In this article, we features a series of short video clips on West Coast swing technique. For instance, there is a clip on rolling count, connection, one track footwork, contra-body movement and other essential techniques. Essentially, the West Coast swing is the Cadillac of partner dances considered by many as the most difficult dance genre to learn. However, the basics and fundamentals are necessary to form a foundation for West Coast swing.
(Brandon Detty, West Coast swing dancer and teacher in San Diego, CA)
The West Coast swing dance is a living dance that is constantly evolving to fit contemporary music. For example, it works with many different types of music like Jazz, R&B, Blues, Soul, Pop, Rock, Top 40 and Ballads. Also, it continues to flourish because it is perfect for all ages of dancers with its fluid movement and the breadth of West Coast swing music. There are essentially three arenas of West Coast Swing: performance, competition and social dancing.
West Coast Swing Technique
Here are a few techniques to improve your West Coast swing:
1. Use a Action-Reaction or initiate-respond technique for lead/follow. This West Coast swing technique means the lead initiates the movement and the follow responds to the movement rather than doing it at the same time or trying to anticipate the movement. This involves perfecting your connection by using leverage and compression through matching resistance techniques. Video on leverage and compression.
2. Engage the lats (latissimus dorsi band of muscles under the shoulder blades) to keep the shoulders down and back and improve connection by moving from the center and not releasing the arms or shoulders. This West Coast swing technique creates better connection between dance partners.
3. Rolling heel leads for forward walks: flex the knee and trace the floor with the toe until it is one stride length forward then push off the supporting (sending) foot and do a quick flip of the foot to land with a soft heel lead. Roll from the heel through the whole foot until you reach the toe and repeat.
4. Lift the sternum skyward to pull up the ribcage without raising the shoulders. This will improve posture and balance plus achieve stretch through the body.
5. Contra body movement and focus your eyes on your partner and turn your upper torso toward your partner to achieve torque and conta body movement in passing movements especially. This helps us spot which diminishes dizziness when turning or spinning.
6. Use rolling count rather than straight count, e.g. &a1, &a2 rather than 1&2. If you don’t understand rolling count yet ask one of the West Coast swing dance instruction staff for a private lesson to learn the rolling count or check out the “Rolling Count” video with Brandon Detty. This is an advanced West Coast swing technique!
7. Ball flat footwork for triple steps (starter, anchor, etc.) using the knees and ankles properly by lifting and pressing into the floor with a ball-flat foot action. This is an important West Coast swing technique which allows the dancer to express the rolling count, for smoother movement, proper hip action and better aesthetics.
8. One-track walking technique for the follows forward walks. Instead of using two tracks like regular walking take your steps using one track. This keeps the legs closer together for both stability and improved aesthetics.
9. Always start on a downbeat followed by the upbeat. This is West Coast swing techniques is true for most dance genres. It is preferred by most dancers to start the dance on the first beat of an eight count phrase as well. Video on downbeats & upbeats.
10. Shaping Your West Coast Swing is important so that you incorporate contra body movements into your dancing. Additionally, top dancers using shaping in all the different types of dance.
Lastly, West Coast swing is a diverse dance genre that works for many different types of dance music like this Irish Swedish mix used for Brandon Detty & Yvonne Dodson’s routine to prepare for the U.S. Open Swing Championships in 2011.
We will be adding to this list of West Coast swing techniques in upcoming newsletters and blogs, so be sure check for future technique video clips for all the dance genres. Read more dance articles at Dance Talk and get new articles and dance tips weekly, sign up for the DanceTime newsletter here.
(Mark Pablo, West Coast swing dancer and teacher in San Diego, CA)
Technique Summary for West Coast Swing
West Coast swing technique is unique. It is important for the West Coast swing dancer to understand this unique way of moving and distinguish it from other forms of dance. Each dance has unique elements including Latin dance, smooth and nightclub dances like hustle and nightclub two step. However, the technique for West Coast swing is unique and unlike any other swing dances. The other swing dances include jitterbug, Lindy Hop, St. Louis Shag, Carolina shag, Balboa, Charleston Lindy hop and East Coast swing.
West Coast Swing Dancers to Watch
The West Coast Swing started locally in Southern California as the Western Swing in the 1950’s and 60’s. Eventually, the name was changed to West Coast Swing to distinguish it from a Country Western form of swing dancing.
Over the years, it has been popular ever since it evolved in the 1960’s throughout the 20th century. In the 21st century, the West Coast swing spread globally. Now, there are are Westies in many countries across the globe including Canada, Australia, UK, France, Brazil and more. The West Coast swing is a “living dance” that frequently changes stylistically along with contemporary music. Understandably, the West Coast swing’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade. The digital age makes it easier to be part of a world wide West Coast Swing community!
West Coast swing social dancing San Diego, circa 2013!