Sharlot Bott

Statement of West Coast Swing Identity – FAQ

Every form of Social Dance has an Identity, a recognizable form and foundation.  West Coast Swing (WCS) is a form of Swing Dance. It has 3 primary unique characteristics different from other Swing Dances, and can be further defined by its Structural and Musical Identity. West Coast Swing is Inherently Interpretative and has artistic and creative freedom within its form and foundation, a reason we love it so much.

Primary Identifiable Characteristics

  1. Danced in Slot – Shared and Controlled.
  2. Follower travels forward on counts 1 and 2 of a pattern vs. rock steps.
  3. Anchors – All WCS Swing Patterns end with a 2 beat Anchor; an “away” body connection.


West Coast Swing Structural Identity (Includes Primary Characteristics)


West Coast Swing Musical Identity


FAQ – Swing Content Within West Coast Swing Routines

Q. How do you identify swing content in a WCS Swing Routine?

A. Look for all 3 primary characteristics and its structural identity:

Every WCS pattern has a beginning and an ending. Count your pattern and know how long your pattern takes until it ends. It ends when the pattern anchors.

It is danced in a slot. The follower walks forward on 1,2. May walk or turn forward. The pattern anchors at the final 2 beats of the pattern. You will see recognizable whips and passes.

WCS is built on 6 count patterns, and 8 count whips and variation patterns. Those patterns often contain extensions to 10, or 12, count.  In routines, you see a number of further extended pattern sequences. They must have a clear ending, an anchor.

The anchor can be any rhythm; A triple, (the foundation rhythm), a single, a syncopation, a delayed rhythm, or holds.

The anchor has resistance, followed by a stretch, that allows the leader to begin a new pattern. This is visible and felt by the dancers. It is like a period at the end of a sentence, a punctuation ending the pattern.

A fundamental anchor has each dancers center behind the heel of their forward foot in opposition of their partner’s weight, creating resistance and or leverage.

Train your eye to recognize when the patterns do not contain anchors. This is usually due to long choreographed sequences using check steps vs. anchors. Ok in moderation but if your sequence runs into 30, or 40 beat patterns, you may lose the identity of WCS. Especially if done throughout the routine and the pattern sequences are not recognizable WCS patterns.

The music choice and tempo should fit WCS’s structure. It must not prevent the dancer from executing its primary characteristics. If the music choice is best expressed to another dance; Rumba, Samba, Cha-Cha or Night Club 2 step, its best not to choose that music. If WCS has to be altered or compromised from its characteristics, structurally and musically, it will likely not meet swing content requirements.

Q. When might a judge issue a warning or a violation of Swing Content?

A. A warning might come with a lack of anchored patterns and lengthy pattern sequences but some WCS characteristics can be identified. A violation might occur when the entire routine is focused only on musical expression, 4 and 8 beat choreographies to fit mini, minor, and major phrases. It lacks any WCS identity to its dance structure. A dancer’s routine music can play a role. Slow tempos or lack of rhythmic beat in “certain” songs make it difficult to incorporate an anchored WCS patterns. Lyrical, melodic or slow songs typically promote rhythms made up of delays and holds and are absent of triple rhythms or syncopations. There is posing and marking positions, turns and spins, and continuous sequences with the dancer following the lyrical or melodic structure or words of the music for a more interpretive dance. There is a lack of agreement of swing content interpretation among judges and dancers. Education and collaboration would be wonderful.

Q. How can you know you have 60%, 80% and 90% requirements for swing content?

A.  It’s difficult to accurately measure swing content by percentage. I rely on my training and ability to recognize West Coast Swing, especially for its structure. If you choreograph WCS patterns overlaid onto your music and make sure you have a balance of tricks, weight support, drops, side by side, you should be good. 20 % can be anything you want within the rules.  You must not alter the dance just for musical expression, you must fit WCS to the music. When a routine does this expertly, it is not a struggle at all to recognize WCS’s identity. Your job is to make it easy to see the dance, we should not have to look so hard for it and feel like we are watching adagio or contemporary dance.  Show over substance is like eating overly frosted cake. After a bite or two, you tire of the frosting and just want the cake.

Q. You mention the “Essence of Swing” what does this mean?

A. Ah, yes, a somewhat vague term. Essence speaks to some identifiable characteristics of West Coast Swing, such as; partner connection, stretch, slot, leverage and musical identity, such as blues. It’s choreographed primarily to follow the 8’s of the music, 4-beat and 8 beat pattern structure to fit mini, minor, and major musical phrasing. It is built on long choreographed sequences that check forward in a “rock-n-go” vs anchor to continue a pattern sequence. Anchored patterns are scarce. Pattern acceleration is common, especially if the tempo is too slow to anchor a pattern. We recognize its musical connection to WCS and some of the beginnings of what looks like WCS patterns but are not punctuated with a clear ending. It may look awesome, and is performed at an exceptional technical ability but it does not identify to its structural make up and sometimes to its musical identity.


There have been some great examples of WCS routines. One in particular is demonstrated perfectly, by Kyle Redd and Sarah Vann Drake’s, Johnny B. Goode Routine, (YouTube). This was a pure WCS routine. WCS dance overlaid on WCS music. It has recognizable 6, 8 10, 12. count patterns, a couple of longer sequences, uses some rock n go or check steps to facilitate speed changes, always ending in anchors. It had drops, weight support, and enough to keep it exciting.  Their rhythm variations, syncopated rhythms, and style, all fabulous. Plenty of whips, stretch, leverage, follower walking forward, stayed in a shared and controlled slot. It was a faster tempo, (160 bpm). Faster than most routines today but they handled the speed expertly, never compromising the dance.  The same can apply today with current music trends, just dance the dance and make sure your music best expresses WCS. Anyone can interpret music, but not everyone can West Coast Swing.

West Coast Swing Patterns – Common Basic Patterns and all Variations on these patterns to include in your WCS identity

6 count patterns: – Left Side Pass, Under Arm Turn, Under Arm with Hand Change, Right Side Pass, Turning Basic, Overturned Turning Basic, Throw Out, Tuck Turn, Push Break, Basic Catch, Under Arm Cut-Off, Left Side Roll, 8 Count Patterns: Whip, Closed Whip, Reverse Whip, Whip with Outside Turn, Whip with an Inside Turn. Walking Whip. 2-hand Whip. Overturned Whip, Starter Step (4 beat) or extended for phrasing. Many creative inventions from these basics exist. Just look for the identifiable root of the pattern.

Author ©Sharlot Bott 2017

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