Basic Step with Lady's Underarm Turn (Right) from 2-Hand Hold

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The lead, the raising of
the lady's hand, begins
before she completes her
forward step so as to
give her time to react.

The man's hand is directly
over the lady's axis,
her center.

Lady's left hand returns
palm down, just above

DT: Except perhaps for Argentine tango, the lady's underarm turn is ubiquitous, it's central in every dance. Helmut, what are the issues to getting a smooth underarm turn?

Helmut: There is an order of movements for an underarm turn and it is the same. It doesn't matter if it's an outside turn or inside turn or what type of dance. The hand goes up, the head goes through, the hand comes down, and the last thing you do is turn around. If the follower turns around too soon or if the hand comes down late, she'll get stuck with her arm in her face.
[Ed.: see below for "inside / outside turns"]

DT: Since some followers turn more quickly than others, is it the job of the leader to get the arm down in a timely fashion?

Helmut: Yes.

DT: Describe the lead?

Helmut: The lady turns on her forward break so we pick up the hand BEFORE she steps forward. This way she knows she is going to turn and she can prepare herself to turn around.

DT: Again, you are using the term "break" to mean any...

Helmut: ...Rock step, forward or back.

DT: Before a leader gets it right, what are the most common mistakes?

Helmut: Trying to physically help the lady turn around. Usually it just pulls her off-balance.

DT: Kana, ever been pulled off-balance? (laughs)

Kana: Yes, but that is not the most common problem overall I think. More times the lady starts to turn to the side as soon as the leader's arm is raised instead of walking straight at the leader with her left.

DT: So the lady may have a tendency to detour her left forward step to the side -- instead of forward,-- as soon as the leader's hand has gone up to signal the turn?

Kana:Yes, we should go straight at the leader and step left before pivoting to turn. The other way is shortcut but does not look good. Another common mistake is to look at the ground while turning. Look at leader's face as long as possible, and never, never look down.

The Keys:
To give the lady sufficient notice that she is to turn, the man lifts her right arm just before she completes her forward step. If the lady's connection with her right arm to the leader's left is a good connection, she will feel the lead quickly. But herein lies the hazard. Though she feels the lead before planting her left foot on her forward step, she may detour in mid-air the left to the side, which is unsalsa-like.

If the lady's right arm is limp, she will feel the lead late. The leader does not need to crank the lady around, she can turn herself on her own axis, in her own time and according to her ability.

Lingo check: Inside and Outside Underarm Turns; It is useful to know the following because the terms mean the same from dance to dance. Whether an underarm turn is considered inside or outside depends on whether the turn is over the shoulder of the turner's hand that is held (outside turn) or the other way (inside turn). In the video above, the leader has the lady's right hand and he turns her right, or with her right shoulder leading. That is an outside turn. If he had turned her in the other direction (left) while still holding her right hand, it would have been an inside turn.

Underarm turns are central to most couple dances. And they do not have to be single turns. If the lady is able, she could be led to do 2 or 3 turns. For an inside underarm turn in another dance, check out this triple turn in balboa.

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