Erik Hoffman     

Old Time Music and Dance

From my book, Contradictations. If you are interested in purchasing this book, go to Ordering Information


Copyright (c) 1997, Erik Hoffman.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | List of Dances

Chapter 4

If Allemande Left, Where's Allemande Go?

When I first started dancing, in 1980, we had pretty much the same palette of figures we use today. The "allemande," of course, was and is a mainstay, and one of the old standards. Then we used the good ol' thumb around thumb "grip" that is still often used today. Then something happened...

People started actually gripping. They were on holding and hurting. Many dancers got defensive and started changing their hold. They started offering only a flat palm, or a wrist. I'd like to encourage us to change back to the original hold.

The problem is that the thumb around thumb hold is potentially hurtful. When dancers grip, that is, grab your thumb and clamped down on it, it is a wrenching experience. In our culture, people don't want to tell other people they are doing things that hurt us. So the remedy many came up with was to alter their own hold rather than encourage others to not hurt them. (In many ways, this is a problem throughout, we don't let those we dance with know when their behavior makes us uncomfortable. It would be good if we could, but that's another article.)

The main cure for all this is the rule of no-thumbs.

Rule One: Rule of No-Thumbs!

The rule of No-Thumbs says: when dancing, don't use your thumb to apply pressure! Weight in handholds comes from fingertips and palm connection, not thumbs! In the allemande, the new holds came up as protection from people who gripped with their thumbs.

I don't advocate cutting off the thumb, but don't use it to grip. That is to say, apply no pressure with the thumb. It's the fingertips that share the weight, and give direction. As stated, I think the best allemande hold uses the thumb, but not to grip. The no-thumb rule extends to balance holds, hands-across star holds, swing holds, any handhold at all (well, perhaps that handcuff hold in Jujitsu). It's important to be able to separate yourself from your current partner at your discretion. Thumb pressure takes away this option! Thumb pressure is what caused the current trend in yucky allemandes. Let's work on that problem as we bring back the original hold.

Catalog of Allemande Holds

The Original Allemande
With the original allemande there should be no grip. What we offer is a "shape" or "hook" to lean on. The thumbs cross, but do not bear down. The fingers curve around our allemande partner's fingers, but do not grip. This hook shape we make with our fingers hooks into the other dancer's hand. This way when centrifugal force causes us to fall back, our interlocking hands support us. Notice that by using a hook, we can extract our hand from the hold at any time without harm. Also, our wrists are straight, and our elbows are symmetrically pointing toward the floor. The strain of the weight is thus taken by our arms and shoulders, strong joints made to take this kind of weight, not our wrist.

The Problem Holds

The Grip
When someone clamps down, besides possibly hurting, it becomes painful and problematic. The dancing couple might have a different idea of when to stop and transition into the next move. It gets in the way.

Corrective action: observe your thumb and loosen it up. In other words follow the Rule of No-Thumb, described above.

The Weight Pull
Some people think that not only do they need to grip, but they need to pull the hand they're holding into their chest, elbow up, palm down. This is far worse than just the grip alone. Usually this entails lifting the allemanding elbow and pointing it outward. This causes the offending palm to turn toward the floor. For the receiving hand to match this, the receiving dancer must twist his or her elbow in front of her chest, and try to point her palm toward the ceiling. This not only hurts, it causes the receiving dancer to contort.

Corrective action: experiment with dancers to develop a symmetrical allemande. This is accomplished by making sure your elbow is pointed straight down, toward the floor.

The No Weight (a.k.a., The Limp Fish) You all know this hold, unless you are one of the progenitors. When allemanding, you just give a limp, rubbery hand and arm, with no weight and support. This is not a hurtful hold, it just doesn't give much support. This hold makes it hard to get around in a zesty dance, and is not fun. I suppose this could be considered a protective hold, as someone may have taken it on in protection from these other holds. At times it could be used as such, especially when a "leader" tries to force a "follower" into an undesired twirl. Here going limp can protect against such undesired events. But there are those who do this categorically, all the time.

Corrective action: talking to the person is the only one I can think of. So, if possible, talk to the person.

Protective Allemandes
As stated, a number of allemandes have developed to protect from overuse of thumbs and chest pulling weight grippers. Before I describe the holds that have come into common use, I'd like to suggest the one I think is best: the Fist.

The Fist
When someone holds my hand in a potentially hurtful way, I keep my wrist straight, my elbow pointed to the floor, and ball my hand into a fist. This gives this current partner a good thing to hold, and doesn't distend any of my tendons. It also is odd enough that that partner might wonder what I'm doing. Well here it is, I'm protecting myself!

Going Limp, and Extraction
Sometimes, when people are doing things that hurt, I go limp, and if needs be, pull my hand out of the allemande and go onto the next figure. Sometimes this will generate enough discomforting interest to make it so I can actually speak with the person later.

Support with the Other Hand If someone grabs on in such a way that the other protective holds don't seem appropriate, you can use your other hand to hook onto you allemande partner's arm and give yourself support.

Problematic Protective Allemandes
I think the original allemande is the one to cultivate, and the correction for all these allemandes. The fist works well to protect from all these allemandes.

The Flat Palm I find the connection with the flat palm unpleasant. It also requires a bent wrist to work. This can exacerbate those carpal syndromes.

The Locked Wrist
This is when a dancer locks his or her wrist around yours. To do this one needs to severely bend their wrist. Sometimes, if someone does this to me, I'll hold their arm with my other hand as well, to support my possibly aching wrist.

The Fingers Above Thumb and the Thumb Kept Next To Fingers
I don't know... These two holds just feel wimpy to me. I think they lose much of the connection. They are the least offensive of the protective allemandes, but I still find them, well, icky. The finger above thumb hold is where you put your fingers across this dancers fingers, and put your thumb along the other side of their fingers. In the thumb alongside the fingers, there is no room for interlocking thumbs and you just keep your thumb next to your palm.