Occasionally a student (usually a lady) will come to me and ask for: "Arm Styling". AUGH, AUGH, AUGH !!! In my opinion, there is no worse phrase in Ballroom Dancing than "Arm Styling". This phrase immediately implies arms, hands and fingers twisting and pointing in all sorts of inappropriate and awkward directions.
I had one student tell me that she felt very awkward and stupid when she made all of these arm and hand gestures. I had to agree with her that she looked just as bad as she felt. As soon as you say "Arm Styling", the dancers' arms, hands and fingers get disconnected from the body or partnership and seem to flail aimlessly. The arms, hands and fingers should be an extension of the body or partnership not individual entities. The arms, hands and fingers should enhance the body or partnership image not detract from it.
I prefer to teach "Body Styling". This simple statement changes the whole context of how the dancer employs the use of the arms, hands and fingers. The body or partnership initiates the movement, it continues through the arms, extends through the hands and finally ends at the finger tips.
There are "Two-Legged Arms" (body movements) and there are "Four-Legged Arms" (partnership movements). The arms move naturally from the center of the body or partnership and are soft and with no sharp edges or corners. The arms create an illusion that makes the body or partnership appear bigger than life. The arms are NOT the focus of the movement.
An example of two-legged arms would be a Silver Waltz "Open Side Locks" pattern where each partner dances a solo turn. Two-legged arm (solo) movements should originate from the center of the body and extend outwards towards the fingers. The left and right hands and fingers should be able to feel each other through the center of the body.
An example of four-legged arms would be a Rumba "Crossover Break" pattern where the arms of each partner enhance the image of the whole partnership. Four-legged movements (partnership) should originate from the center of the partnership and extend outwards towards the fingers. The free hand of each partner should be able to feel the free hand of the other partner through the partnership.
The arms are an extension of the body or partnership. The arms are used to accomplish some type of body or partnership action. They are not just arbitrarily flung around. The arms are used for Balance, Power, Control and to create a more expressive visual image (larger, smaller, softer, sharper, etc.). If you are working on arms, it would be a great idea if you knew what specifically you were trying to accomplish with them. Above all, the arms should move naturally as an extension of the body or partnership.
There are other factors that affect the movement of the arms. The arms may move unexpectedly if you are off balance. It is important that the body or partnership be stable during arm movements. Even if the dancer is balanced but the head and sternum are not up, the arm movement will be affected. The head and sternum being up has a great influence on the dancer's arm movements. The actions of the leader also has a big impact on the partnerships arm action. In the Rumba example stated above, the action of the leader's arms can create a modest crossover action or an expansive larger than life crossover image. The arms can enhance the solo (two-legged) and partnership (four-legged) image. The arm action can also be detrimental to the solo or partnership look. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than a dancer flailing their arms in a disconnected and meaningless manner.
As you can see from the above, the arms are a part of your body not an entity of their own. When you look at very good dancers, you don't see arms, you see the whole solo dancer or the whole partnership. The arms are part of the whole package and not seen individually. Be "AWARE" of your arms, hands and fingers from the center of your body or the center of the partnership, not from your brain. The arms should enhance your movement and the total image of the dancing partnership. Try thinking "Body Styling" instead of "Arm Styling" and make your arm movements a real part of your dancing not something just you added.