A Few Notes On West Coast Swing
Dan & Sandi Finch
Coast Swing is a form of swing dancing, once called “sophisticated
swing” or “Hollywood style swing.” It is usually danced to a
slower tempo than Jive and is always danced in “the slot.” Being
“in the slot” means that the Lady works in a straight line up and
down line of dance, while the Man works in a slot across the Lady’s
line of dance, as well as up and down line of dance. This is
contrary to Jive, where the patterns are more circular.
form of dance evolved on the West Coast in the late 1930s. Although
the exact origin is disputed, most sources credit the movie industry.
Directors, concerned with camera angles when filming, insisted that
the actors dance in straight lines so their profiles would always
show rather than having their backs occasionally to the camera. Thus,
the birth of the slot.
doing Jitterbug and other forms of swing now called Jive, East Coast
Swing, and Lindy had become so exuberant that they were banned from
the main dance floors of the big ballrooms for interfering with the
smooth dancers. As the story goes, to get back onto the floor, they
began adopting the more compact Hollywood version of swing.
another story credits the small dance floors of West Coast night
clubs with the birth of West Coast Swing. You had to squeeze
together and work in a slot to have room to dance. Whichever story
you prefer, the name recognizes the West Coast as the geographic
origin of the dance, and it is appropriate that West Coast Swing is
the official state dance of California.
ignored by the ballroom studios, West Coast Swing evolved as a
“street dance,” which gave rise to many variations. It was
reportedly first documented by Arthur Murray’s Santa Monica, CA,
studio in its syllabus in 1951, giving patterns for the anchor step,
sugar push, whip, and underarm pass. Today, you will encounter
variations depending on the part of the country you are from and
whether your introduction was at a swing club, a ballroom studio, a
country western competition, or round dancing. Roundalab began
standardizing West Coast Swing figures in its Standards for Round
Dancing Manual in 1989. The rhythm begins in Phase IV.
ROCK RECOVER: Almost all Jive figures start with a rock recover
for Man and Lady, and most East Coast Swing figures end with rock
recover, but rock recover is not done in basic West Coast Swing.
STAYS IN A SLOT, as opposed to the rotating patterns of other forms
WCS is smooth, like walking, without the Jive “bounce.”
STEP: Back (or side and back out of the slot) for Man, forward for
- LAST STEP(s): Figures end with a tripling action, called an anchor
step (but you will find modified endings).
basic music for West Coast Swing is the blues, but it can be danced
to any music with 4/4 timing (four beats in each measure). While
Jive is danced often at 40 measures a minute, West Coast Swing is
danced usually in a range from 26 to 32 measures a minute.
basic West Coast Swing figures take 6 counts of music (requiring a
measure and a half to complete); others use 8 counts of music
(spanning two measures of music) The passing family of figures has
the preferred timing of 123&4
Using that timing, steps on the “&” count and the “Q”
before it are danced in one beat of music with each step getting
equal time, thus:
2 3 & 4 5 & 6
value: 1 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1
results in a smoother type of action, less bouncy than Jive and more
round dancing, you will encounter two timings. The Roundalab manual
gives timing with “&” counts as preferred but acknowledges
that some choreographers use 123a4 5a6. ICBDA’s technical manual
uses 123&4 5&6 timing.
Coast Swing breaks down into three basic families of figures:
(including the right side pass, left side pass, and underarm turn);
(such as sugar push, sugar tuck & spin, and cheek to cheek); and
basic whip, wrapped whip, tummy whip, and surprise whip). Almost
every figure ends with an anchor step but it can be replaced with a
variety of options. Lady often has a spin that replaces the anchor
step. A fourth category is a catch-all for a variety of “anything
kind of figures, figures borrowed from other rhythms and WCS figures
with unusual timing.
a sugar family figure, Man will stay in his slot, taking two steps
back, then stop, blocking partner’s forward motion; she dances to
him, then returns to her starting position.
a passing or whip figure, Man will step back and out of the way to
initiate movement, so Lady can dance past him in her slot. She
continues moving until resistance through the Man’s arm causes her
to stop or turn.
some figures (like a whip) appear to go “around” the man, Lady
should think straight-line movement up and down line of dance. The
underarm turn of Jive is elongated in West Coast Swing to become a
passing run in the slot.
BLOCKS OF WCS FIGURES
Some of the basics are figures of less than one measure, and are
components of other West Coast Swing figures:
1&2 A triple in place. This is used to “anchor” the end
of a figure and to re-establish the connection between partners.
This is the RAL preferred ending for figures. The triple has three
weight changes: trailing foot back under body (instep to heel),
recover weight to lead foot, and replace weight to trailing foot,
allowing weight to settle back into the hip.
1&2 Back hitch for Lady and sailor shuffle for Man can be an
alternative ending. It is discouraged as an ending because it
shifts the Lady’s momentum forward before the next figure starts,
bypassing the resistance necessary to allow Man to lead her. The
coaster step survives mainly as Lady’s triple step in the middle of
a whip turn.
1&2 An elongated running triple, appearing in the middle of
passing figures to keep Lady in the slot. She steps side R, crosses
L in front and (usually) side and back R to face partner.
WSC FAMILIES OF
1234; 1&2 Think: “Walk,
walk, touch, step, triple step”
Sugar Push (IV):
Starts in left open facing position and ends where it began.
Tuck & Spin (IV):
Starts like a sugar push and ends where it began, but as the name
implies Man spins Lady on the last triple.
push with triple in the middle
(unphased, 123&4; 1&2); Face
loop sugar push (V),
Push Hook Turn (VI), Cheek to Cheek (V),
123&4; 1&2 Think: “Walk,
walk, triple step, triple step;”
in left open facing position and ends in left open facing position,
but facing the opposite direction. He leads her forward to start,
steps side out of her way and turns to face the opposite direction.
She starts forward R, forward L, swiveling slightly LF to face wall
side R/cross L in front of R, back R turning to face; anchor step.
(Note: Lady’s “3&4” done this way is the French cross.)
side pass (IV):
Figure starts and ends in left open facing position, making a ½ LF
turn so that the partnership faces the opposite direction from where
it started. Lady runs past Man’s left side. Her footwork is the
same for underarm turn, right side pass and left side pass.
side pass (IV):
Starts in an L-shaped or even tandem position with right hands
joined. Lady does the same footwork as a left side pass, only the
run goes past his right
because of his position, changing hands as she passes him on step 3
and making a ½ LF turn to end facing the opposite direction from
where she started.
side pass with tuck and spin ending (unphased); Shadow tuck and spin
(unphased); Traveling side pass (VI); Man’s underarm turn (IV);
Alternating underarm turn (V)
123&4; 123&4 (Man allows Lady to pass, then whips her
back to starting position) Think: “Walk,
walk, triple step; walk, walk, triple step;”
Man leads Lady forward and gets out of her way, comes around behind
her wrapping her in momentary tandem position to stop her forward
progression, then gets out of her way to send her back to where she
started. Lady moves straight forward and straight back (no dodging
around him) with a hitch in the middle and anchor at the end.
A complete rotation ending in the same place it began. A popular
variation is the power
which replaces Man’s triple in the middle with even counts. Lady
passes and turns to face, does a coaster step and starts back to
where she started, finishing with an anchor.
whip (V); Side whip (V), Surprise whip (V); Half whip (unphased);
Whips with inside and outside turns (VI); Continuous (or rock) whip
category includes figures from other rhythms and figures with timings
that don’t fit the other families, such as cheerleader, defined in
the Manual as: Cheerleader
(but usually done with more steps to be 1&2&3&4&5&6
ending with lead feet free).
Dan & Sandi have other
essays and helps on their site.
This article was published in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June 2010
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Past DRDC Educational Articles by
Jim & Barbara German,
Chris & Terri Cantrell,
Harold & Meredith Sears, 2005-present
Some articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid
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