The Infamous Hand Crank

For a long time I have had a serious pet peeve and I have not come forward to speak about it unless you have taken privates or classes from me. The thing is, almost no matter where I go I see the same thing among most leaders. If I’m in Buenos Aires, if I’m in Asia, traveling around the US, or watching the best of the best dance, I see it. It’s become a regular part of our dance that people teach it. The thing I’m talking about is “The Hand Crank.”

Here are three photos I have staged to show you what not to do. The first is the “twist and bend-in.” This is one of the most painful positions you can dance in and it is one of the most common positions I see people using. The second is a twin-in position. This too is a position that should be avoided as it causes serious discomfort. The last is the thumb lead. You can tell as you can not see my thumb but you can see my hand entirely covering the back of Marina’s hand. This is not uncomfortable but usually undesired by followers.

What many teachers tell their leading students is to turn their palm in to the followers face. I am going to tell you know that this is 100% wrong. If you don’t believe me try this exercise right now:

1. Put your right hand in the air so that your hand is about at eye level or below.
2. With your arm in the air turn just your wrist so that the back of your hand is facing toward your face.

I have tried this with hundreds of students and I have had maybe just one person say “I don’t feel any strange sensation in my arm.” Most of us wouldn’t want to stay there for four hours and dance. This gets worse when the leader then bends the left hand down. As you can see with the Gavito example his palm is in towards the followers face and he has bent his wrist down. The follower is in a position to keep the arm from collapsing from the possible weight bearing down on her in her right arm.

Tango teachers often tell their students to not use their arms, this too is incorrect. I will discuss this in another post and/or video. We do indeed use our arms, we just do not use them independently of our body. We keep the arms with the body. When we do this we can use the leverage of the arms to create pivots with ease. That being said, the reason I mention this is that the position of the arms really matters

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Leaders, keep the left hand at the same height that the follower is touching you on your right side.
  2. Find an ergonomic and straight wrist for both wrists.
  3. Be careful when bringing your arm in because this is when leaders tend to bend and torque the wrist.
  4. Keep the open side away from your body so that the follower can receive information through it.
  5. Keep your shoulders down and your elbows at 45ish degrees to the floor, don’t point your elbows to the floor (more coming on this later).
  6. Don’t lead with your thumb, connect as much as you can with your palm.
  7. Do NOT grip with your fingers on the back of her hand EVER.
  8. Lead through her palm and her fingers, again not through your fingers.

When you are dancing how will you know if you are twisting her wrist in a painful way? Sometimes you might not know but the things I would look out for are:

  1. Is she trying to change her hand position a lot?
  2. Does the follower change her elbow height a lot as you dance?
  3. Is your thumb in her palm? (she will do this to avoid you torquing her wrist.
  4. Is she trying to open up into a V style embrace (this can be used to straighten her arm and try to get some of the bend our of her wrist)

As you can see in the photo of Jesica and I, Jesica has a mostly straight wrist. The elbows are out and not down. The height of our open side hand connection is approximately the same height as where we connect on the closed side.

With pivots and sliding of the chest we will find areas where the wrist might bend. Bent wrists are not bad as the wrist joint is made to move. When her wrist bends its from her movement, not from the leader’s chosen hand position.It’s important to start from a position of straight wrists without bend and torque.