Advice on arms for a newbie?

nysari

New member
I don't come to these forums as often as I should, but I'm hoping someone here can provide me with some tips or resources. As I don't have the funds to take classes at the moment, I'm having to rely on at home practice. Unfortunately, this means I'm without a teacher or mentor to guide me. :(

I've been dancing for a year now as of my birthday last month and I feel like I've come a long way since then, but there's one issue that's consistently plagued me from the very beginning: arms.

I spend my practices in front of my webcam doing mostly improv with some DVD-based choreography and drilling. It seems that no matter how often I remind myself that I have sloppy arms, they still manage to detract so much from my videos that I can scarcely focus on other areas where I need to improve. In every video there's instances of one arm floating off seemingly independent of the rest of my body, a hand drooping lazily, or awkward pose lines. It makes my dancing look just awful.

Has anyone else gone through this? What can I incorporate into my practice to work toward more natural-looking arms? Are there any good resources for this that I should check out?
 

Kashmir

New member
First off - a year is nothing. Give it time.

Drilling is the answer. For instance, as part of your warmup, walk around the room. Over 4 steps raise one arm above your head - next 4 out to the side - next 4 back in. Change sides. Do both together. Add zills. The pattern isn't the issue - you being in control of your arms is.

Next, think above two moves. Consider arm position for move 1 and arm position for move 2. Work on smooth transitions.

The journey is more important than the destination (but you better make the destination).

Also consider strengthening work for arms and upper back.

Good luck.
 
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nysari

New member
Thank you.

I get caught up sometimes with wondering where I'm supposed to be in dancing after a year... like I'm supposed to be performance ready or something. I have a bad habit of expecting too much of myself too soon and too fast. It's good to hear that a year isn't much time. I feel like I can cut myself some slack now.

I have Brianna's Ballet for Belly Dance DVD and she features a section where she drills a belly dance and traditional ballet port de bras. Would that be helpful to add as well?

I've never thought of adding zills, but I can see how that would definitely help. My instructor before I moved never covered zills so I have yet to purchase a pair, but I know my local dance studio sells them. I'll have to swing by...

Anyway, I'll be sure to re-incorporate drills with arms into my daily practice. I have a bad habit of neglecting to drill lately, but I'll be sure to remedy that. If it'll help me overcome my sloppy arms, I can get over the fact that it's not much fun.

I really appreciate the advice. It's not easy for me to be so new and to suddenly find myself without guidance.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
First off - a yera is nothing. Give it time.

Drilling is the answer. For instance, as part of your warmup, walk around the room. Over 4 steps raise one arm above your head - next 4 out to the side - next 4 back in. Change sides. Do both together. Add zills. The pattern isn't the issue - you being in control of your arms is.

Next, think abve two moves. Consider arm position for move 1 and arm position for move 2. Work on smooth transitions.

The journey is more important than teh destination (but you better make the destination).

Also consider strengthening work for arms and upper back.

Good luck.
This is pretty much how I took care of my inelegant arms. I had years of poor training under my belt with no focus on the arms and so I had issues. I did a workshop on elegant arms & took the notes & vids home & practiced the arms & posture whilst using the wii stepping game. It got me into the habit of having elegant arms while moving which then translated into having elegant arms whilst dancing.

As you said, it's still a work in progress.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
Sorry for the double post.

Perhaps speak to the local studio about your interest (let them know you've been keeping it up at home) and that your financial situation makes it difficult for you to keep dancing. For the price of a decent pair of zills you can buy yourself a private lesson to cover what you want to work on and you can use that to help you.
 

Sophia Maria

New member
Hi nysari,

Arms can be a toughie. They've never really been my weak spot, but in the beginning they definitely were more floppy. Sometimes when I watch my old videos I SERIOUSLY cringe. Don't worry, arms are something that take time and patience!

Kashmir is right about her drilling ideas. It sounds like you're trying to do some choreography? If you're moving several parts of your body at once, that could be why your hands droop and you lose focus in your arms. I would say one useful drill is practicing a steady hip move, like simple hits (locks, snaps? whatever you call them) to a beat while you slowly move through an arm pattern, like a port du bras, wrist circles, etc.

Another thing is, whenever I feel like I need to refine arm movements, I head to a pool. It might sound weird, but just standing up to my neck in water and going through arm movements is immensely helpful. The water makes you slow down, and most importantly, use your muscles more. This might help you achieve the graceful "pushing" and "pulling" that my dance teacher always wants me to understand.

Learn poses, yes, but moving through poses and how you are arriving at each one is more important, IMO.

Lastly, this is my personal stumbling block, arms are more emotional than you'd expect. Express something important through them.
 

Kashmir

New member
I get caught up sometimes with wondering where I'm supposed to be in dancing after a year... like I'm supposed to be performance ready or something.
Rule of thumb, "safe" performance of simple choreography in front of friends and family - 6-18 months.
I have Brianna's Ballet for Belly Dance DVD and she features a section where she drills a belly dance and traditional ballet port de bras. Would that be helpful to add as well?
Probably. Only watch that it is used to develop strength, poise and grace - not that you end up (always) using ballet arms in belly dance. (That was partly why I suggested the transitions exercise - pick say the one hand on the back of the head, one hand in front and gracefully transition to L arms etc)
 

nysari

New member
Thank you, everyone. This advice is really helpful.

Another thing is, whenever I feel like I need to refine arm movements, I head to a pool. It might sound weird, but just standing up to my neck in water and going through arm movements is immensely helpful. The water makes you slow down, and most importantly, use your muscles more. This might help you achieve the graceful "pushing" and "pulling" that my dance teacher always wants me to understand.
That's funny that you mention that. Every time I'm in my father-in-law's pool, I can't help but think "there's gotta be some way I can use the water to make my dance movements more fluid." But I was always focused on hip moves and belly rolls and the like. For some silly reason, working on my arms never once occurred to me. I'll have to try that this weekend when we go down to their house again.

Kashmir said:
Rule of thumb, "safe" performance of simple choreography in front of friends and family - 6-18 months.
I've never heard this before, but I like that rule. I've only danced for my family once. I should work on making regular practice of it...

Darshiva said:
Perhaps speak to the local studio about your interest (let them know you've been keeping it up at home) and that your financial situation makes it difficult for you to keep dancing. For the price of a decent pair of zills you can buy yourself a private lesson to cover what you want to work on and you can use that to help you.
I'll be sure to try that... The woman who runs the three studios in my area seems like an incredibly sweet lady. Hopefully she'd be willing to work with me on the price.
 

gypsy

New member
Arms are a big focus to me, when I watch someone perform I always notice their arms and it greatly affects how much I like it.
I'm not sure where I am at with my own arms, but I try to be mindful of them whatever I am doing with the rest of me.
Shira-Thank you so much for the article, it is so helpful! I will be practicing it!
 

BigJim

Member
I feel that arms are a weak point for me also. I have a tendency to move them to fast and get into the flapping mode.My instructor also says that instead of framing the hips I'm having them to close and hiding them instead. She suggested working with a broomstick to try and cure this. Hold the stick as far apart as possible and then go through your routine. It will emphasize where your arm position is at... it's not perfect but I'm hoping it'll help get control of what they are doing... jim
 

Selene

New member
I like the advice in this thread as I have problems with my arms as well. Starting with the fact that they are extra long(I have long limbs but short torso) so whenever I try to frame my hips, my hands are way too low, and if I arch them more my elbows look too pointy. Also, the pointy elbows are a problem often when extending arms in first position for example, although that helps me keep the elbows facing back since they look awful any other way xD so what can I do to make them look softer?
 

Darshiva

Moderator
Either accept your arms the way they are (glorious long arms!!!) or if you wanted to, you could rotate your elbows so that they point backwards to narrow the gap between waist and arms when your hands are framing around the hips. The decision is yours and should be made based on how comfortable it is to do the rotation trick I'm talking about. My elbows get a bit pointy when framing the hips so I do the rotation thing myself, but I honestly think that you should just do what works best for your body.
 

Salome

Administrator
In Oriental we spend time learning travelling steps, teaching those feet patterns, training our hips, core and so on. We break down movements, we train muscles and through this process we begin to gain control and some level of mastery. But there are those dang hands, with pinkies so full of tension they are sticking up like antennas. Drooping elbows, limp wrists and arms that are cramping our space. Why? Because arms and hands (often get) left out of this break down/learning/training equation.

I have taught extensively on arms and hands and I can tell you it starts with approaching your hands and arms just as you did your hip work. It takes specific training and lot's of practice. My workshop starts with stretching your fingers, wrists and arms. Increasing your flexibility and softness. Then dexterity exercises. For one example; hands open/fingers extended then fold the pointer and ring finger down simultaneously and open again. Repeat but with the middle and pinkie finger. Another dexterity exercise I like to do in my class is palms together and designate the pointer fingers as the dom in a rhythm and the other fingers as tek. Keeping your palms tightly together tap out the rhythm in a pattern - always trying to repeat it precisely as you did before.

There is more than one hand position used in Oriental, at least in American Oriental, so in my workshop we practice moving through about 5 different positions with the hands. We do an Oriental version of porte bra and practice extension, form, grace, control and later add hand positions...

I say all this to say, you are on the right track. Arms and hands need attention of their own. Stretch them - practice dexterity - practice framing and defining space around the body with intention. Good luck!
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
This is a spontaneous unpaid plug for Salome's workshop on hands and arms. She came to Wyoming a couple of years ago to teach and it was an experience I wish everyone could share.
 

Selene

New member
Either accept your arms the way they are (glorious long arms!!!) or if you wanted to, you could rotate your elbows so that they point backwards to narrow the gap between waist and arms when your hands are framing around the hips. The decision is yours and should be made based on how comfortable it is to do the rotation trick I'm talking about. My elbows get a bit pointy when framing the hips so I do the rotation thing myself, but I honestly think that you should just do what works best for your body.

Thanks for the advice, I actually do the rotation and it helps a little but I often forget to do it -.- Also, Im still trying to figure out what works best for my body when it comes to framing my hips, cant seem to get them arms looking pretty XD

Thanks Salome for the tips on exercise~
 

Darshiva

Moderator
Thanks for the advice, I actually do the rotation and it helps a little but I often forget to do it -.- Also, Im still trying to figure out what works best for my body when it comes to framing my hips, cant seem to get them arms looking pretty XD

Thanks Salome for the tips on exercise~
Stand in front of a mirror and move them around until they look right, then hold that pose. Do it the same for every posture you use and every arm pose you use and over the course of a few months it will become habit.
 
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