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Introducing A Dance:

West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing (WCS) is a partner dance with roots in Lindy Hop. It is characterized by a distinctive elastic look that results from its basic extension-compression technique of partner connection, and is danced primarily in a slotted area on the dance floor. The dance allows for both partners to improvize steps while dancing together, putting West Coast Swing in a short list of dances that put a premium on improvisation, such as Hustle and Salsa.


The origins of the WCS are in Lindy Hop. In the 1940s, there are hundreds of regional dances of the Jitterbug type; each section of the country seems to have a variation of its own.
As both a performer and teacher, Dean Collins, who arrived in the Los Angeles area around 1937, was influential in developing the style of swing danced on the West Coast of the United States.
Western swing, country boogie, and, with a smaller audience, jump blues were popular on the West Coast throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s when they were renamed and marketed as rock 'n' roll in 1954. Dancers danced a "swingier" - more smooth and subdued form of Jitterbug to Western Swing music.
West Coast Swing (still known as Western Swing at that time) is the basis for the dancing in the rehearsal scene in "Hot Rod Gang" (1958). Music is supplied by rockabilly musician Gene Vincent's "Dance to the Bop". The song alternates between very slow sections and those with the rapid pace and high energy of rockabilly. Staged by a young Dick Di Augustin, the dancing includes recognizable patterns such as the chicken walk, swing out from closed position, etc., along with the classic woman's walk walk triple-step triple-step at the end of the slot. On the final step of the second triple the women are weighted left with the right heel on the floor and the toes pointed up. Dancers also do classic Lindy flips at the end of the slot, as well as non partner, non West Coast Swing movements.
Circa 1978 "California Swing" was yet another name for West Coast Swing, albeit with styling that was considered more up, with a more contemporary flavor.
In 1988, West Coast Swing was pronounced the Official State Dance of California.

The Slot

West Coast Swing is a slotted dance. The slot is an imaginary area, long and thin, eight or nine feet long if danced at a very slow tempo, but shorter if the music is at a faster tempo. The follower travels back and forth in the slot dancing straight through the lead. The leader consistently moves a minimum amount (at mid-way point) to his sides, barely out of her way. She lightly brushes against him each time she passes him. Brushing seems rare these days though.
Socially, it is considered good etiquette (particularly on a crowded floor) to use a fixed slot, in order to allow dancing without incident. Having danced the slot repeatedly, the couple "has a claim" on the area, and other couples usually cooperate and establish their own slot parallel with the dancers. This could be how the slot started.
There are other urban myths regarding the origin of the slotted style. According to one version, it was an invention of Hollywood film makers who wanted dancers to stay in the same plane, to avoid going in and out of focus. But wide angle lenses with adequate depth of field for cinematography had in fact been available since the 1920s and thus this version of explaining the slot is not quite plausible. A variation on the "Hollywood film maker" theme is that film makers wanted to avoid filming the backs of dancers. A viewing of films featuring the work of Dean Collins in the 1940s, and rock 'n' roll films made in the mid 1950s reveals the fact that dancers turn frequently and inevitably turn their backs to the camera. Thus this origin of the slot is again not likely.
Thus the good etiquette explanation, as all good dancers should respect, is the most likely origin of the slot.


West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music written in 4/4 time at speeds ranging from very slow to very fast; 15 to 45 measures per minute (ideally at 32 measures per minute). (15x4=60 bpm, 32x4 = 128 bpm, 45x4=180 bpm). The character of the dance changes over that range. At the slowest speeds the dance tends to exhibit a highly elastic connection with the possibility of very sexy, "slinky" walks for the lady, and a slight backward leaning poise at the full extent of the connection; at faster speeds the partners become more upright and the connection shortens with more of a "push and pull" feel and look.


Arthur Murray taught Western Swing beginning from a closed position and the possibility of dancing single, double, or triple rhythm. After a "Throwout" patterns began with the woman "walking in" and the man doing a "rock step", or step together for counts one and two. Although the dance remained basically the same, the Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSDTA) began teaching from the walk steps, counts 1 and 2. It replaced Arthur Murray's Coaster Step – a triple step done in the pattern "back-together-forward" or "forward-together-back" – with an "Anchor Step" around 1961.
A 1998 summary of "trends" in West Coast Swing listed the following: Traditional or classic WCS has very little extension of the uncoupled arm, the man moving off and on the center of the track for most moves, and a heavy "couple weight"; Modern WCS with more free arm extensions, and emphasis on how many spins, etc. the man can lead, fast music. The man's "couple hand" is fixed in space on beat 3 in a pass or push.


Though there are many exceptions and variations, West Coast Swing basics are as follows:
- The follower will always start with the Right foot;
- The follower starts on a down beat, counts one or three of a measure;
- The follower has a rhythm pattern of six beats (to start): double (walk walk) a right triple and a left triple;
- The follower will walk forward forward on the first two beats of every pattern;
- The follower will step 3 times at the end of each pattern, the Anchor Step;
- The leader will always start with the left foot;
- The leader will vary their first movement according to the location of their partner;
- The leader will vary step two depending on the direction of the pattern.
· At basic and intermediate levels, most dancers start the dance with a 4-Beat Starter Step.
Note that in WC Swing, like in Hustle, the follower's step is different from the leader's; partners do not mirror each other.
A few basic moves that any WCS dancer should know are listed below. They are performed with the same "step step triple-step triple-step" pattern equalling eight steps in six beats of music. The term "count" is used as a synonym for a "beat", usually a quarter note, of music.
Underarm pass or Right-side pass: A six-count basic where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, passing the leader underarm on the right;
Left-side pass: A six-count basic where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, passing the leader on the left;
Tuck Pass: This is like a left side pass in six counts, but the leader creates a "tuck" action on 2 by turning the woman towards the man and then reversing her direction back toward the slot on count 4. Then the woman turns under the man's left arm on 5&6. The turn can be either a half turn or a turn and a half. Some teachers teach that the "tuck" is no longer led because it is difficult to follow.
Sugar push or Push break: A six-count "move" where the follower, facing the leader, is led from the end of the slot to a one or two hand hold, then led back to the same end of the slot. The seemingly very simple Push Break requires "compression" or "resistance", to make the pattern. While the arms remain firm but flexible, there should be no excessive pushing or pulling in the arms but in the body. The Sugar Push has been around since 1952. In some instances this sequence is taught as "The Six-Count Basic".
Whip: An eight-count basic with many variations. In a basic whip, the follower is led past the leader and then redirected (or "whipped") back towards the end of slot from which she started. The basic footwork for a whip extends the six-count pattern by inserting a pair of walking steps between the triple steps. The footwork is therefore "step step triple-step step step triple-step."

CARnHAL, West Coast Swing.

CARnHAL, West Coast Swing.

CARnHAL, West Coast Swing.

CARnHAL, west Coast Swing.

CARnHAL, west Coast Swing.

CARnHAL, west Coast Swing.

CARnHAL, west Coast Swing.

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