If you don’t want to turn, use your hand to push back against the lead who is asking for it. If you don’t want to dip, hold on tightly to the shoulders.
For a lead, you can use your hands to block the undesired path when leading. You can use both hands instead of one to guide a follow through a movement, and you can use them to show where you want the follow to go next.
2: They can keep your partner from bumping into other people
If you are not a prolific hand-sqeezer, a gentle squeeze or hand block is extremely useful for telling a partner when there’s imminent danger.
For example, if a lead is in the process of a movement and realizes there’s a new threat of collision, a responsive follow will usually respond to a calculated gentle-squeeze or block by stopping their movement.
For follows, you can use a hand squeeze or hand on the back of the shoulder if the lead is moving or planning to move you into a collision path. If you notice the issue mid-movement, you can also use this to ask for a ‘stop’, which allows you to avoid collision.
3. They allow you to feel where your partner’s body is
If your hands are integrated with the rest of your frame, they are one of your best tools for understanding where your partner’s body is.
For example, extra resistance or a sudden lack of resistance can indicate that you are going too fast for your partner. It can also indicate that your partner is off-balance and in need of more support.
4. They are a tool for expressing yourself in dance
Hands are an incredible ‘styling’ tool for both leads and follows – especially on a crowded dance floor. The shape of the fingers and hand position can give a lot of ‘attitude’ to your dance in a very simple and non-invasive way. Extension of the fingers, curling the fingers, rotating the wrist, and other finger gestures can be great tools to add to your repertoire.
5. They can be responsible for giving a certain ‘feeling’ to your partner
Hands are more than capable of connecting with people in different ways. For example, we can pet a cat, hold a child, and push someone away. The difference in the feeling is how you use your hands.
For example, a lead who digs their fingers into the back while trying to lead feels very disconnected. Leads who are willing to actually hold a follow’s body with their full hand generally have a softer, more secure feel. Follows who are willing to gently hold their partners with their hand generally feel more connected than follows who only are willing to lightly connect through the fingertips.
The key is to maintain contact that doesn’t push or pull, but that really does ‘hold’ the partner (think of holding a baby or small child: secure, but gentle). As you get better at giving this feeling, you can do the same thing using your shoulders, wrist or other parts of the body.
6. Your partner’s hands can tell you what they want
One of the best ways to understand what your partner is asking for is by feeling them with your body. Very often, this includes the hands. A slight tilt, rotation, or difference in the point of connection on the hand can tell you what they’re looking for.
Leads, be aware if you’re losing connection or getting extra connection between your hand and the follow’s body. If they are gently pushing in a certain direction, she’s seeking more room or proposing a movement. If you lose contact, it is usually because you’re going too far for them, they don’t want to go there, or you are going faster than their preference.
Follows, a slight angle in any part of the hand or arm can speak volumes. If you maintain connection and connect your frame to your hand, it can give you a very good reading on what the lead is intending to do next. Get used to connecting your body through your hands.
Some things you should not do with hands
Although the hands are great for many things, there are some things you should not do with them. While most people know not to do these things, some just flat-out don’t realize they’re one of the offenders.
If you think this is not you, please double-check. Ask a friend. Ask a teacher. Consciously think about it when you’re dancing. If you’re not doing it, nothing lost. If you are doing it, you have a lot to gain.
Do keep in mind that you should not squeeze your partner’s hands regularly while dancing – and they’re not a tool to force a partner to go somewhere. They’re a guide. This means that if you are leading or following, you should always leave room for your partner to ‘escape’ your grip if they don’t like/don’t feel good about something.
Most often, squeezing is subconscious – or because you’re trying really hard to maintain contact. Even if you don’t think you squeeze, consciously remind yourself not to use your thumbs or a tight grip. Purposefully relax your hands. If you feel your partner’s hand squirming, it’s a telltale sign that you’re holding on too tight.
Believe it or not, it’s better to lose contact with a partner than to squeeze too tightly. Sometimes, people let go because they’re at risk of injury. So, if you feel a partner letting go, let them let go. You can re-establish connection after – even if the initial let-go was an error.
Another common problem is close-holds where the lead pulls the follow to them – or vice versa. Remember, even if you’re in close hold, leave an escape hatch. If your partner pulls away from the hold, keep your arm relaxed. These pull-aways can be very subtle, so remember the baby metaphor: gentle, but secure. Hold them, but don’t crush them into your body.
Leading comes from the frame – not the hands. The hands are tools for communicating what is in your frame. However, you should not rely only on the hands to determine direction and movement. This generally feels jerky and unpleasant.
If you’re not sure what frame is or if you have it, please talk to a teacher or mentor. Seriously. Do it.
If you think you have frame, you should still pay attention. There’s people who notoriously are OK with frame on certain movements, but completely lose it on others. Most of these people legitimately think that they’re keeping frame. So, be open to the idea that you may have work to do on this subject.
While a guideline for new follows generally includes the advice to ‘follow your hands’, this is a simplified tool for survival. When you get more experienced as a follow, you need to link up where your hands go to where your body goes. Until your hands connect to your body, there will always be a ‘delay’ between the lead and your reaction.
This is also why some follows ‘preempt’ or backlead movements. Because the hands are going somewhere first, they try to reduce their reaction time by preempting where the hands will go. The solution for this is to integrate the hands with your frame so that your body moves as a whole unit – rather than thinking about where your hands will go next.
Did we miss something you think should be on the list? What do you use your hands for in social dancing? Leave your comments, and share the article!
Photo Credit: SV Photography
Another awesome article Laura, I agree with what you wrote. The hands are the first encounter with a partner and whether it’s on my hand or back, I could roughly judge how the dance would be. My advice for leads is to have more a palm connection and not the fingers. Also the amount of tension, to give the least amount of tension. If the follower needs more, u can increase it but a good follower requires less tension. Another one of my pet peeve that I judge leads before accepting a dance, and could make them immediately a much more pleasantnt dancer is to eliminate jewelry. Some leads would wear rings, bracelets and watches. I can feel it on my hands, back and I even have a friend who got a scar on her forehead fromm his watch. Even metal necklaces are unpleasant if she has to rest her hands on your shoulders or neck. So, omit those metals, they are of no use on the dance floor and would immediately make u a much more pleasant dancer?
I do dance some dances and if you can lead in kizomba with your frame (and just fort the connected moves), just explain me how you can lead in salsa spins moves and multiple cross body …
Even for a connected dance like kizomba, you have a lot (in urban kizomba) of disconnected moves where you don’t have the choice to use you hands …
Frame is often misunderstood as a fixed point or position. What it actually entails is using your core to motivate the movements of the rest of your body – including hands and arms. So, it is possible to lead all dances with frame.