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West Coast Swing

by Mark & Pam Prow

Brief History

West Coast Swing traces its origin as a swing dance derived from the Lindy Hop, named for Lindberg's flight (hop) across the Atlantic in 1927. The dance style was brought to California in the late 1930s with a smoother style of the Lindy.

 The slot is said to have developed for the movies to allow filming of dancers to be on a predictable line. The dance was sometimes called the "Hollywood Lindy" or "Sophisticated Swing". When the Jitterbug was banned across the US in the late '40s due to injuries from kicks and jumps, the Sophisticated Swing began to flourish. Arthur Murray's studios began to standardize the dance and in the 1950s, it was called "Western Swing". In the early '60s, the dance was advertised as "West Coast Swing" in California, possibly due to the connotations of the word "western" and to separate it from East Coast Swing. The name has stuck since then.

West Coast Swing Today

In the almost 30 years since West Coast Swing was introduced to round dancing, the rhythm has experienced an explosive growth and has evolved into one of the most popular swing rhythms in the US. It has more varieties of dance style and technique than any other dance rhythm. The styles vary from social to competition and also vary based upon geographic location.

Dance Characteristics

Style: West Coast Swing (WCS) is a dance style in the swing family of dances, including Jive, Lindy, East Coast Swing, and Single Swing. WCS is a slotted dance. The man generally dances across the slot while the woman moves up and down along the slot. In round dancing, the slot alignment is generally along the line of dance. The dance should be able to be performed in a 3'x6' or 3'x8' area of floor. In the basic figures, the man generally does not move much along the slot. However, figure variations can have more movement for the man along the slot or the woman off the slot.

 Rhythm: Like many other swing rhythms, WCS is characterized with two basic rhythm timings: 6-count, 1,2,3&,4; 5&,6, and 8-count, 1,2,3&,4; 5,6,7&,8. The 6-count and 8-count are the basic rhythm timings for all actions. There can be variations from the timings, usually called syncopating up or down. An example of syncopating up would be to do a heel ball change for the first two counts. An example of syncopating down would be a touch step instead of the first triple.

 Hold: The basic hold in WCS is with one or both hands joined low. As with other swing dances, the man generally offers palm up and the lady palm down. The arm from the shoulder down should run alongside the body. Hand height is around the natural waist level. The elbows of the connecting arms should lock position relative to the body and should not end up moving out to the side or across the body. When dancing closed-position figures, the lead arms should remain down at waist level. The trailing arms, when connected, should be in a normal closed position hold.

Basic West Coast Swing Figures

WCS figures have 3 basic parts, which could be called the start, the action, and the finish.

 The Start generally has the man leading the woman toward him through the hand connection. In many figures, the start will consist of body turn or movement off the slot to prepare for the action.

 The Action usually commences with a triple. Body turn, hand movement, blocking, or a combination of these motions, lead the action. At the conclusion of the first triple of the action, you are preparing for the finish, or preparing for more action. If there is more action, as in whip figures, the triple is followed by even count (1,2).

 The Finish is normally a triple that is relatively static in nature. There is a variety of steps that can be executed, including a rock 3 (anchor), sailor shuffle (M coaster), Cuban break, cucaracha, hitch (W coaster), hook turn, or others. Choreography can dictate endings as preparation for the next figure.

Newer Ideas for West Coast in Round Dancing

Since the rhythm continues to evolve and grow outside of round dancing, it makes sense to be aware of what WCS has to offer that may help the rhythm to dance better, feel better, and open up our activity to dancing figures with more ease. If you can implement some of these techniques, your partnership will be in better control and less frantic, thus reducing tension and leading to more enjoyable dancing.

 The Start (first 2 steps) – lead/follow

In round dancing, we are accustomed to the two common finishes of WCS (anchor and coaster). These movements either start a motion toward the man (coaster), or set up an opposition motion (anchor), in preparation for the start of the next figure. The lead would be set up by the man continuing the back action, increasing tension in the connected hands. Current thinking in WCS is that the woman knows which direction to move on the start, therefore the man should try not to lead (pull) the woman to step forward. The man should take the first step but allow the arm/hand to follow the woman's movement instead of moving the hand as he moves.

 The Start (first 2 steps) – What action is coming next?

In WCS the man generally moves away from the woman and the woman moves toward the man on the first step. On Sugar (blocking) figures, the man remains in the slot, allowing the gap to close by the end of the second step. On passing movements (including whip figures) it is helpful for the man to clear the slot on the finish of the first step. This action sets up the woman to know she will be passing by the man early. This allows the partnership to focus on the remainder of the current figure.

 Drop triple

With the start technique above for passing figures, the man has more options with his footwork. The drop triple can be used on passing and whip figures. In involves the man placing the left foot back beside the right, recovering on the right, and into the slot on the left.

 Sixth step of whip (5th count)

Left over from the whip turn in jive and east coast swing is the cross in back action for the man. This pulls the man's body away from the woman when he should be stationary or traveling with her. An alternative action is to rotate right face and close or small side with the right foot, clearing the slot and allowing the man to stay closer to the woman.

 

The Finish

Previously, thinking was that the finish set up a tension in the arm connection between partners, leading to the next figure. Current dance styles in WCS diminish bounce and hip action. This is also maintained in the finish where the current action is more of a step in place without hip rock, movement, or bounce.

Lead/Follow

Remember that dancing together depends on communication between the partners. Communication can take many forms. In dance styles that consist of mainly hand contact, the lead is developed through tone in the arms. The lead should be a suggestion of what to do next, not a forced pull or push through the movement. Don't underestimate the importance of eye contact. In any open style of dancing, the eyes can provide information as to the leader's intent before any hand action. Eye contact also helps keep the partnership in unison. Developing your lead/follow techniques in round dancing will allow you to enjoy your dancing even more. Remember, good leading is a process of suggestion, just like the cues from the cuer.

Summary

West Coast Swing continues to evolve at a fast pace. As dancing continues to evolve, new ideas and trends make dancing more versatile and enjoyable. As with any rhythm, you should do what feels good and makes you feel good. If you find something you like, try to incorporate it into your dancing.

 

Happy Dancing!

 

From clinic notes prepared for the ICBDA (URDC) conventions, 2007 & 2015.


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