West Coast Swing (WCS) is a partner dance with roots in Lindy Hop. It is characterized 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, putting West Coast Swing in a short list of dances that put a premium on improvisation. Typically the follower walks into new patterns traveling forward on counts “1” and “2” of each basic pattern, rather than rocking back. Traditional figures include 6-count and 8-count patterns of one of the four basic varieties: (1) Starter Step, (2) Side Pass, (3) Push Break / Sugar Push, (4) Whip.
Alternatively the basic patterns in WCS are defined as: Sugar Push; Left Side Pass; Right Side Pass; Tuck Turn; and Whip. Virtually all other moves in WCS are variations of these basic patterns.
The Anchor Step is a common ending pattern of many West Coast Swing figures.
The origins of the WCS are in Lindy Hop. 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.” Dean Collins, who arrived in the Los Angeles area around 1937, was influential in developing the style of swing dance on the West Coast of the United States, as both a performer and teacher. When his wife, Mary Collins, was asked if Dean was responsible for the emergence of the dance, however, she said that Dean insisted there were “only two kinds of swing dance – good and bad”.
Lauré Haile, an Arthur Murray National Dance Director documented swing dancing as done in the Los Angeles area and used the name “Western Swing”. Murray had used the same name, “Western Swing”, in the late 1930s for a different dance, Haile included Western Swing in Dance Notebooks she authored for Arthur Murray during the 1950s. Western Swing was also called “Sophisticated Swing” in the 1950s.
Dancing to musicians wearing cowboy hats and string ties playing fiddle, steel guitar, etc. Pumpkin Center, Bakersfield, CA 1950s Western Swing, country boogie and, with a smaller audience, country 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 (still known as Western Swing at that time) 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. Staged by a young Dick Di Augustin, the dancing 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.
Murray’s taught Western Swing beginning from a closed position and the possibility of dancing single, double, or triple rhythm. After “Throwout” patterns began with the woman “walking in” and the man doing a “rock step”, or step together for counts one and two. Although the dance remained basically the same, the Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSDTA) began teaching from the walk steps, counts 1 and 2. It replaced Lauré Haile’s Coaster Step with an “Anchor Step” around 1961.
“West Coast swing” as a synonym for “Western swing” appears in a 1961 dance book, and was 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. When the Golden West Ballroom, in Norwalk, California, changed from Country to Ballroom dancing, the dance most advertised on the Marquee was West Coast Swing.
Western Swing was documented in the 1971 edition of the “Encyclopedia of Social Dance”. Patterns began with the woman stepping forward twice, but described the “Coaster Step” with a forward step as the last step of the 2nd triple. The one song that was listed for this dance was “Comin’ On” by Bill Black’s Combo (1964 Hi #2072). 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 GSDTA 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. Most recently since circa 2008 West Coast Swing has been a major influence with in the development of Fusion Dance. West Coast Swing is one of the base dances that is currently utilized by many fusion dancers.
West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music written in 4/4 time at speeds ranging from very slow to very fast; 15 to 45 Measures per Minute, ideally at 32 Measures per Minute (15×4=60 bpm, 32×4 = 128 bpm, 45×4=180 bpm). 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.
The “ideal” speed for WCS has been cited as 32 Measures per Minute (32×4 = 128 bpm), compared to advice to choose “records that are around 28 mpm” (28×4= 112 bpm) for “Western Swing”.
In writing about West Coast Swing, Skippy Blair advises that, “The only problem that exists in SWING is when someone decides there is only ONE WAY to dance it. There is never only ONE WAY to do anything …” “‘Try on’ different styles that you admire in other people…until you find the comfortable one that FITS YOU.” Dancing to different types of music gives a different feel and look.
A 1998 summary of “trends” in West Coast Swing listed the following: Traditional/Classic with very little extension of the uncoupled arm, the man moving off and on the center of the track for most moves, and a heavy “couple weight”; Modern with more free arm extensions, and emphasis on how many spins, etc., the man can lead. Fast Music The man’s “couple hand” is fixed in space on beat 3 in a pass or push.
In 1994 Blair noted that the posture for men was more upright than in previous years.
Global Spread –
West Coast Swing is being danced all around the world. The country with the biggest, most dominant scene is the United States, with big West Coast Swing centres like California and Texas. In Europe, West Coast Swing is most popular in France, Russia, United Kingdom and Hungary. West Coast Swing is also danced around the world in Brazil, Israel, Korea, Iceland, Australia, Poland, Romania, Latvia, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Finland, Belarus, Panama City and more.
Source: Wikipedia English Edition