West coast swing tends to have subtle arm movement. In general, the arm doesn’t draw your attention unless there’s a specific accent…or unless the arm is frozen against the body. In this exercise, you’ll develop your natural arm motion so your arm can flow with your body.
Beginners are taught to hold their arm in a neutral ready position. This fixes the problem of having a dead arm laying against your side. But, as you develop your body flight, the rest of your body will be moving smoothly, and so you need to add that same fluidity to your arm motion.
The Drill: By yourself, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Let your arms hang with no tension. Shift from side to side and let your arms swing with your body. Don’t try to move the arms; just feel how they swing with the momentum of the body.
After a few minutes, you should begin to feel how the arms flow from the movement of your center. In particular, notice what part of your arm is moving. You should feel like your arm motion begins from the shoulder, goes down through the elbow, and then finishes at the hand. We’re going to try to recreate that feeling in a controlled way.
As you continue shifting from side to side, let the momentum start to swing your arms, and then slowly continue that motion until your arm gets to chest height (somewhere below your shoulder but above your waist). Focus on how your arm moves rather than where it moves. Your goal is to replicate the fluidity and natural swing of the arm. Feel the motion naturally working down your arm, from the shoulder all the way down to the hand.
The point of this exercise is to develop the feeling for a natural arm swing. This is a feeling—it’s not an exact science. It will take a lot of repetition to figure out what feels natural on your body. As you practice, it’s a good idea to check how it looks in a mirror every now and then, but remember that you’re trying to develop a feeling.
When you have this feeling, you can start making the arm movements smaller and finding places to include that flow within your basic movement. We’ll talk more about that in a future post!