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WEST COAST SWING FIGURE PATTERNS
The Anchor is a common ending step of many West Coast figures. For both the man and the woman, it is a small step back and under the body with the trail foot, replace, replace, with a timing of quick/&, quick. There are really no steps. The feet don’t move, but there is weight change and hip movement forward and back. Keep the upper body still. There is a rocking-back-and-forth feel to it—back/forward, back.
Like a nautical anchor, this step stops your movement. It gives you a moment to stabilize your partnership and adjust your position in preparation for the next figure. It serves as characteristic punctuation at the end of one figure and prior to the beginning of the next figure.
The Coaster Step is an alternate ending step that you can use. For the man, it is like a little sailor shuffle with the trail foot: cross right behind left/side L, side R. For the woman, it is like a little back hitch: back L/close R, forward L. West Coast Swing is unusually flexible in allowing individual expression, but these Coaster Steps are not really preferred. For one thing, the Coaster Step can shift the man a little to his left and so disturb his relationship to the woman, firmly placed in her slot. Second, as the woman steps back/close, she is likely to stick her backside out in an inelegant sort of way. Third, if she steps forward on the last step of her Coaster, she will find herself moving forward at the beginning of the next figure, and she really shouldn’t begin to move forward until she is led to do so by her man. Another way to look at this last point is to see that her Coaster causes one figure to flow smoothly into the next. Jive is a rhythm that properly flows in this way, but West Coast Swing is more grounded, more segmented, even a little deliberate—but in a good way, a sensual way.
We can at least be aware of these two different “looks”—the looser, flowing look given by the Coaster Step, and the more punctuated look given by the Anchor Step—and we can try each one.
Now, there is one place where you definitely do want a Coaster Step, and that is within a figure where you want to smoothly change your direction of movement. Think of a Whip Turn. We do want the first part of the figure to flow into the second part. So, the Whip Turn begins for the woman with a forward R, forward L and turn 1/2 to the right, and then a modified Coaster Step: back/close, forward and turn 1/2 again to the right. She maybe began the figure moving toward reverse line-of-dance, and the Coaster smoothly got her moving toward line again. In the second measure, she steps back L, back R, and then punctuates with an Anchor Step.
For the woman, we can even distinguish between a Back Coaster (bk/cl, fwd,) and a Forward Coaster (fwd/cl, bk,). It is a Forward Coaster that changes the woman’s progression in the middle of a Tummy Whip.
There are few two-count steps that stand alone as standard figures—maybe one Side Break or a Cheerleader—but we have been focusing on small components within or at the end of longer figures. Chris & Terri Cantrell have written about different ways to vary or modify the ending of standard figures. Here are a few West Coast figure endings that they have suggested, along with the count that would be used for each.
These sorts of variations may be used to dress up many of the standard West Coast figures.
The third, heavily used two-count figure is the French Cross. Like the woman’s Coaster, it is used within six-count, eight-count, and longer figures to produce a smooth change of direction. The woman steps forward R turning 1/4 to the left, crosses left in front of right continuing to turn another 1/4, and steps back. You can sharpen the movement a little more by putting more of the turn into the first step—step forward R turning 1/2 to the left, cross left in front of right with no further turn, and step back. Either way, this is a nice alternative any time the woman might otherwise do a run/run past her partner, and then step and turn 1/2 to the left on the third step.
The French Cross has an elegant feel to it, a
little like a Viennese Turn. It helps you to maintain connection
with your partner. Maybe the most important thing it does is to
keep you absolutely straight in your slot. In the Left Side Pass
or the Underarm Turn, during the first triple, if you step forward
R/fwd L, and then fwd R and turn 1/2 left, you have just pivoted your
body on that right leg and so shifted your body to the side by a full
body width. If you were moving down line, that turn on beat 4
would have shifted you out of your slot and closer to the wall.
Now, you will rightly say that we’re talking about only a couple of
floor boards, and it will be easy to adjust and get back in line.
But look at what the French Cross does. You turn on beat 3.
That turn has the same potential to shift your body sideways, but on
the “&” count, you cross the left in front of the right, and that
crossing step shifts your body back to the slot again. The back
step on count “4” is squarely in the slot. It’s magic.
As usual, we have wandered a bit. What we have been trying to say is that West Coast Swing is a controlled slot dance. The Anchor is a two-count figure that effectively brings closure to a sequence of steps (the larger figure of which it is a part), and there are a number of ways we can use turns, kicks, points, and crosses to embellish or dress up our endings. The Coaster and French Cross produce not so much an ending as a transition from one state to another. The Coaster changes our direction of movement, and the French Cross changes our facing direction, and they do it smoothly, gracefully, and “in the slot.” Stay tuned next month for a look at the four-, six-, and eight-count figure patterns.
From the the Dixie Round Dance Council
(DRDC) Newsletter, June 2006.
you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique,
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