But I Don’t Want to Look Pretty – One Guy’s Take on Arm Styling

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Let’s be honest, most of us guys really don’t get arm styling.  I see couples all the time in the studio and when you are social dancing, the arm styling doesn’t really matter.  Plus, most of the time, you are on a crowded dance floor and if you went big, you’d start taking people out.  Also, I don’t really think they start focusing on arm styling for guys until you get to a certain level.  Oh sure, they complain at group classes about us having dead arms but other than telling you to stick it out, they don’t get into much more than that.  Most of the styling techniques are reserved for the ladies which makes sense because at some level, we are just there to help you look good and who really watches the guys anyway.  We all look basically the same while the women wear the more outrageous outfits and get to do most of the really showy things like spins.

And, for some guys, arm styling gets close to crossing some kind of imaginary line.  A lot of guys, even those who are doing it as a couple, aren’t all that crazy about dancing.  It isn’t really perceived as a “guy” thing to do.  I’ve not gotten a lot of grief about my dancing but there are cracks from time to time from some of my guy friends and my brothers (of course).  For the record, most of my women friends and relatives are like super supportive but that might be a topic for a different day.  Anyway, it is one thing to dance, it is another thing to be expected to move you arm in a certain way that doesn’t feel right and is in no way a macho thing to do.  (As an aside, I look at some of the poses guys take while lifting weights and it is nothing compared to arm styling but since they are tossing around iron, I guess that makes it more of a “man thing”)  Cuban motion probably runs a close second except for guys who can not take that seriously and just really exaggerate the hip shaking.  Looks bad but if you aren’t taking it seriously, then you can’t be judged.

Perhaps the other struggle for an advanced social dancer, is that since I’m being taught by a lady, I get the female perspective on why arm styling is needed.  Invariably, it comes back to her saying that it makes me look pretty which is the only word she can come up with.  Sometimes, she will try to correct herself by attempting to use a male oriented adjective like “handsome” but that really doesn’t fit.  Last night, she tried to get all technical on me and started talking about balance but that didn’t take.  Finally, she got around to a concept I could relate to which was to make thinks look symmetric.  That sounds better than “pretty” but I’m probably just fooling myself.  This is just one of these necessary evils that becomes really important in dances like the waltz where you are supposed to create all these wonderful shapes and lines.

But, understanding the why still doesn’t make it easier.  We were doing the waltz routine and there is a section where I roll in and we go into a run around and then into a curved run and then a back run.  This is after the first of two explosions where I’m supposed to really reach my arm out (because its an explosion).  The roll in is super awkward because I have to get my freakishly long ape arms(*) out of the way and get one of them around her very tiny waist in a short period of time.  Then, my left arm just hangs out for the next couple of steps.  In the middle of doing it last night, I finally got tired of this arm just stretched out there like a dead branch and broke down and asked what I was supposed to be doing.  At least they got into a discussion of angles and not letting your arm come behind you so there were some concrete things to grasp on to.  But we still run into roadblocks where I don’t get my arm out of the way fast enough and she get freaked out like I’m going to hit her and reacts and then I get all pissed off inside because I’m trying to do something that feels stupid to me and she’s laughing at my mistakes.  I have no problem not taking myself seriously but I hate feeling like I’m being laughed at – does too many things to my head and takes me to places I don’t want to go.

As I’ve said before, the more I’m exposed to dance, the more I realize how much I don’t know.  And the more I have to think about while doing these routines.  We did manage to complete the waltz a couple of times last night and some of those were close to being on time.  The arm stuff is just going to feel awkward for a while.  I think I look like some flightless bird flapping a useless appendage hoping it will do something.  Let’s just say I’m a long way from being pretty.

(*)I don’t really know if I have freakishly long ape arms.  I’ve had people tell me that I have long arms so I did embellish that just a bit.  It sounded to me so I took some creative license.


  1. Rocco – Your content on feeling goofy when doing arm styling interests me greatly, as I find gender and how it works in American culture, fascinating. As a female, of course it is OK for me to want to look “pretty” and I do want that, and I totally get it that you don’t want that. I would like to know, though, how you do want to look when you dance. What adjectives, applied to you by others, would delight you?

    1. That’s a very interesting question. I want to look like I know what I’m doing so I want my movements to look natural and not forced. I’m truly happy just to hear people genuinely say something like “that looked good”.

      1. Thank you. From what I’ve read about male-female differences, it’s not surprising that I’m as concerned about how I look while dancing as I am about the quality of my dancing, and you’re more concerned with performance than with how you look. Women have been historically been valued primarily for their looks, while men have been valued for their competence. An over simplification, of course.

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