Some dancers in close-hold dances like to do isolations with their hips and upper body. However, some dancers also use the “Leg Clamp” as a way of trying to connect and control the movements.

The Leg Clamp is when a partner places their legs on either side of one of yours, and squeezes your leg. It can be found in many dances.

Often, it’s used for one of two reasons:

  1. to immobilize the lower body in order to create upper body isolations (which is typically how it is used, when executed well).
  2. to maintain “connection” in the lower body, frequently for the purposes of hip isolations.

Some people also do it for no discernible reason. Maybe it’s to keep their partner closer, but that’s only a guess.

The Leg Clamp can be from a leader to a follower, or from a follower to a leader. However, it’s most dangerous in the leader to follower variety.

Is it always dangerous?

It is possible to use your legs to hold another person steady, but the vast majority of people who practice the Leg Clamp are not using it safely for this purpose. The only time this really works well is for the purpose of upper body isolations.

Some teachers (in a classroom setting) may use the clamp to help hold a student’s body steady while teaching isolations and other movements. But, doing this requires the ability to make sure that there’s no undue pressure on the knee during the exercise. That means no knee twisting, shifting, or weird movements.

Some people also confuse contact for clamping. You can have contact with a person’s legs without creating an imprisoning pressure. Contact is not dangerous because your partner can escape. Clamping is dangerous because they can’t. Contact can sometimes be described as creating a ‘wall’, or having a light touch between the legs.

By far the greatest danger of the Leg Clamp is when leaders try to create hip isolations by moving their knees instead of their hips.

Hip isolations

Hip isolations, as the name implies, are a hip movement. Moving your knees a lot doesn’t mean that your partner will create hip isolations. Rather, control of your hips will create hip isolations.

This may involve some movement of the knees, but it is not driven by the knees. It is not the same as Cuban motion.

When people try to lead hip isolations or weight transfers by moving their knees, it is uncomfortable and dangerous for the follower. Our hips aren’t going to unlock, but we may lose balance or injure our knees.

If there’s no clamp, the follower can escape the knee wiggling. But, if there’s a leg clamp, there’s often no way to escape.

Fragile knees

The Leg Clamp is so dangerous during knee movements because of the risk of moving the knee in an unnatural direction. Knees don’t have very much range in a side-to-side direction. They’re also (in my opinion) obscenely easy to injure.

When your knee is held firmly between another person’s legs, it’s very easy for them to twist your knee in a lateral direction and cause injury. This is especially true if they’re doing a ‘windshield-wiper’ side-to-side motion with their knees.

When it’s really rough, it’s basically the same feeling as someone stepping on the side of your knee. I know because I played softball and had that happen to me. In both situations, I could literally feel my knee get closer and closer to snapping.

Further, it is difficult (and sometimes even more dangerous) to resist the windshield wiper movement. That tension can cause things to break more – not less.

Please: think of your partner’s knees. Even if the clamp sometimes works for what you’re trying to do, is it worth risking your partner’s safety?

(I really hope you say “no.”)

Solutions for the imprisoned

Unfortunately, there’s no real ‘good’ answer to defending against dangerous leg clamps. Sometimes I’ll hold onto them really tight to signal discomfort; sometimes I’ll try to push them away.

But, if I feel in danger and I don’t think I can get out of it naturally, I immediately say something. My knees are already too sensitive to deal with an injury, so I don’t risk it. It’s as simple as saying ‘that hurts’, or ‘please don’t do that’.

It’s not rude – it’s safe. If your partner can’t understand that, it’s on them – not you. Knees are too delicate to mess around.

Fear isn’t the goal

The goal of this article isn’t to make you fearful of being a terrible lead or an injured follow. The goal is to make you aware of something that is often misused, and can cause injury.

We can’t change habits we aren’t aware of. So please: make sure you don’t leg clamp your partner. Make sure their legs can always escape, if desired. Respect the natural mechanics of the body; ask for help if you’re not sure what’s right.

You can still lead every single isolation without the Leg Clamp. It isn’t necessary. If you have a partner who won’t follow without the Leg Clamp, consider whether that isolation is the best thing for you to be doing with that partner.

It is possible to use contact, or a ‘wall’, to guide upper body isolations. But please, learn how to use it properly rather than approximate it based on what you think you’ve seen people do. When used well, it is not painful, it doesn’t involve the knees, and it still leaves room for a follow to ‘escape’ if necessary.

And yes, I’m aware some teachers teach the Leg Clamp as a way for ‘controlling’ messy follows. I typically disagree with teaching it because of how easy it is to hurt someone. I prefer to teach contact that doesn’t limit a follower or leader’s ability to escape. Contact is ok; clamping is dangerous.