To learn West Coast swing in an ideal setting would require a dance hall with great music and a patient but experienced partner. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find these elements. In order to get started, the following basics can get the novice swing dancer started.
Learn West Coast Swing Basics
West Coast swing is characterized by two basic elements: the sugar push and the anchor step. Unlike its cousin East Coast Swing Dancing, West Coast swing has less flamboyant moves, and has also been called the "sophisticated swing." The dynamic between partners is flirtatious and coyly sexual, with a smooth, jazzy feel to it. It is a dance of subtle grace and elegant twisting seduction.
Breaking Apart the Sugar Push
The basic step is the sugar push, which for the lead is as follows (beat by beat):
- Back on the left
- Back on the right
- Tap the left next to the right (also known as the "triple step")
- Forward on the left
- Anchor step (covering two beats)
- Anchor step part two
These steps are then reversed (back on the right, etc) for the second half of the sugar push. In some ways this will seem like the basic step for the East Coast swing. However, aside from the triple-step coming at the end of the rock back, the other main difference is the addition of the Anchor Step - a little mini step in itself.
Breaking Apart the Anchor Step
The anchor step is used at the end of every basic pattern used to learn West Coast swing at first. When more complex steps are learned, the anchor step is replaced by "open breaks" to allow more freedom for improv patterns. The anchor step is so named because it should be performed with a sense of the foot being "anchored" to the floor. The three parts of the step are performed within the beats of "five-and-six" at the end of the sugar push, and are as follows for the lead:
- Put weight on the right foot, instep behind the heel of the left
- Shift weight onto the left foot keeping it "anchored" to the floor
- Without moving the right foot, shift weight back onto it
The follow's part would be the same, but with the left and right feet reversed.
Moving Beyond the Basics
There are many, many different patterns and movements in West Coast swing. The patterns mainly include different types of turns for both the man and the woman.
- Sugar Push Swivels
- Quick Kicks
- Slick Whips
- The Spur
- Ooooh Baby
- Batta Bing
- Batta Boom
Obviously the moves are not named in ways that are necessarily intuitive to the moves performed (with the possible exception of "Quick Kicks"). However, there are several basic moves that are not only easy to describe but also borrow from other types of dancing. There are two ways to perform any dance move in West Coast swing, however: open and closed. Open means that at least one hand on each dancer will be free as the move is performed; closed has the dancers holding each other in either a standard dance frame or an "extended" frame (holding hands at roughly arms length).
Another concept to use when trying to learn West Coast swing is the idea of "slots." These refer to the areas within the dancers' frame of movement where movement takes place - i.e., moving someone "within" the slot into a turn. Usually the turns are performed within six-beat counts.
Some examples of open position moves are:
- Underarm pass: The follow is led under the lead's right arm to the other end of the slot.
- Left side pass: The follow is led to to pass across the lead's left.
- Push Break: Holding one or two hands, the lead moves the follow through the slot and then back again to the original position.
- Tuck turn: The opposite of an underarm pass, the tuck turn is led like a left side pass but has the follow turning under the lead's left arm.
Closed position moves also are usually in six counts.
- Return to close: Used at the end of other moves, the follow takes six counts to come 3/4 way around the lead and return to basic position.
- Starter step: Used in the beginning of a dance (or when the steps get muddled), these two triple steps help the dancers sync up their rhythm, like a nonverbal "5-6-7-8..."
Throw out: Taking the follow from closed to open position, the lead starts this by performing two triple steps as if doing a sugar push, but instead of rocking together the follow is "thrown out" into an extended one-handed dance position.
Watch the Pros Perform the West Coast Swing
A Dance Worth Learning
Though not quite as popular as East Coast swing, it is well worth the time of any avid club dancer to learn West Coast swing. In the studio, in the club, or even just from a friend and a TV reality show, it remains a popular pastime.