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West Coast Swing

See also: Categories: Dances, History, Ballroom, DanceSport, Latin

Genre: Social dancing, DanceSport
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Definition

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, California, for suggesting the name "West Coast Swing".

is a social .

Overview

West Coast Swing is a partner dance with roots in the "Lindy Hop". It is characterized by an elastic look that results from its 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 emphasize 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 West Coast Swing are defined as: Push Break (or Sugar Push); Left Side Pass; Right Side Pass; Tuck Turn; and Whip. Virtually all other moves in West Coast Swing are variations of these basic patterns.

The Anchor Step is a common ending pattern of many West Coast Swing figures.

History

The origins of the West Coast Swing are in the Lindy Hop. In a 1947 book, Arthur Murray wrote, "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". According to one of his former students, a member of his last dance troupe, Collins himself said that he had nothing to do with the West Coast Swing style.

Laure Haile, an Arthur Murray National Dance Director documented swing dancing in Los Angeles and used the name "Western Swing".

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".

Arthur Murray 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 Laure 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, California, for suggesting the name "West Coast Swing".

In her 1994 book Dance Terminology Notebook, Blair wrote she would "tell anyone who would listen, that Western really meant West Coast. One of the students made an asture observation and asked, 'Then why don't you say that?'"

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.

"Beginning with the 1967 opening of the Golden West Ballroom in Norwalk, California, and through 1980, West Coast Swing was on the marquee as the dance taught every Wednesday and Friday night."

New Era in the Presentation of Country Music Showplace to Feature Top Singing Stars. Author: Ron Heinzel. Los Angeles Times. Date: December 1, 1963 Start Page: OCA2 Pages: 2 Section: Orange County "On the night of December 5 the doors will swing open at the Golden West Auditorium to mark the realization of a dream and an era in the presentation of music Americana.

Golden West Auditorium, a new country music show place located at 12400 Studebaker Road at Imperial Highway, Norwalk, Calif., celebrated its formal opening with a press party embracing cocktails, lunch and a fashion show December 2. The new country music auditorium is the realization of an idea nurtured some five years ago by businessman Olen S. Thidedeau, who vowed to give Southern California a country music show place second to none. Billboard December 14, 1963 page 20

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.

Slot

West Coast Swing is a slotted dance. The slot is an imaginary area, long and thin, eight or nine feet long if danced at a very slow Tempo, but shorter if the music is at a faster tempo. The follower travels back and forth in the slot dancing straight through the lead. The leader consistently moves a minimum amount (at mid-way point) to his sides, barely out of her way. She lightly brushes against him each time she passes him.

Socially, it is considered good etiquette (particularly on a crowded floor) to use a fixed slot, in order to allow dancing without incident. Having danced the slot repeatedly, the couple "has a claim" on the area, and other couples usually cooperate and establish their own slot parallel with the dancers. If the dance floor is not crowded and the couple is afforded more space, such as during a competitive event, the dancers may move the slot around the floor more liberally.

There are urban myths regarding the origin of the slotted style. According to one version, it was an invention of Hollywood film makers who wanted "dancers to stay in the same plane, to avoid going in and out of focus".

A variation on the "Hollywood film maker" theme is that film makers wanted "to avoid filming the backs" of dancers. A viewing of films featuring the work of Dean Collins in the 1940s, and rock 'n' roll films made in the mid-1950s reveals the fact that dancers turn frequently and inevitably turn their backs to the camera.[36][37] Although another unslotted swing dance, Balboa, became popular in the same area and under the same conditions, much has been made of "jitterbugging in the aisles" as a source of the slotted style.

Slotted moves were a common part of the step vocabulary of Lindy and jitterbug dancers during the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than the walk, walk of West Coast Swing, however, two sets of triple steps were used when the woman moved down the slot, followed by a rock step rather than the current triple and anchor step.

Music

West Coast Swing can be traced to the swing era of jazz. During this period many jazz, blues, and country musicians incorporated swing in their music. Writing in the Arthur Murray Silver Dance Notebook, Laure Haile, who first described "Western Swing", listed the following songs as "Good Swing or Fox Trot Records":

  • "Let's Dance" by Ray Anthony ((Capitol L-258)(1951))
  • "Be-Bop's Spoken Here" by Les Brown Columbia 38499 (4/14/49)
  • "Also Good Swing - but unusual Chorus "AABA":"
  • "One Mint Julep", Buddy Morrow, Victor 20-4869 (June/July 1952)
  • "Dry Bones", Tommy Dorsey, Victor 20-3523 (1949?)
  • West Coast Swing moves can be seen in rock and roll films made in that era.

While teenagers preferred to dance freestyle through a constantly changing succession of discotheque social dance fads during the 1960s, adults kept swing alive.

Western Swing was documented in the 1971 edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Dance, listing the "Coaster Step" (with a forward step as the last step of the second triple) rather than the Anchor Step. The one song that was listed for this dance was "Comin' On" by Bill Black's Combo (1964 Hi #2072).

In the mid-1970s, disco revitalized partner dancing, and in California West Coast Swing was one of the dances of the era.[45] By the 1990s country western dancers were dancing West Coast Swing to contemporary country western songs.

Styles

West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music written in 4 4 time.

In the past, the ideal speed for West Coast Swing was cited as 32 measures per minute (32x4 = 128 bpm), compared to advice to choose "records that are around 28 mpm" (28×4= 112 bpm) for "Western Swing". In its 2014–2016 rules UCWDC specified a range of 102–114 bpm with a preferred speed of 108 bpm "for all." West Coast Swing dancers have adopted music genres such as hip hop and blues, both of which often range well below 100 bpm.

In writing about West Coast Swing, Skippy Blair said, "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.

Basic guidelines

West Coast Swing is an evolving social dance that has gone through many changes throughout its short history, over time incorporating techniques from numerous dance styles. However, there are many guidelines that should be followed to maintain the true character of the dance. A dance's character is typically defined by a basic philosophy, principles of movement, and traditional steps and figures. While these guidelines can be violated, by committing too many violations one risks departing from the defining features of the dance.

Modern West Coast Swing is in large part defined by an emphasis on musicality and connection.[51] Movement is based on a principle borrowed from ballroom and Latin dance in which the dancer moves their center of gravity immediately over the foot when a weight transfer is desired. 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. Many common West Coast Swing figures are derived from simple variations of these basic figures.[52] West Coast Swing is also a fundamentally improvised dance, and thus such defined figures are simply starting points for the skilled dancer. Additionally, West Coast Swing can be said to rely on the leader creating and redirecting the momentum of the follower in order to communicate how he wishes to lead the dance.

Technical guidelines are as follows:

Every figure or pattern should end with an anchor, a critical characteristic feature of West Coast Swing. This is used to mark the end of a figure and re-establish connection between the two dancers. The leader should maintain the slot and seek an anchored connection at the end of a figure/pattern. The leader should use his own weight changes to lead the follower's movement, not the arm or hand alone. The follower should continue to the end of the slot, filling space to reach an anchored connection. The follower should assume a step-step count unless led otherwise. Both closed and open positions are acceptable. A connection should be maintained at all times, using some combination of physical and visual connections. Most steps are danced in 2-beat groups, allowing 6-count and 8-count figures to be extended and shortened as necessary to fit the music. The leader should plan ahead in the dance to allow the follower to experience musical accents.[53] Although there are many exceptions and variations, the more traditional (1970's) West Coast Swing guidelines are as follows:[54]

The follower will always start with the right foot. The follower starts on a down beat, counts one or three of a measure. The follower has a rhythm pattern of six beats (to start): double (walk walk) a right triple and a left triple The follower will walk forward forward on the first two beats of every pattern. The follower will step 3 times at the end of each pattern, the Anchor Step. The leader will always start with the left foot. The leader will vary their first movement according to the location of their partner. The leader will vary step two depending on the direction of the pattern. At basic and intermediate levels, most dancers start the dance with a 4-Beat Starter Step.[21] (Note that the follower's step is different from the leader's; partners do not mirror each other.)[55]

A few basic moves that any West Coast Swing dancer should know are listed below. They are performed with the same "step step tri-ple-step tri-ple-step" pattern equalling eight steps in six beats of music. The term "count" is used as a synonym for a "beat", usually a quarter note, of music.

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