West Coast swing is a contemporary swing dance genre that was developed in the 1960’s on the west coast of the United States. It originated from the Lindy hop, a 1940’s dance that started at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in reponse to early jazz music with a swing beat. Swing dancing continued to evolve and split into several dances including the East Coast swing, collegiate shag, Balboa, jitterbug and Carolina shag. In the 1950’s a smooth form of swing developed in the Los Angeles area that was called Western swing. The name was later changed to West Coast swing. In the past few decades the West Coast swing has been influenced by several other dance genres like the disco hustle of the seventies, country western dancing in the nineties and salsa in the two-thousands. Eventually it spread across the country as swing conventions became more popular and with advent of media like video tape and now YouTube. In the latter part of the two-thousands the west coast swing dance went global and is now represented in France, England, Australia, Brazil, Russia and many other countries around the world.
The West Coast swing has been referred to as a “living dance” due to the fact that it is constantly evolving with contemporary music. In recent years, it has changed dramatically with musicality becoming more essential to the dance genre. It is one of the most innovative dance genres because it allows the dancer a lot of freedom of expression since it is based on two count rhythm units. It is unique as a dance genre due to its form of call and response between the lead and follow creating a dialogue between the dancers.
(Benji Schwimmer & Torri Smith @US Open Swing Champioships 2014, YouTube)
The West Coast Swing dance genre is one of the partner swing dance styles that originated from original swing dance, the Lindy Hop. The Lindy Hop developed in the mid-1920’s in Harlem, New York at the Savoy Ballroom during the Jazz Era. The jazz musicians inserted a swing beat, a type of syncopation, in the music and the dancers added this rhythm to their dancing.
West Coast Swing Dance Festivals & Competitions
(Brazilian Open 2014 – Diego Borges & Jessica Pacheco)
- Global WCS Calendar
- National Association of Swing Dance Events
- World Swing Dance Council
- Global Swing Deejays Website for WCS Music
- WCS Paris, France
- WCS in the UK
- Raw Connection WCS Gold Coast, Australia
West Coast Swing Dance History
Over time the original dance was referred to as “swing,” and it spread across the country into regional variations and swing dancing continued to evolve from that time forward with contemporary music. Each region of the country had its own variation of swing dancing like the St. Louis Shag, Carolina Shag and East Coast Swing.
In Southern California, Dean Collins and other swing dancers created a smooth style of Lindy Hop and swing dancing was featured in many Hollywood movies. The name was changed to Western Swing and then in the early 1960’s to West Coast Swing. In 1978, the West Coast Swing became the Official State Dance of California.
National WCS Competitions
(Gary McIntyre & Susan Kirklin@U.S. Open Swing Championships 2014)
- U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships
- Masters National Swing Dance Championships
- Young Adult Swing Dance Association
West Coast Swing Dance Composition
West Coast Swing is composed of walking and triple steps danced in a slot rather than in a circle. It uses walking steps instead of rock steps that are used in many other forms of swing like Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing and Jitterbug. A majority of the common patterns and figures use 6 beats or 8 beats but as the dancer becomes more accomplished beats and/or triple steps are added or eliminated to fit the music and desired expression for the dance. Many basics are composed of two walks on counts 1,2 followed by two triples for 3&4, 5&6 (or rolling count) for six count patterns and the insertion of two beats, an extra walk-walk between the triples for eight count patterns. Some swing dancers like to start with a 4-count starter step followed by a walk-walk. In the 1960’s and 70’s many dancers used a coast step for the last triple, which later changed to an anchor step.
(Swing Through the Ages Video Compilation)
WCS Basic Patterns include a 4-count starter step, left side pass, right side underarm pass, sugar push (push break), tuck turn, inside and outside rolls and whip variations (8 count).
West Coast Swing is danced to a wide variety of music genres including blues, jazz, rhythm & blues, soul, honky-tonk, pop, rock, C&W and medium tempo contemporary music including ballads. Tempos may have a broad range but contemporary dancers prefer a range of 100 to 130 beat per minute (BPM’s).
What makes West Coast Swing unique?
It is a living dance. Essentially, the movements that compose the dance continually evolve to better fit contemporary music while still maintaining its core fundamentals. The dance is an improvisational dance genre, designed to allow more freedom of expression than any other partner dance genre. The freedom to express is performed within the structure or framework of the dance.
Ben Morris & Jennifer Deluca@US Open Swing Championships 2013
Why is West Coast Swing the dancer’s dance? Why do accomplished dancers love this style of dance? Its complexity and the ability of the dancer for free expression are attractive elements of this dance. There have been attempts to codify or standardize the WCS for competition but this has been strongly resisted against, especially among social dancers but many competitors are also against too much conformity in this dance. Also, the wide use of compression, leverage and emphasis on core movement plus the stretch in the body movements add beauty and technique to the West Coast Swing.
Is West Coast Swing a difficult dance to learn?
The fundamentals are attainable with the proper instruction and drilling of the basics but the advanced level of West Coast swing takes a lot longer to grasp and acquire. Many dancers continue to work on this dance for decades. Even after the dancer has become accomplished it is necessary to periodically return to it to update the movements since it often changes dramatically through the decades. Here is a general Quick Guide To WCS Techniques.
Influences on the West Coast Swing
Skippy Blair and the Golden State Teachers Association (GSDTA) has been involved in the evolution of the West Coast Swing starting in the early 1960’s to the 21st century. She started dancing swing in the1938 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and won a Jitterbug Champion title in 1941 and was instrumental in the creation and promotion of the West Coast Swing to it becoming the California State dance. Skippy has won numerous awards including the Feather Award in 1995, for people who most influenced couples dancing for the year. Many of the world renowned West Coast Swing dancers, performers and teachers were mentored by Skippy and the GSDTA.
(Benji Schwimmer & Torri Smith@ US Open Swing Championships 2014
There were many changes from the early swing dances to the 1960’s early Western Swing through the name change and into the 21st century with new developments in swing like the introduction of “lyrical swing,” where dancers actually respond to the lyrics in a song. There have been considerable debate about what composes the West Coast swing among judges, coaches and teachers. Swing competition has had a huge affect on the dance in the two thousands through the present.
Three arenas of West Coast Swing
There are three major arenas of West Coast Swing: performance, competition and social dancing. The focus of the dancer for these three areas is quite different with very different goals.
For performance swing there must be attention to the beauty of the dance, the choreography, the picture lines, body movement and general high level of technique with regard to foot positions, arm styling and head position. Also, there is a story between the lead and follow, attention to fitting the dance to the musical piece. Many of the performers hired by the organizers of festivals and competitions as dance entertainers, entertaining the attendees at competitions around the world.
For competition one must adhere to the rules of competition, attention is given to connection with the partner, musicality, completing the required set of patterns, perfecting timing, showmanship and a certain amount of charisma for the audience and judges.
Social West Coast Swing dancing, great attention is given to lead/follow techniques, connection with different partner, adaptability, body movement and musicality.
West Coast Swing social at Pattie Wells’ Dancetime (2013)
West Coast Swing Goes Global
Here are a few of the countries where one can find West Coast Swing: France, England, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Norway, Romania, Latvia, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Korea and Belarus.
Articles On West Coast Swing
- Huffington Post’s “Learning to Wait: WCS Dancing Taught Me Patience”
- Ithaca west coast Swing Dance “WCS: History”
- Sonny Watson’s StreetSwing “WCS: Great Grand Daughter of Swing!”
- West Coast Swing dance Canada “WCS Global History”
- DanceTime.com’s West Coast Swing articles