An excited or nervous partner** often pulls their hand (hand side of the embrace) up and in. This has the detrimental effects of increasing tension, weakening ability to send/receive signals, and misdirecting energy upwards rather than to grounding.
Oftentimes, too, a shorter partner will feel that they are being helpful or considerate to a taller partner by holding their hand well above their own shoulder in an effort to “meet” their partner. As a taller partner this makes me feel uncomfortable on their behalf, and it does not contribute to an improved dance. Rather, it takes energy away from movement, and it directs energy away from their core.
Generally the shoulder level of the shorter partner, with upper arm and forearm forming a roughly 90 degree angle, results in a relaxed, resourceful position for the hand.
We can in one of several ways cue our partner to relax and lower their hand. While recognizing that different partners may respond better to one cue or another, we want to consistently use the cue we choose for a partner for a dance.
Pressure and Release
A. Put gentle downward, outward pressure on the partner’s hand. Don’t jerk.
B. Keep steady pressure and release it as soon as they relax their hand, even slightly.
C. Then ask them (nonverbally! and as a suggestion, not a command) to lower the hand a little more, rewarding any downward movement with release.
A. Give rhythmic and regular short tugs on the hand. The tugs should be gentle, more of an annoyance than a pull.
B. A natural reaction is to move in the opposite direction, away from the annoyance. If they pull their hand up, allow that, then continue with the gentle tugs.
C. As soon as your partner begins to lower their hand, even just a little, stop tugging and give warmth in your embrace.
D. Then continue tugging until the hand rests at a relaxed, comfortable level and distance from the body.
A. With a relaxed, open hand at the arm side of the embrace give gentle, short downward pressure (not strokes) against the back or arm.
B. Beware of creating pressure points, such as with fingertips, that call attention to themselves and distract from the calming effect. Beware, too, that this not be seen as (or actually be) a too familiar or intimate move. This move differs from comfortable, clear dance connection only in its specific intention to feel as a calming presence.
We leave as an exercise how these cues might be adapted to address the related problem of a hand-side elbow that floats upward.
(Adapted from Storey’s Guide to training horses, by Heather Smith Thomas, pp 164-167)
** In this, as with most of our writing and teaching, we intentionally avoid speaking of Follower or Leader, for the advice applies to either role.