Curious About West Coast Swing Dancing?

If you’re a social dancer, I’m sure you’re curious about West Coast Swing. Even if you’re new to partner dancing, you’ll want to know why everybody loves it. Sit back, get comfortable, and let’s learn about West Coast Swing.

WCS Basics

  • West Coast Swing is a relative of the Savoy Style Lindy Hop from the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. A dancer by the name of Dean Collins brought it to the West Coast in the 1930s. For more on Lindy Hop, read this Dance Safari post, “Lindy Hop Dancing, Yeah, It’s Still Cool“.
  • As a slot-dance, West Coast Swing (WCS) works well on the crowded dance floors of popular clubs.
  • Any music written in 4/4 time is good for WCS dancing. Additionally, the tempo or speed of the music runs between 95-120 bpm. For this reason, the songs can be anything from slow and jazzy Blues to uptempo Pop, Hip-Hop or Rap.
  • Another key point, you’re gonna want to express yourself by hitting the breaks in the music. A break is any change in the expected pattern of a song. For example, it could be a pause, a drum solo, or a guitar riff. In any case, West Coast Swing dancers pride themselves in their expertise in hitting the breaks.

Improvisation

West Coast Swing is one of the few dances where the follower can highjack the lead. By that I mean she can signal a move and her partner goes along with it. You might see the follower break off and do some freestyle until the leader changes her direction and they get back to dancing together.

‘Jack and Jill’ is the name of a competition that’s popular with Swing dancers. The dancers are paired up randomly as opposed to dancing with their regular partners. The result is totally improvised with ‘lead and follow’ rather than choreography.

West Coast Swing Jack and Jill contest.
With the gentlemen on one side, the ladies on the other,
the leader and follower are chosen by chance.

For a real treat, watch this performance by Benji Schwimmer and Alyssa Glanville.

Anchor Step vs Coaster Step

An Anchor step is a syncopated rocking action that Swing dancers use at the end of a pattern. As the name suggests, it has followers anchored in position as they wait for the leader to indicate the next move.

On the other hand, a Coaster step has the follower step back-together-forward on 5&6 or 7&8. As a result, the follower is already stepping forward into the leader which makes it difficult for him to change direction. Many dancers have drifted away from using the Coaster step.

What to wear while dancing West Coast Swing.

Ladies

Because this is a very active dance with lots of turns and spins, ladies will be more comfortable in slacks. This is not to say skirts and dresses can’t be worn as long as you wear dance shorts underneath.

Men

Although you may occasionally see a gentleman in a tee-shirt, most of the time they’ll be wearing a button-up shirt with a collar. West Coast Swing dancers don’t usually wear shorts. Unless, of course, they’re dancing at the beach.

What about shoes?

There are lots of recommendations about which shoes are the best for WCS dancers. This post by Canadian Champions Myles Munroe and Tessa Cunningham Munroe breaks down many of the latest choices.

WCS ladies dance shoe
A popular style of ladies
WCS shoes.

In the final analysis, some of the rules used in dancing West Coast Swing are different from ballroom dancing. And, that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? Learning to work as a team while honoring your own personal expression.

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