Statement of West Coast Swing Identity – FAQ
Every form of Social Dance has an Identity, a recognizable Rhythm Patten. West Coast Swing (WCS) is a form of Swing Dance. It is an American Rhythm Dance. Its Rhythm Pattern is primarily identified as Double, Triple, Triple (6 count) and Double, Triple, Double, Triple (8 count). It has 3 primary unique characteristics different from other Swing Dances. West Coast Swing is inherently interpretative with artistic and creative freedom within its form and foundation, a reason we love it so much. “West Coast Swing is more than sum of its parts and not to be separated from its “whole”
Primary Identifiable Characteristics
- Danced in Slot – The slot is shared and controlled.
- Follower travels forward on counts 1 and 2 of the pattern vs. rock steps.
- Anchor – All WCS Swing Patterns end with a 2 beat Anchor; an “away” center to center connection that is felt.
The “Bigger” West Coast Swing Identity Picture (Includes Primary Characteristics)
- Follower Walks Forward on counts 1-2 of the pattern.
- Stretches on the &a immediately following the anchor giving the leader the ability to begin a new pattern.
- Uses Resistance, Compression, Leverage, and Connection
- Built on 6 and 8 count rhythm patterns – passes, push breaks, whips; open to closed, and closed to open position patterns. Advancing these root patterns with spins and turns, rhythm variations, and style variations.
- Incorporates 2 and 4 beat pattern extensions to phrase music and/or to interpret choreography.
- Comprised of 2-beat rhythm units, doubles and triples at a basic level. Incorporates all 2- beat rhythm units; singles, doubles, triples, delays, holds, and syncopated rhythm units.
West Coast Swing Musical Identity
- Danced to 4/4 Time Music
- Pulses the Upbeat (2,4,6,8)
- Is best expressed when using music that compliments and encourages the dancer to express their “physical” WCS movement, rhythms, and timing in harmony with the music and with their partner.
- WCS is not specific to one type of music or speed. Typically, Blues, Pop, R&B, Swing are all common genres. Fast and Slow tempos can be difficult to execute WCS and requires expertise.
- An expert WCS dancer can dance with the music off and make you hear music by using “Rolling Count” movement. &a1&a2, &a3&4 and so on.
- WCS is NOT “best” expressed to a Samba beat which pulses the downbeat. Nor music that is better suited for other social dances, Samba, Rumba, Cha Cha, Salsa, Nite-club 2 Step, and Zouk. Most dancers do not dance WCS well within these genres. Are there “certain” songs that work? Yes. Understanding other types of social dances and their basic rhythm pattern and music is important.
- MUSIC MATTERS – In any music genre it can be “song specific” that makes it appropriate for WCS. Just because it is Swing Music, does not mean it’s good to WCS too. The question might be, “Is this song better for another social dance?”
FAQ – Swing Content Within West Coast Swing Routines
Q. How does one ensure they have swing content in a WCS Swing Routine?
A. Look for the 3 primary characteristics and its rhythm units and rhythm patterns; Do you recognize these main characteristics? Note: This answer goes into great length to help you recognize WCS.
An Exercise: Watch your own routine or even a Strictly Swing or JnJ. Every WCS pattern has a beginning and an ending. Count the pattern, not the music in this exercise. Turn the volume down to make it easier. Count how many beats your pattern takes until it ends. It ends when the pattern anchors. A period on the sentence. Is it slotted or circular or lost and floating around the floor lacking direction or return to the slot? You should see the follower walk or move forward on counts 1, 2 of the “pattern” vs rock-step. The beginning of the pattern stretches on the &a before count 1, and is recognized through center to center connection by both the lead and the follow. The pattern ends when it anchors at the final 2 beats of the pattern. The anchor is communicated via the center to center connection in away leverage or resistance. It is seen and felt. All Rhythms are acceptable. Triples are basic. Did you learn anything by watching routines? One might discover that their pattern sequences were run on sentences lasting as long at 30 to 40 beats in some cases.
WCS is built on 6 count patterns, including pushes and passes, and 8 beat whips and extensions thereof. Those patterns often contain extensions anywhere from 2 to 4 beats. In routines, you see a number of further extended pattern sequences to add continuous speed or excitement to the performance. This should not be without purpose of music or performance and should return to shorter recognizable WCS patterns and rhythms often within the routine to maintain its integrity and Identity.
The anchor is 2 beats of music. It can be any rhythm; A triple, (the foundation rhythm), a single, a syncopation, a delayed rhythm, or hold. The anchor has resistance, followed by a stretch, that allows the leader to begin a new pattern. This is visible and mutually felt by the dancers. It is like a period at the end of a sentence, a punctuation ending the pattern.
A “basic” anchor has each dancers center behind the heel of their forward foot (3rd foot position) in opposition of their partner’s weight, the first technique to “feeling” resistance and or leverage. This is key to the feeling and look of Swing within WCS.
Train your eye to recognize when the patterns do not contain anchors. Did you see a 4-count pattern with a check and go forward (rock-n-go) instead of ending it in a 2-beat anchor. Choreographed sequences using check steps vs. anchors are acceptable in moderation. This influence is from “Texas Push” another form of Swing that recognizes 4 beat patterns. However, this statement is specific to West Coast Swing. The only 4 beat WCS pattern is a Starter Step. WCS “does” recognize 4 beat pattern extensions. However, if all patterns are extended by 2 or 4 beats or more, you may lose the identity. Especially absent 6 count patterns.
The song choice and tempo should allow the dancer to execute WCS pattern structure. Music that is too fast or too slow or not suitable to its rhythm pattern structure can force the dancer to alter the dance. Music 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 Nite Club 2 step, it’s best not to choose that music.
Q. When might a judge issue a warning or a violation of Swing Content?
A. At any time, based on “if” a judge really understands “routine” choreography. Demand a judging panel that has WCS routine choreography experience. Not all judges are qualified to judge routines. We have many judges who have never put together choreography nor danced a choreographed routine. It should be a mandatory judges skill set. Our community of judges are not in agreement on swing content and swingable music. It is not something you can take a few hours of training and get a certificate and call yourself a “qualified” judge. WCS is not a simple entry level dance and WCS routine judging is NOT black and white.
Your job, as a competitor, is to give a judge “no doubt.” That is the best you can hope for. Make it “Swing” as much as you understand “Swing.” Seek coaching from proven “Swing” experts, those who know it well and can help you include it first and foremost. For many judges, if the dancer fails to demonstrate the “physical aspects” of WCS, leverage, resistance, compression, center to center connection, body flight, and stretch before leading, you may be warned or violated for this alone. For this judge,(me) the technique and “quality of swing” does not always happen until the WCS dancer gains more experience. I do expect to see knowledge of WCS pattern structure and rhythm units.
WCS is not intended to be an 8-count dance. The percentage of 6 count patterns far exceeds 8 count patterns in its basic curriculum. To leave out a social dance’s recognized rhythm pattern puts you into “unknown territory”
Some judges warn and violate for lack of triples. Anchors do not have to be triples. Although they are crucial to the growth of the WCS dancer. There are many places where triples do occur within the pattern. When your feet are lost or just stepping or holding when a triple would be a better fit you could give the judge the impression you don’t know foundation rhythms. You must know this dance by its 2-beat rhythm unit and its rhythm pattern first. Then you must understand when and how you may alter rhythms, by syncopating, delaying, holding or varying from the basic rhythms. A judge, with a keen eye, can tell if you are varying rhythms with intent and experience or as an appropriate reaction to music or if you are lost with no regard for where and what your feet are doing.
Routines are not basic. You elevate WCS patterns by adding footwork 2 beat rhythm unit variations and style variations, including spins, turns, speed changes, directional changes and the dynamic of action and reaction of the partners to create “body flight.” Creative interpretation is limitless within its foundation. Absent its foundation patterns and rhythms, you are in “interpretive” musical dance territory and likely compensating the dance for poor music choices.
Ideally, A dancer’s routine “music” should be tried out by dancing it before choreography. Can you do WCS patterns to the song you are considering?
The dancers “Swing” is a physical “feeling” created between the partners. We are not musicians and do not count the same. Musicians count 4/4 time music in 4 beat measures. Dancers count in 8’s. Using the Movement Count, i.e. Rolling Count, &a1&a2, &a3&a4, &a5&a6, &a7&a8 allows for controlled movement within each 2 beat unit. A WCS dancer executes its Rhythm Pattern to the music. They work together.
Weight Support, Lifts, and Ground Moves. If you are pushing the envelope of weight support, (or lifts in Showcase) and the more recent latest trend of ground contact, you may not meet swing content. Don’t let trend dominate your dance. Knee slides, knee spins, floor rolls, rollovers and lifts are meant to compliment the dance not dominate it.
Q. How can you know you have 60%, 80% and 90% requirements for swing content?
A. You can count your WCS patterns in your routine. This might give you an idea or starting point of how much WCS structure you have and come up with a percentage. A judge cannot accurately measure swing content by percentage while watching live. They are only guessing. Unless you watch it on video a number of times to come up with a percentage calculation. Even then, “who” is interpreting the measurement to include in the calculation gets messy. How expert are they? Either you have it or you don’t have it or you are in a grey area. A “qualified” judge relies on their training, their experience as a WCS routine dancer, and their ability to recognize West Coast Swing by how well they themselves know the dance and understand routine choreography. A good judge is also a master teacher of the dance and should be able to advise and correct what is wrong or whatever penalty they impose. If they cannot do that, they should not judge.
If you choreograph WCS patterns onto your music and make sure you have a balance of weight support, drops, or side by side, you should be good. 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, anyone watching should not have to look so hard for it and feel like we are watching adagio or another 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, rhythmic footwork. They may use blues with very slow tempos that are difficult to WCS swing too. Because of the speed, it’s choreographed primarily to follow the 8’s of the music’s. The dancer uses 4-beat and 8 beat pattern structure to fit mini, minor, and major musical phrasing first. 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 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 by top level dancers but it does not identify to its structural identity and sometimes to its musical identity. Expert level WCS dancers CAN pull this off. They have the years of experience and ability to dance “outside the box” and project the “essence” of the dance. Less experienced WCS dancers, miss the rhythmic flow and cannot translate through their feet.
Q. Is it just that today’s WCS has evolved and the older generation thinks it should be the same as it was 30 years ago?
A. West Coast Swing has always been a progressive dance. It has survived music trends and the influences of other social dances. No one wants to take it back in time. However, due to its growth and YouTube visualization, we are seeing dancers with a lack of WCS education emerge from this Media and other dance disciplines and only learn or use some aspects of the dance. I for one, do not wish to dance like I did 30 years ago. My style has evolved with music, other dance influences and trends. But it is still the same curriculum. If today’s dancers wish to change its structure, then perhaps they should write a new curriculum and rename their new dance. WCS can be “sensual” not necessarily outright “sexual” Anyone can be sexy, not everyone can West Coast Swing.
West Coast Swing is a beautiful dance. It is complimentary too many genres of music. There is no reason to change it from what it is. Don’t let music redefine the dance. Music will change and so will the way we “style” our WCS dance.
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). Many creative inventions from these basics exist. These pattern can be extended by 2+ beats. Just look for the identifiable root of the WCS pattern.
This article is a living document and updated often. Should you have questions or need clarification, please contact me through Facebook IM.
Author ©Sharlot Bott 2017 – update June 2019 – Update July 2019.