Contra: Avoiding Sore Arms

April 6th, 2022
A common issue among when dancing Lark role is sore right arms/wrists after dancing. Why does this happen, and what can we do about it?

During the swing, the dancers need to be held together or they'll fall over backwards. That's not because they're leaning back (stay upright!) but because spinning gives you centrifugal force. The effort of holding the couple together needs to be shared, but often it ends up falling entirely to the Lark's right arm. In a typical ballroom position swing, the Raven's left arm is behind the Lark's right shoulder, with the other two hands joined:

standard "ballroom position" swing

It's easy to see how the Lark's right arm and wrist get overworked here: that's the hand that's in the best position to hold the partners together. The Raven's left hand can also help hold the couple together, however, if they exert a gentle pressure and don't just rest their hand on the Lark's shoulder.

Sometimes people dancing Raven who learned a different style of dance will put their left hand on top of the Lark's right arm:

unsupportive ballroom swing

This is not a good fit for contra, because it puts all the work on the Lark.

Some dancers prefer a more supportive swing, where instead of making a point with your free hands you place them on the arm just above the elbow:

arm-hold ballroom swing

This allows both dancers to use both of their arms to hold the couple together. One advantage of this position is that it is similar enough to standard ballroom position that a Lark with a sore arm can suggest it and switch to it pretty quickly.

If the couple is a bit more friendly or wants an even more supportive hold, another option is to move the Raven's right hand to the Lark's back and hold each other symmetrically:

symmetrical hold

When dancing Raven, how do I know if I'm helping enough?

  • Ask! Talk to a friend or anyone you happen to be dancing with, and ask them whether they are feeling a good amount of support from you.

  • Consider dancing the Lark role, if you don't already. You'll get a better sense for what good support feels like by dancing with a range of Ravens with different approaches.

When dancing Lark, what can I do if I'm not getting enough support?

  • Ask! Let them know that you could use a bit more help. If their hand isn't in a good position to do that, consider pointing and showing them where would feel better.

  • Consider switching to the arm-hold swing, to spread the load across both of your arms.

  • Slow down: the work necessary to hold together is much higher at higher speeds (F ∝ v²).

  • Gently decrease how much you are supporting them. Either they will increase their share of the work, or you will naturally slow down.

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