Dancing without your arms is like painting a picture with only half your colour palette. Great dancers have learned to express the music with their whole body, to create better musicality and convey the emotion of the dance. So how can we start to develop our ballroom arm styling so it moves as fabulously as the rest of us?

The rest of you IS moving fabulously right? You will find it very hard to improve your arm styling if you are still working on footwork, Cuban motion, and so on.

Centre on the Core

All body and arm movements begin in the core, and radiate outwards, like ripples on a pond.

Our ‘core’ is a fist-sized point located in the solar plexus (just below the ribcage). From there, the movement expands outward to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers.

Starting from the core, practice breathing in as you make a dramatic movement (like a crossover), letting it

expand your ribcage, then exhale and contract slightly

as you exit the element to signal the return of your arm. Don’t actually use the arm yet – place it on the hip or hold the hand in front of the solar plexus.

Add the Arm

Now, start with a basic lift of the arm to the side. Watch the following video:

(Gentlemen, this video can be good for you too, until about 1:26 – the arm styling after that is definitely more feminine :))

Keep some tone in the arms to avoid the limp spaghetti look. Also, avoid letting your elbow chicken-wing by traveling behind your shoulder.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable sending the arm out and back

while standing in place, add the breathing exercise we used earlier, starting the inhale before you move the elbow.

Stretch the Fingers

Your ballroom arm styling might be great, but if your hands are limp, you’ll just look like your swinging around a dead fish.

Make sure the wrists only bend enough to follow the curve of the elbow, so there aren’t any sharp angles. As for the hands themselves, I usually recommend one of the following to start:

Ostrich Egg (Usually ladies)

Splayed Fingers (usually men)


We need to be able to time our arm movements so the momentum of our steps carry them out. Not sure how? Watch this:

(Cha Cha timing is optional. Ladies can practice this without fists and with slightly less tone in the arms.)

Be sure to watch other dancers you admire and what you like about their styling. Next week, we’ll look at how we can change the movement to reflect the music and/or our choreography. In the meantime, I’ve included two more videos on how the arms accentuate two very different dance styles.

Consider taking ballet lessons, or at least study the arm positions and how they move. Much of the grace and power of ballroom arm styling originated in ballet.