What is West Coast Swing?

West Coast Swing is a dance from California, USA. Born from Lindy Hop and danced to an array of musical styles. Characterised by a distinctive, elastic look that results from basic extension/compression techniques. Danced on a 'Slot', (a rectangluar space on the dance floor) with the Follower dancing forward and backward in this space. Whilst the Leader dances on and off the slot depending on the pattern. The basic steps in the dance are 6 & 8 count combinations of Double and Triple rhythm units i.e. 1 2, 3&4, 5&6 or 1 2, 3&4, 5 6, 7&8. Moving beyond the basics, the dance allows for both partners to improvise steps while dancing patterns togetherPutting West Coast Swing in a short list of dances that put a premium on improvisation and musicality.

 

West Coast Swing Today

Is very different from in the 1930’s when it was first documented. WCS has evolved as a reflection of the changes in popular music and culture. And is why WCS it has continued to grow in popularity over the last 90 years. In the 1980’s, National dance competitions were first held and dancers from all over the US met, bringing together their regional versions of swing dance. This was a key time for growth in the community with many Pro’s sharing knowledge and style. Houston Whip, Dallas Push, Carolina Shag, Lindy, Balboa, Boogie are all swing styles that contribute to todays hybrid version of West Coast SwingOther forms of dance are also interwoven into WCS, such as, Hustle, Tango, Salsa, Zouk, Latin & Ballroom, Hip Hop from which you see a legacy evident in todays dance. Think Hustle whip, Telemark Scroll or Upper body styling.
 
A constant evolution is a part of the fabric of the WCS community, driven by it’s champions. In fact, by every single person that steps onto the social dance floor.  There is inspiration all around us that you can use in west coast swing dancing. The wide variety of music helps aide in the limitless creativity within this dance.

West Coast Swing Community

The community of WCS dancers around the world reaches far and wide and you’ll find a welcoming smile everywhere you goWe are forever delighted by the talents and qualities that are consistently present in WCS dancers around the world. The passion that we all share for this dance bonds people from many cultures and backgrounds in true and safe exchange of human emotions. You can go to almost any part of the world and find a budding WCS scene and the online WCS community is as rich as real world. With many websites, forums, groups and social media pages to further your development and keep you on the pulse of the worldwide vibe.

Where did it come from?

There are many differing theories about where WCS originates. But, the most plausible one that we have, was that it came about when Lindy dancers, who were dancing in 8’s, hit an accent on the 1 (2), then needed a 6 count pattern to get back ‘on phrase’. The most popular ways being a ‘Push’ and a ‘Pass’. This resonates with Tap dancing, that evolved in the same part of the world at the same time, who also use ‘break steps’ to get back on the phrase. The WCS whip is a slotted version of a Lindy core pattern called a ‘Swing out’. 
 
So that gives us our 3 core patterns; Push, Pass & Whip. 
 
Why the slot? There are different schools of thought on this one too. Some would say that ‘Hollywood’ played a role. It was better for camera to have a uniformed slot moving across the screen. Rather than, a circular use of space that finishes at less consistent points. Others might suggest that it was to allow for more people to dance inside the same space. Either way the slot is here to stay and is an identifying characteristic of WCS.

What are the 5 basic moves of West Coast Swing?

Didn't we just say that there are 3 core patterns? but there are 5 basic moves… (made up from the 3 core patterns, 2 Passes, 2 pushes and a whip). Here they are, 
Left Side Pass - A 6 six count pattern. Walk, Walk, Tri-ple Step, Tri-ple Step timing. Follower passes Leaders left side.
Sugar TuckA 6 six count pattern. Walk, Walk, Tri-ple Step, Tri-ple Step timing where the follower moves up to the leader and Leader turns Follower.
Under Arm PassA 6 six count pattern. Walk, Walk, Tri-ple Step, Tri-ple Step timing. Leader lifts hand and Follower passes Leaders right side going under the arm.
Sugar PushA 6 six count pattern. Walk, Walk, Tri-ple Step, Tri-ple Step timing. Follower moves up to the Leader and returns.
The Basic Whip - An 8 count pattern. Walk, Walk, Tri-ple Step, Walk, Walk, Tri-ple Step timing.  Follower passes the Leader twice.

West Coast Swing Competitions

Swing dancers have always held competitions and in West Coast Swing as they are most often completely improvised and the partner selection made at random.  Jack Carey, a founding member of the WSDC was the creator of the concept of ‘Jack & Jill’ where leaders and followers enter the category independently and partnered up at random in the heats and finals.  This is a true test of a ’Social dancers’ abilities as they only succeed in competition by being able to adapt to many partners and many styles of music.   There are also Strictly, Classic, Showcase, Teams divisions within WCS competitions.
 
It was from Lindy Hop competitions that WCS was born and competition has been a natural catalyst for WCS as a whole ever since.  A ‘Jam' circle is syonymous to all swing styles and is where you bring out your ‘best’ stuff.  These iconic moves get passed down from generation to generation and have become the foundation of social dance moves that get danced every night of the week in clubs everywhere.  Organisations like the World Swing Dance Council (WSDC) and NASDE - National Association of Swing Dance Events offer the chance for dancers to graduate through a ranking in J&J’s and a points accumulation tour for routine dancers.

Modern West Coast Swing

In 2005 the world as a whole got a little smaller when YouTube launched and was soon followed by a huge West Coast Swing boom in Europe, Australia and Asia and ever since, WCS has been impacted by International Instructors/dancers who’ve had much success at many levels in competition. There are now multiple European Pro's touring the WCS scene.  WCS festivals and events are happening almost every weekend of the year supporting an array of West Coast Swing professional dancers, services and products.
 
There is still a strong connection to the dance that migrated across the US from New York to LA just under 100 years ago, but like those great cities, things have changed.  When people first danced WCS it was modern, and in the 1960’s when it first came to Europe, it modern then too. Now we are in the 21st century and there has even been discussion of actually changing the name to Modern Swing. Whether the name changes or not, WCS will always be Modern because it is not tied to a time period, nor is it attached to a particular cultural movement. But it has been a constantly changing reflection of a culture that once was exclusive to North America but now is shared by the entire world.

What's next?

Who knows what is next for WCS? No-one can know for sure but it is likely to keep adapting and evolving to stay a part of contemporary culture.  It’s going to be an exciting journey and we’ll be there to experience it. Sharing our knowledge, insights and observations to help encourage the next generation of West Coast Swing dancers to thrive.