Dance Skills

WCS lesson_Sept 2011West Coast Swing: a steeper learning curve, but oh, so worth it! FUNDAMENTALS (aka Basics)

Like all other forms of Swing, West Coast Swing evolved from Lindy. Unlike other styles of Swing, West Coast Swing is a slotted, rather than a circular style: the follower travels back and forth along a “slot”, at the invitation and guidance of the leader. Both partners maintain a very upright position, and use leverage and compression throughout the partnership. West Coast Swing does not have a “basic step” per se; rather, there are two basic rhythms — 6-counts and 8-counts — and five basic patterns, from which all moves originate. This structure of fundamental patterns underlies every West Coast Swing dance, yet allows for an enormous amount of improvisation and creativity inside its basic structure.

West Coast Swing is danced to a huge variety of music from every genre that’s rhythmic and uses “4/4” timing, but at a slower tempo than other forms of swing (upper 70s beats per minute to about 140 beats per minute). It is truly all about LEAD & FOLLOW, in which each partner must know his or her own role, and THEN be prepared to play in the game of lead and follow, which requires both partners to be attentive in order to add interest, variety, playfulness, and/or excitement into the dance. Creating unique 3-minute partnerships from these fundamental patterns, and their endless variations and musical moods, is what many dancers find addictive about West Coast Swing.

West Coast Swing “Absolutes” (well, at least at the Fundamental level these hold true!):

  • Follower owns the slot, leader defines where the slot is;
  • Leader moves (“body leads”) in the direction he wants the follower to go on every count “one” (sounds simple, but isn’t!);
  • Follower does not initiate any moves or traveling, rather she waits for his lead to invite her to move, then sends herself;
  • The partners leverage away from each other at the end of all open patterns (do NOT move forward in your anchor; think “back, and, back”; sounds simple, but isn’t).

Syllabus for Fundamentals (Basics) of West Coast Swing includes, but is not limited to the following patterns (1st weight transference for leaders is onto the LEFT, for followers is onto the RIGHT):

 6-Count Patterns

Constants: 1-2, 3&4, 5&6; follower travels from point A to point B; one lead on “and-ah-one”

Patterns:

  • Left Side Pass: leader opens his left side to let the follower pass.
  • Right Side Pass (sometimes called “Underarm Pass”, but some right-side passes are not underarm passes, therefore it’s best not to use the “Underarm” name).
  • Sugar Push: leader remains in the slot and provides one or both hands for the follower to use in compression (I call this “shared energy”) before sending her body back where she came from. So, instead of traveling from point A to point B, the follower travels about half the distance to point B (one arm length), then returns to point A.

We also include Tuck Turns as fundamental within the Left-Side Pass (normally the move most often associated with the term “Tuck Turn”) and Sugar Push, also called “Sugar-Tuck”.

8-Count Patterns

Constants: 1-2, 3&4, 5-6, 7&8; follower travels from point A to point B, then returns to point A; TWO lead points – (1) “and-ah-one”, and (2) count 4 into count 5

Patterns:

  • Whip: including Basic Whip, Whip with Outside Turn, Whip with Inside Turn, Reverse Whip
  • Basket Whip: a two-handed version of the whip through count 4

Starter, Open, and Closed Position:

  • A common “Starter Step” begins in closed position with “triple step, triple step”, counted “1&2, 3&4”, followed by a 6-count throw-out — invitation from the leader for the follower to move to open position, like a shortened side pass.
  • Throughout the dance, partners weave in and out of open and closed position.

Essential #1: Know your Basics
Essential #2: Know your Music (not specific songs, but general structure of blues, of contemporary music; more on that later)

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