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West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing (WCS) is a partner dance derived from Lindy Hop. It is characterised 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 improvise steps while dancing together.

Typically the follower walks into new patterns traveling forward on counts "1" and "2" of each basic pattern, rather than rocking back. The Anchor Step is a common ending pattern of many West Coast Swing figures.

History

It is believed that the origins of the WCS are in Lindy Hop. Dean Collins was influential in developing the style of swing danced on the West Coast of the United States. Collins arrived in the Los Angeles area around 1937.

In a 1947 book, Arthur Murray recognized that, "There are hundreds of regional dances of the Jitterbug type. Each section of the country seems to have a variation of its own." One of Murray's dance instructors, Lauré Haile, documented swing dancing as done in the Los Angeles area. She named it "Western Swing". Murray had used the same name, "Western Swing", in the late 1930s for a different dance. In 1951 Haile first published her dance notes as a syllabus, which included Western Swing for the Santa Monica Arthur Murray Dance Studio. This dance was also called "Sophisticated Swing" in the 1950s.

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 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. Choreographer Dick DiAugustine 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.

The name "West Coast Swing" was used in a little known hand book for Arthur Murray dance studio teachers in the 1950s, but the Murray studios used the term "Western Swing" on charts. West Coast Swing as the name of the dance in its current form was first used in an advertisement by Skippy Blair in 1962, but wasn't incorporated into mainstream swing circles until the late 1960s. Blair credits Jim Bannister, editor of the Herald American newspaper in Downey, for suggesting the name West Coast Swing. The name change came about because she had found that "nothing Western was really welcome in the city of Downey in 1958".

Murray's taught Western Swing with the walk steps as counts 5 and 6, following a coaster step on counts 3&4. Although the dance remained basically the same, the Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSTDA) began teaching the walk steps as counts 1 and 2, and with an anchor step replacing the coaster step in 1958. As late as 1978, the term "Western Swing" was common usage among Chain and Independent Studios to describe "slotted swing".

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. By 1978 GSTDA had "some 200 or more patterns and variations" for West Coast Swing.

In 1988, West Coast Swing was pronounced the Official State Dance of California.

Slot

WCS is a slotted dance: the follower travels back and forth along a shoulder-width rectangle, called the slot, with respect to the leader. The leader is more stationary but will move in and out of the slot depending on the pattern led. A general rule is that the leader leaves the slot only to give way for the follower to pass him.

There are 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”. Wide angle lenses with adequate depth of field for cinematography had in fact been available since the 1920s. 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. Although another unslotted swing dance, Balboa, became popular in the same area and under the same conditions, much has been made of "jitterbugging in the aisles" as a source of the slotted style.

Slotted moves were a common part of the step vocabulary of Lindy and/or Jitterbug dancers during the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than the walk, walk of West Coast Swing, however, two sets of triple steps were used when the woman moved down the slot, followed by a rock step rather than the current triple and anchor step.

Music

The origins of the dance that became known as West Coast Swing can be traced to the Swing Era. During this period many jazz, blues, and western musicians incorporated, or emphasized, the “swing” in their music. By the later half of the 1950s the early styles of rock 'n' roll had become the most popular music for dancing, and West Coast Swing like moves can be seen in rock 'n' roll films made in that era. The film "Hot Rod Gang" shows West Coast Swing being done to the song "Dance to the Bop" by rockabilly musician Gene Vincent. The strong rhythmic groove of funk, and soul provided the most popular dance music from the mid 60s into the 70s, a period not known for partner dances such as swing. In the mid 1970s, disco music and dancing repopularized "touch" partner dancing. By the 1990s country western dancers were dancing West Coast Swing to contemporary country western songs. West Coast Swing is now one of many dances done at country western venues. In practice, West Coast Swing may be danced to almost any music in 4/4 time, and music of many different styles may be found in an evening of West Coast Swing dancing.

Styles

West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music written in 4/4 time at speeds ranging from very slow to very fast, but 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.

Two styles of West Coast are "Classic W.C. Swing (pulsing down) and "Funky or Contemporary W.C. Swing" (pulsing up) with the basic steps being exactly the same. Dancing to different types of music gives a different feel and look.

Classic WCS

The style of WCS that matches the "classic" WCS music featured by swung eighths. In this style the "split-beat" steps are typically counted as: "1 a2"; "3 a4"; "a3 4"; etc. Here "a" denotes the intermediate beat "swung" away from the strict middle position and splitting the beat approximately 2:1. For the comparison, the "a" in "1a2" of Samba rhythm splits the quarter note 3:1, i.e., it "splits off" a 1/16, so it is "straight" in the sense of binary note duration nomenclature.

Funky WCS

A more contemporary style of WCS that matches American pop music, which has square rhythms. In this style the "split-beat" steps may well be counted in strict time: "1&2"; "3&4"; "5&6"; etc., to match the music.

The "Funky WCS" classification in recent years has fallen by the wayside with the communal realization that WCS done to contemporary music is no different from WCS done to straight up blues. "Funky "and "classic" styling may be performed to any genre of music.

Beginning moves

At basic and intermediate levels, most dancers start the dance with a 4-Beat Starter Step.

The most basic of patterns in WCS is as follows.

  • Lead: 1 step back with the left foot, 2 step back with right foot, 3&4 triple step (LRL), 5&6 triple step (RLR). In this basic pattern the leader remains facing his partner throughout the pattern.
  • Follow: Beginning with the right foot, take two steps forward 1,2 (R,L), 3&4 triple step past the leader (RLR), 5&6 triple step LRL, while turning to face the leader.

A few basic moves that any WCS dancer should know are listed below, and performed with the same step-step-triple-triple pattern.

Open position

  • Underarm 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.
  • Sugar push or Push Break: A six-count basic 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.
  • Tuck turn: This is like a left side pass in six counts, but the leader raises the left arm signaling the follower to turn under the leader's arm (an outside turn).

Closed position

  • Return to close: In six counts, the follower is led 3/4 of the way around the leader into closed position.
  • Starter step: Two triple steps in closed position to begin the dance, so that the leader and follower can get in sync with each other.
  • Throw out: A six count basic where the follower is led from the closed position to open. Leads: Triple-step left, triple-step right, step forward with left and follow starts to move forward as well, push from frame of follow out down to the end of the slot.
  • Whip The follower starts at one end of the slot and is led around the lead, to the same end of the slot she started. The follower stays in her slot, pivoting, then coming back to where she started. The leader steps in and out of the slot, creating smooth, elastic look.

Advanced dancers and moves

Advanced dancers will break the rules. Rather than lead or follow pattern after pattern, both leaders and followers shorten or extend counts, play with the music, and express themselves with the dance.

Advanced West Coast Swing moves are merely variations of the basic moves done by using two hands connected, changing hands, and utilizing stops and reversal.

Some specially named advanced moves are:

  • Sugar tuck: Like a sugar push, but ends with a two-count underarm turn, or a tuck turn without changing sides.
  • Cement mixer
  • Basket whip: Two hands together to start, lead performs an inside turn with the left arm to the "sweetheart" position facing the same direction as the follow, then pulls the follow backwards to her original position pulling the left arm over the follow's head to unwind them.
  • Man around the woman
  • Woman around the man
  • Reverse whip: A whip with the follower turninng left on the first half.
  • Reverse close
  • Chicken Walks a.k.a.: Lindy swivels

Example dance

  1. Sugar push, taking both hands.
  2. Tuck turn in place.
  3. Underarm turn with hand change.
  4. Underarm turn, taking both hands.
  5. Double underarm turn with both hands.
  6. Underarm turn, catch in whip.
  7. Repeat.

Competition

As with many other couple dances, there are competitions for West Coast Swing. The United States Swing Dance Championship, also known as the U.S. Open, is held each year on Thanksgiving weekend.

References

External links

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