West Coast Swing Is A Wonderful Thing!
Kristine & Bruce Nelson
Coast Swing (WCS) is fun and excitingly different! WCS is jive’s
smoother cousin. Both are in the “swing” family but are danced
quite differently. But NOT TO WORRY! Any basic jive dancer can learn
and enjoy this rhythm. Spending just a little time thinking about the
similarities and differences between jive and WCS will be your key to
successful WCS dancing!
is danced to a somewhat slower tempo than jive and uses music that is
usually bluesy or jazzy, although lots of different music is used for
choreography. Jive is bouncy or up and down with many sharp turns and
is generally danced in a circular pattern. WCS is danced in a
relaxed, slinky, or smooth manner without any bounce. It is danced in
a linear pattern with the dancers exchanging sides.
What’s that? --
WCS, the partners dance with each other along an imaginary linear
path, referred to as “the slot”. The slot is like a path with a
rail along each side of the path. If you think of railroad tracks,
the slot is the space between the rails. Men clear the slot by moving
onto the rails on either side to allow the woman to stay in the slot
as she passes by the man. The slot for the woman is her line of
travel. She dances forward and back in the slot.
man starts the woman's travel down the slot and initiates the
figures. The woman responds and executes the indicated figure. The
woman’s path is straight through the man. The man moves in and out
of the slot, depending on the pattern led. A general rule is that the
man leaves the slot (steps onto the rail) only to give way for the
woman to pass him. Each dancer then collects in the slot and prepares
for the subsequent figure.
figures are danced starting in a left-open facing position with the
man’s left and woman’s right hands joined. Both partners keep
their forearms horizontal and parallel to the floor and do not allow
the wrists to break upward (the arm placement may vary if one partner
is much taller). The dancers keep forearms pointing straight at the
partner. The elbows should be kept in, toward the side of the body,
and not out to the sides. In general, the elbows remain forward of
the body (never behind). When dancing WCS, it is important for both
partners to maintain an “apart” tension.
upper body remains quite still. The hips and legs are soft and absorb
the energy of the figures. Both dancers use their legs in a very
fluid, relaxed manner -- not rigid.
movement of WCS is created by the use of "stretch" and
"compress," -- the movement between partners is very
elastic (rubberband-like), in-and-out, which creates the energy for
passes and whips, turns and spins. Each figure begins with the man
stepping away from the woman while providing tension to encourage her
to step forward (toward him). At the end of each figure an “anchor”
is used to separate the partners and re-tension the arms. (See below
for basic figure rules).
is strongly a lead/follow dance rhythm. The man must initiate and the
woman must respond. She must not initiate her own movement. Partners
must maintain firmness in their arms (think uncooked spaghetti) in
order to accurately deliver a lead and to properly respond to a lead.
The connection must be smooth without any bounce in the arms. Floppy
arms (think cooked spaghetti) just will not transmit the lead
message. Men must be aware that too much firmness in the lead will
jerk the partner. When partners get the firmness/tension just right,
it’s like power steering a car!
West Coast Swing there are 4 basic types of figures, each with its
own rhythm pattern (count):
(Anchor or Coaster or turning) --
= Q&Q or 1&2 (may be used as 3&4, 5&6, or 7&8) =
2 counts / 3 changes of weight.
= QQ Q&Q Q&Q or 1, 2, 3&4, 5&6 = 6 counts / 8
changes of weight.
= QQ QQ Q&Q or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5&6 = 6 counts / 6 changes
of weight (NOTE: count 3 may be a touch action that does not change
weight or it may be a basic action Q&Q or 3&4).
= QQ Q&Q QQ Q&Q or 1, 2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7&8 = 8
counts / 10 changes of weight.
Figure Rules --
are a few basic rules for dancing WCS figures:
count 1 of all figures: (replaces the jive rock apart step)
steps away from Woman to begin to lead.
steps forward toward Man.
count 4 in 6 count figures (or on count 6 in 8 count figures):
steps toward Woman.
steps away from Man.
count 5&6 in 6 count figures (or on count 7&8 in 8 count
steps in place or slightly away from partner.
steps in place or slightly away from partner.
recommend that you think about the anchor step prior to any figure.
It is the ending action of all WCS figures, and for the dancer it is
a comfortable base both to end at and to start from.
Basic WCS Figures -- Note: complete figure descriptions are in the
ROUNDALAB manual. Visit the site. Get your copy, or
study cue sheets which should be based on that manual.
(Coaster variation) -- Basic action that takes the place of a jive
“Chasse” or triple.
Basic -- Figure similar to jive 2 Turning Triples.
-- Figure similar to jive Throwaway.
Turn -- Figure similar to jive Change Left to Right.
Side Pass -- Figure (for woman) similar to jive Throwaway.
Push -- Unique to WCS, considered the “basic”.
& Spin -- Variation on Sugar Push, similar action to jive
Turn -- Foundation figure for many turns & spins - many
Whip -- Figure similar to jive Lindy Catch.
Whip -- Figure also similar to jive Lindy Catch.
with Inside Turn
clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Annual Convention, 2010, and
reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June 2014.
If you would like to read other articles on dance
position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit
the article TOC.
If you are not a member of DRDC,
do consider joining. The group sponsors triquarterly weekends with
dancing and teaching, and the newsletter is one of the most informative
Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.
Aditional articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
& Susie Rotscheid
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