West Coast Swing is a form of swing dancing that is danced in a slot to moderate tempo blues, R&B, and in recent times, contemporary music. It is the smoother, sexier version of the swing dance family. Its basic patterns are both 6 and 8 beats, but those patterns can be varied by +/- 2 beat increments. It is characteristically highly musical and can adopt many nuances from other forms of dance. This makes West Coast Swing a highly versatile dance form.

Some history of West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing is the product of the evolution of swing dancing, which started with the original 1927 Lindy Hop at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City. From the 1930s through the 1960s, various forms of swing dancing developed in the United States, such as: Jitterbug, Rock and Roll, Shag, DC Hand Dancing, Texas Push, Balboa, East Coast Swing, and West Coast Swing. 

There are many theories on the birth of West Coast Swing. Some say that Dean Collins was influential after he arrived in CA in 1937 as a proficient dancer who knew Lindy Hop directly from the Savoy Ballroom in New York. Dean Collins' smooth style and his influence in as a choreographer made him iconic of some of the traits that would embody the development of West Coast Swing. Others say that Arthur Murray, the ballroom franchise magnate, taught people a dance he had learned in California—Western Swing (a name that was often misleading since West Coast Swing is not specifically done to country music). The term "Western Swing" as a misnomer remained in many ballroom/studio environments through the 1960s. By the late 1960s, the dance was being called California Swing and took on the contemporary music of the time; in 1978, the dance was documented as West Coast Swing; and in 1988, West Coast Swing became the state dance of California.1

From the late 1980s through present dance, West Coast Swing has become recognized as one of the most versatile dance forms. Dance events specifically featuring this dance from 1980 to 2000 helped to expose dancers around the country to a dance that can be enjoyed to traditional swing, blues, R&B, some cha-cha, some samba, and a lot of popular/contemporary music. Since 2000, the internet (YouTube) and variety shows such as 30 Seconds to Fame and So You Think You Can Dance have propelled West Coast Swing into the forefront.

Today, West Coast Swing instructors, dancers, and events can be found throughout the United States and internationally.

1. Skippy Blair on Contemporary Social Dance" Skippy Blair. 1978.

What does West Coast Swing look like?

Improvised West Coast Swing with Erik Novoa and Sophie Cazeneuve at Dancing New Year's Eve CT on December 31, 2019

Improvised West Coast Swing with Erik Novoa and Exenia Rocco on October 19, 2019

Strictly Swing (improvised dancing) Erik Novoa with Anna Brady at New Year's Dancin' Eve in January 2011.

Improvised West Coast Swing dance with Erik Novoa & Heidi Groskreutz in 2006.

The basic idea

1. The Follower goes from point A to point B, in a straight line (slot) in 6 beats.

2. The Leader is the center point of the dance (similar to a fulcrum). If the Leader moves out of the way, the follower goes from point A to point B. If the Leader stays in the way (remaining in the slot), the follower goes from point A and returns to point A.

3. For the first beat of almost any pattern, the Leader walks backwards with the left leg and the Follower generally walks forward with her right leg.

4. Movement is generally smooth, not bouncy.

5. The last 2 beats of the pattern are called an "Anchor Step" and are usually done in place.

6. The basic rhythm of the dance is Walk, Walk, Tri-ple-Step, Anch-or-Step (the "Tri-ple-Step" is hyphenated to denote a cha-cha-cha or quick-quick-slow feel). This could also be counted as 1, 2, 3&4, 5&6.

Beginner Videos

Check out our West Coast Swing 101 videos to view the basics.

Music for West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing has a large variety of music both in genre and tempo. In its present-day form, the tempo ranges from approximately 80bpm to 160bpm. As far as I know, there isn't another partner dance form that has such a wide range of tempos. As previously mentioned, West Coast Swing can be done to many genres of music. Here are some examples:

Swing - Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra)

Blues - I Got the Blues (Brother Yusef)

R&B - Touch (Ray Charles)

Pop - Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson)

Cha-Cha - Smooth (Santana)

Rock & Roll - Stagger Lee (Fabulous Thunderbirds)

Soul - Respect (Aretha Franklin)

Folk-Rock - Before the Worst (The Script)

Acoustic - Man In the Mirror (James Morrison)

Here is some of my favorite West Coast Swing music.

Why people love West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing is highly engaging. The basic form of the dance is moderately challenging (compared to merengue). Because of its variety of tempos, it can be a slow, medium, or fast dance. Because of its variety of genres, it can be danced to many different types of music. This allows people to pick and choose an infinite amount of music to dance to and makes it attainable for a large spectrum of age ranges and abilities.

Its smooth and sometimes sexy quality allows for a large range of freedom of expression and lyricism. This allows couples to choose whether to have a "playful" or "intimate" style of dance.

Best of all, West Coast Swing can adopt many movements and styles from other dances such as Hustle, Tango, Salsa, and Hip Hop.

Why people might struggle with West Coast Swing?

Although, the basic patterns of West Coast Swing can be learned very quickly, the nuances of technique, musicality, and style is a never-ending educational quest. The basic patterns of West Coast Swing use two different rhythm structures: 2 Walks (double-beat rhythm) and 2 Triple Steps (triple-beat rhythm) done over a 6 beat timeframe, which is asynchronous to an 8 beat musical phrase (2 measures of 4 beats). Understanding and overcoming that initial unintuitive aspect can be challenging to a newcomer to partner dancing. However, the off-phrase aspect of the swing family is what makes West Coast Swing so unique and musical.

It generally takes a newcomer 2-4 one-hour lessons to begin dancing the basic form of the dance—approximately 7 patterns. It takes about 90 days of dancing to develop social, functional usage of West Coast Swing. It takes a lifetime of fun to master one of the most useful and rewarding partner dances.

Getting Started

If you would like to start West Coast Swing, check our calendar for beginner classes in Norwalk, CT or contact me for more information.