“There have been strong efforts to standardize or codify the dance in order to adapt it for competition and a judging panel but swing dancers are very resistant to any attempts to take away the freedom of expression focus of the dance. It is sometimes called the dancers dance since it always the greatest amount of freedom in the social partner dance arena, especially for the follows. ”
People probably danced in prehistoric times in caves but most of the known social partner dances developed in the last thousand years. In fact, mid-nineteen century Viennese waltz, where dancers danced in an embrace facing each other is less than two hundred years old. It was scandalous the time of Minuets but eventually became the norm for social partner dancing. While some dances with a rich traditional past change very little, for instance the Viennese waltz, others are in a constant state of evolution like West Coast swing. The West Coast swing has continued to evolve since its origin in the 1960’s to the present. The West Coast swing is sometimes referred to as a living dance because it constantly changes to fit contemporary music and culture.
Lindy hop was the first swing dance. It originated in the 1920’s at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and sprouted into different branches of swing dancing including jitterbug, collegiate shag, jive and East Coast swing. In the 1950’s, it was called Western swing but eventually became known simply as West Coast swing. The jitterbug, also known as East Coast single rhythm swing, was very popular during the Big Band era with its faster tempo swing music . Eventually, the tempo slowed down and a syncopation was added to the rhythm which included a split beat. The dancers responded with a triple step to better fit the music of the era.
In the early 1960’s, West Coast swing was popular on the West Coast especially in Southern California in the Los Angeles area but soon spread across the United States. West Coast swing dance clubs were starting up in almost every major city about around 1962 when the song Green Onions by Booker T. & the MG’s was a hit. In the 1960’s and 70’s, West Coast swing was danced to many different types of music including R&B, soul and blues. It acquired a more upright posture and was danced in a narrower area called a slot. The Lindy Hop receded in time and eventually vanished until it was brought back when some swing dancers convinced Frankie Manning to come out of retirement during the swing revival in the late nineties and early two-thousands. In essence, Lindy Hop died but was brought back in its classic. The Lindy Hop has also undergone a few different evolutions like the Hollywood style and the L.A. Lindy Hop versus the Savoy style. A world champion Lindy hop dancer, Nick Williams, described the current fashion as a generic form that almost everyone around the globe now dances.
Disco music hit the scene in the mid to late 1970’s with the upsurge of the discotheques when a new dance genre hit the night clubs, the Hustle. The Hustle dance and music heavily influenced West Coast swing with its wraps, free spins and lines and is still influential in the evolution of West Coast swing. Other types of music in the seventies and eighties included rock, soul and funk including songs by Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and James Brown.
The West Coast swing went through minor adjustments during the eighties and early nineties like a changing slot length, changes in footwork variations, timing variations like the 1,2, &34, 5,6 and the hitch kicks plus the Texas push influences. Skippy Blair and the Golden State Teachers Association produced books, pamphlets and videos on guidelines for West Coast swing teaching like the Unit System and Rolling Count where the beats are counted &a1, &a2, etc. with each weighted step divided into three parts: prepare to step, place the foot, put weight on the foot is one way to describe some of the ideas that surfaced during this period. The unevenness of the split beat was emphasized, so instead of splitting the down beats equally on the 1&, the second step is delayed and actually arrives on the “a”, as in 1&a 2. Again this adaptation happened as a result of close scrutiny of the music and much of the real swing music is split this way.
The West Coast swing underwent a dramatic change from the mid two-thousands to present day where focus has shifted from pattern sequences to a concentration on movement, timing, body mechanics and dancing from the core including emphasis on core strengthening. Features like musicality, lyrical expression and freestyle form have been incorporated into the always evolving West Coast swing. There have been strong efforts to standardize or codify the dance in order to adapt it for competition and a judging panel but swing dancers are very resistant to any attempts to take away the freedom of expression focus of the dance. It is sometimes called the dancers dance since it always the greatest amount of freedom in the social partner dance arena, especially for the follows. A more standardized form has become common as West Coast swing competitions flourish across the United States and across the globe in places like Australia, France, Britain, Canada and Brazil. Some dancers have dedicated years of their lives to performing, competing and creating beautiful routines to compete in the showcase and classic divisions at the competitions. This brought them some fame among their peers and created larger West Coast swing communities across the country and the world.
West Coast swing lives. In its current form, it can be danced to any medium tempo music including blues, jazz, R&B, soul, pop, rock, disco and ballads. The West Coast swing continues to adapt to contemporary music, dance and cultural influences including hip-hop, salsa, hustle, jazz and country western. The dance is alive and flourishing around the world.