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Four Problem Figures In West Coast Swing

By Brent & Judy Moore

All rhythms have figures that present problems for many if not most dancers. Most of the problems stem from a lack of understanding of how fundamental actions are applied in those figures, or why and when there is variation in the basic action. Our job as teachers is to decipher these mysteries for the dancer.

West Coast Swing has its share of these figures and most of the problems arise from that lack of understanding the fundamentals. West Coast Swing has some basic guides for how figures work based on position and count but, as we will see, there are exceptions.

First, the fundamental structure of movement in West Coast Swing is that the lady moves forward or back along a single path (the “slot”) and the man moves in the slot with the lady or to either side of the slot to create turn for the lady. The direction of movement on particular counts is pretty specific as well.

A quick review of those “rules” for six and eight count figures are as follows:

Six Count Figures -

  • On count one (1), the man moves away from the lady and the lady moves toward the man.

  • On count four (4), the man moves toward the lady and the lady moves away from the man.

  • On count six (6), both man and lady dance in place.

Eight Count Figures -

  • On count one (1), the man moves away from the lady and the lady moves toward the man.

  • On count four (4), the man moves toward the lady and the lady toward the man.

  • On count six (6), the man moves toward the lady and the lady moves away from the man.

  • On count eight (8), both man and lady dance in place.

Pretty simple rules. It’s what happens on the other counts, and the occasional variation, that makes figures different . . . and sometimes troublesome. Let's look at four of the most mis-danced figures in the Phase V - VI syllabus:

One of the most problematic West Coast figures is the Traveling Side Pass. So, let’s look especially at how the figure flows . . . and it does flow. It really travels and has the added feature of a double underarm turn for both man and lady. However, the main idea is sequential travel. We start in right side pass position with both moving in the same direction. All the rules for step direction for six count figures apply . . . keep that in mind. On step “1” the man and lady move forward; on count “2” the man recovers back and the lady continues forward joining left hands (palm to palm), which starts a left face turn for the lady. The man dances in place on “3&” as the lady does a left face two-step spin under the left then the right joined hands traveling across the man’s line (a variation in the basic rule of staying in the slot). On count “4”, the man steps forward and the lady steps side and back (completing 1 ½ turns) to end the first triple facing the man, slightly to his left. This is the critical action and position in the figure. The man then travels forward on the second triple (“5&6”) with a cross/side cross action going under first the joined right hands then the left, making a curve to regain his normal right side pass position again. The lady clears the path for the man by hooking her left behind her right and turning in-place ½ turn to the left (the lady can under turn the triple to end in a side by side position but her next step will have to be toward the man).

The Sugar Push Hook Turn is another figure that gives lots of problems and it’s the hook turn that presents the difficulty. That is what we’ll look at since it is used in several other figures and as a setup action for still others. In fact, the lady did one in the preceding figure on the second triple! The usual problem is in how the foot is placed on the hook action and in the variation in the amount of turn that happens from figure to figure (anywhere from ½ to a full turn). The biggest assist for teaching is to know that the hook is not a hook! It’s a Latin cross just like in a natural top. If the feet are hooked (i.e., pointing in the same direction), it restricts the ability to turn where as the Latin cross position frees the turn (and eliminates a potential tripping situation). The difference in a hook turn and natural top is in the last step of the triple. Instead of crossing behind or closing, it crosses in front. However, the amount of turn will give a slightly different feel on the last step. A half turn leaves the legs crossed whereas on the full turn, the leg crosses and then the body continues the rotation to leave the legs in standard position (left foot slightly back).

A really fun figure that can be “hammed-up” with body shaping and hand positions is the Cheerleader. But there is one weight change that gives such problems that it messes up the rest of the figure for a lot of dancers, and our manual does not provide enough clarity for one to detect the problem if one were trying to learn or fix the figure following its instruction. Looking at the description, it says step across in front with the left / to the side on the right, tapping the L heel to the left / then side on the left, and repeats the action going the other way. The problem is in step “4”, the step to the side after the heel tap. To step side from that position is pretty difficult if one assumes that side is from the position of the tapped heel. A step action is normally referenced from the standing foot not the un-weighted one. Also, the description makes no mention of how large a step should be taken or of the body turns used. We suggest that it be a very small step and it should be measured from the standing foot. From the heel tapped position, the left foot should actually come toward the right foot for a very small side and slightly back placement. It feels very much like a closing action but the back placement clears the path for the next crossing foot and this placement allows the body flight to the side to create both the following cross and side steps. The “1a2a3a4” timing then becomes lyrical instead of a struggle to move from foot to foot. With the basic movement addressed, the body and any arm styling can be incorporated more easily.

Our final figure is the Sugar Bump. In this figure, the amount of turn on the “bump” step is usually the problem brought about by trying to stringently apply the step direction for six count figures. This is another variation on the rules because of what happens earlier in the figure. The problem is that on step “2” the couple is stepping together to be close enough for the bump action. The tendency is to over rotate the spin on count “3” so that they can take the normal step (man toward, lady away) action on count “4”. This is a little easier for the lady but darn difficult for the guy. It is more desirable and easier to step away from the partner on count “4” to regain normal position (forward for both since they are back-to-back) and then make a half turn to face the partner on the “&” count of “4” before doing the anchor step.

With a little extra attention to these fine points in our problem West Coast figures, we can flow through them cleanly and comfortably.

This article is based on clinic notes published for the Roundalab annual convention, 2005; published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2011.


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