What is West Coast Swing?
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 smother, 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 seems to have been born during the late 1930s through early 1950s, the same time-frame of many of the other forms of Swing: East Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Balboa, Shag, DC Hand Dancing, TX Push etc). West Coast Swing, as the name implies, was the regional form of Swing dancing in California and the west coast of the United States.
There are many theories on people who influenced the development of West Coast Swing. Some say that Dean Collins, was influential when he arrived in CA in 1937 after learning and dancing Savoy style swing in New York City. Others indicate that Arthur Murray taught people the dance he had learned in California, even though he called it Western Swing (a name that is often misleading since West Coast Swing is not specifically done to country music). The term "Western Swing" remained in many ballroom/studio environments through the 1960s. By the 1970s, 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 can be found throughout the United States and Internationally. There are instructors, dancers and events in the USA, Canada, France, England, Russia, and Australia.
What does West Coast Swing look like
Strictly Swing (improvised dancing) with his wife, Anna, at New Year's Dancin' Eve, January 2011.
Special thank to Don Peters for this video
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 up to denote is cha-cha-cha or quick-quick-slow feel).
Click on the link If you would like to see beginner videos of West Coast Swing.
Music for West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing has a large variety of music both in genre and tempi. In its present-day form, tempi ranges from approximately 80 bpm (beats per minutes) to 160 bpm. As far as I know, there isn't another partner dance form that has such a wide range of tempi. 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 tempi, 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 which to dance 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 "fun" or "intimate" style of dance.
Best of all, West Coast Swing can adopt many movements and styles from other dances such as Hustle, Tango, and Salsa.
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 Triple Steps (triple-beat rhythm) done over a 6 beat time-frame, 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 that 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 approximately 90 days 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.
If you would like to start West Coast Swing, try our beginner classes in Norwalk, CT or contact me for more information.