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by Harold & Meredith Sears

Part II—Four-Count and More

We began this overview last month by observing that West Coast figures can conveniently be organized according to how many beats of music each figure uses.  Of course, round dancers extend their figures in all sorts of extended, continuous, interrupted, and syncopated ways, but at a basic level we have two-count figures, which we looked at last time, and four- six- and eight-count figures, considered below.

Four-count figures can be danced “quick, quick, quick, quick;” or “slow, -, slow, -;”  They can be syncopated — “quick/&, quick/&, quick/&, quick/&;”   There are walks forward and back, side steps, side breaks, kicks, swivels, crosses, toes, heels, rocks, and hops.  The tempo is pretty slow, so I don’t think you’ll hear a cue like, “run four,” but the Throwout is a syncopated standard figure (1&2, 3&4), and it certainly has the character of a “run.”  In those two triples, move her from right to left and turn her 1/2. He steps side/close, side turning left-face and leading her to do a French Cross. End with anchor steps.

Another straightforward standard figure is Side Breaks.  In a facing position, lead feet free, step side left (woman sd R) with a pushing action/side R, close L/close R, sd L/sd R, cl L/cl R;  Often the hands go out with the feet and back to the body as the feet come in.  It's a little difficult to keep this figure from becoming a pair of "jumping jacks." We try not to move up and down, but keep the upper body still.

These are also known as "Quick Side Breaks." Slow Side Breaks are danced &/slow, -, &/slow, -; and you have probably heard cued “Side Breaks, two slows and four quicks” (two measures total).

A more challenging four-count standard figure is the Cheerleader, a syncopated combination of a crossing step, a side step, and a heel tap.  Roundalab tells us to cross the left foot in front of the R/step side R, tap L heel to the left/side L, cross right in front of L/ side L, tap R heel to the right;  You can do a Cheerleader in almost any position, with either foot, and with same or opposite footwork.

Another interpretation by choreographers is to think of a Cheerleader as four actions in 1/2 measure – cross in front/side, touch heel/side, (cross/side, heel/side). You might begin with the left foot and then repeat with the right, in which case the full measure would count out 1a2a3a4a; and you'd end with left foot free again.  A third view uses 1/2 measure but begins with a side step.  Step side left leaving right foot extended with heel on floor, recover R/XLIF of R, (or side/heel, side/cross).

Here's yet another Cheerleader we have seen that uses syncopated slow counts — s, &/s; &/s, &/s;  Cross right in front of left, -, slight RF turn small side L/tap R heel, -; back R/XLIF of R, -, slight LF turn small side R/tap L heel, -; back L/XRIF of L, -, slight RF turn small side L/tap R heel, -; and so on.

As we suggested above, the Cheerleader seems to be any sort of syncopated combination of a crossing step, a side step, and a heel tap.  In the interests of full disclosure, let me say that Meredith and I can walk a Cheerleader, but when the music plays, we have NEVER been able to dance one.  But we’re still hoping. 

Six-Count Figures—

Among the six-count figures in West Coast, we find all of the Swing patterns in various combinations—that is, Single-Swing, Double-Swing, and Triple-Swing.  In Jive, Single-Swing timing is rock, recover, step, step (q,q,s,-; s,-,), four steps over the six beats of music.  In essence, each triple chassé in Triple-Jive is replaced with a single slow step.  Double-Swing uses six actions over the six beats: rock, recover, press, step; press, step, (q,q,q,q; q,q, but only four weight changes).  Finally, Triple-Swing is our familiar step two and two triples (1, 2, 3/&, 4; 1/&, 2,) or (eight-count) step two and a triple; step two and a triple (1, 2, 3/&, 4; 1, 2, 3/&, 4;).  We do all of this in West Coast Swing and then superimpose a variety of turns and spins on top of it all.

Among the six-count figures, there are a few relatively firm rules. 

  • On count 1, the man will move away from the woman, and the woman will move toward the man.
  • On count 4, the man moves toward, and the woman moves away.
  • On counts 5 & 6, the man and woman both dance in place. 

One common timing pattern in West Coast might be called "sugar timing," after the Sugar Push, a characteristic and common figure in the rhythm. Sugar timing is 1, 2, touch, step; 1/&, 2, — that is, four quicks and a triple (note the double and the triple timing in this one figure).

The Sugar Push starts in left open facing position, often facing line of dance.  The man steps back L, drawing the woman forward R. He steps back R, touches L to R and pushes into her, perhaps patting trail hands and even bringing faces together. On the touch, she might hook her right behind her left and turn a bit right-face. You probably can't kiss (get a little sugar) at this point without risking facial damage, but the goal is to look coy and snuggly. Then recover on the lead foot for your Anchor or Coaster (discussed last month). 

What you choose to dance on beats 3 and 4 of the Sugar Push (or of most other figures) is really optional.  Roundalab and URDC will give us specific choreography, just so there is a clear answer to the question, “How do you dance a Sugar Push?”  But in the wider world, West Coast Swing invites a lot of very free variation.  At the end of that first measure, you can do a “touch, step,” a triple, or anything in between.  Focusing on beat 3, we can recognize a continuum, in terms of power, from weak to strong, from subtle to big.  You can— 

  • touch
  • tap
  • press
  • flick or kick (he might flick LIF of R; she might flick RIB of L)
  • hesitate/touch or hesitate/flick (3/&)
  • press/recover (producing a subtle triple with beat 4)
  • step/recover or step/XIB (producing a true triple with beat 4), or even consider a
  • kick/step/recover (producing a kick-triple with beat 4) 

In general, if you are moving (as in an Underarm Turn) or if you feel the need to adjust your position, then you might choose to dance a triple.  If you are still (as in the Sugar Push), the stronger options might seem to be too much, but again, it is up to you.  If you are feeling flamboyant, West Coast Swing allows you to let loose. 

Eight-Count Figures—

Just as we have a few basic rules for the six-count figures, so are there a few for the eight-count figures. 

  • On count 1, the man will move away from the woman, and the woman will move toward the man.
  • On count 4, the man moves toward, and the woman moves toward; they step together.
  • On count 6, the man moves toward, and the woman moves away.
  • On counts 7 & 8, the man and woman both dance in place. 

The fundamental or “signature” eight-count West Coast figure is the Whip Turn.  There are many different whip turns, such as the Wrapped Whip, Tummy Whip, Whip Inside Turn, Whip Outside Turn…  We’ve seen in the Passing figures that the woman dances about the same steps, and the man does different things to make the different figures.  In the Whip figures, the man dances about the same steps, and the woman varies her steps to make the different figures. 

In the Whip Turn, the man steps back with his left foot on count 1 and leads the woman forward.  On count 2, he steps forward R and a bit to his left to get out of the slot.  She steps forward on her left and turns to the right 1/2.  On counts 3 & 4, he dances a triple forward and to the outside of the circle.  He passes through the slot and gets himself out of the slot again, on the other side.  This can be thought of as a “paddle” step.  He is paddling around the woman.  Remember, in West Coast, the woman dances up and down in her slot, and the man dances around her.  While he is doing this, he uses his trail hand on her back to stop her progression and so lead her Coaster, which she dances pretty much in place.  She steps back right/close left, and forward right turning 1/2 right-face again.  At this point, both are facing reverse-line-of-dance, the man a little to her left on the outside of the circle.  In the second measure, he hooks his right behind his left, and she steps back left.  He steps side and forward left, and she steps back right.  The man’s forward component here is important to move the woman away from the man and regain the loose, open-facing position that we’ll need for the next figure.  Finally, on counts 7 & 8, both do their triples in place, an anchor or a coaster, or whatever the music tells you to do. 

By now, you have maybe heard too many times about the importance of the slot in West Coast Swing, but the slot is a big part of what makes it West Coast, and one way to respect the slot is for the woman to make sharp turns.  In a Whip Turn, if she turns a little on beat 2 and finishes that half-turn over the course of beats 3 & 4, she will end up looking circular and “jivey.”  Instead, try making the whole 1/2 turn, nice and sharp, on the “&” of count 2.  The man is going around you, but you are going around nothing.  You are sharp and in your slot.  You are facing RLOD on count 2 and facing LOD on the “&” of count 2.  Similarly, make the next half-turn sharply on the “&” of count 4.  You are dancing a Coaster.  Step back R/ close L on count 3.  On count 4, step forward R, and on 4& turn sharply 1/2 right-face.  You are squarely “in your slot.”


From the the Dixie Round Dance Council
(DRDC) Newsletter, July/August 2006.


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