Statement of West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing (WCS) is a form of Swing Dance that is identifiable by these primary characteristics: While this is NOT intended to be a full definition of WCS it is helpful in identifying its primary characteristics.
- The Follower travels forward on counts 1 and 2 of a pattern.
- West Coast Swing Patterns are danced in a Slot.
- WCS “Foundation” Patterns are based on; 6 beat passes, push break, open to closed and closed to open; 8 beat whips and a 4 beat starter step.
- WCS “Foundation” Patterns are comprised of double and triple rhythms.
- Each WCS Swing Pattern ends with an Anchor; a body connection that gives the leader control to begin the next pattern.
FAQ – Swing Content Within West Coast Swing Routines
Q. How can you identify when swing content is lacking within a WCS Swing Routine?
A. Swing Content can be identified with this thought in mind. Every pattern has a beginning and an ending. That ending is the final two beats of the pattern, an “anchor.” The anchor can be any rhythm; A triple, (the foundation rhythm), a double, 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 to a trained eye and felt by the dancers. An anchor is a feeling that ends the pattern. That feeling is “resistance” At a fundamental level the anchor is in opposition of the partner’s weight, creating resistance and counterbalance.
To train your eye, watch a swing dance routine on video. Try it with the music off so you are not distracted. Practice indentifying the beginning and the ending of a pattern. Note when the pattern anchors and the new pattern begins. The pattern count continues until the pattern anchors. You can expect, in many routines today, the pattern may go on anywhere from 4 counts to 32 counts or possibly more. Just when you think the pattern has ended, you may discover, the pattern checks forward without an anchor. Therefore, the pattern count continues. What looks like a push break or tuck is executed in 4 counts and checks forward on count 5 of what would have been a 6-count pattern if anchored. If it checks forward, the pattern has not ended, the count continues until the recognizable end or anchor. Pattern count and beat count are not the same. In this exercise, you are counting the pattern sequence looking to identify WCS pattern beginnings and endings.
Q. So, is this in violation of Swing Content?
A. Today, routines are executed this way to keep speed, energy, drive, and excitement in the routine and to more easily follow the 8’s of the music vs the effort it takes to put 6/8/10 count anchored patterns together to major phrases in such a way to stay true to WCS foundation. A dancer’s routine music plays a huge role. Slow tempos or lack of rhythmic beat in “certain” songs make it nearly impossible to anchor a WCS pattern. Instead, speed changes and continuous sequences with the dancer following the lyrical or melodic portion of the music for a more interpretive dance. Is it a violation? It has become an accepted and or tolerated practice in many circles or is touted as having the “Essence of Swing” WCS is primarily danced and taught in 6 and 8 beat patterns and pattern extensions of 2 or 4 beats. In WCS Routines, most contain long run on sequences with very few anchors. You may see as little as 1 or 2 fully executed 6 count patterns in a Swing Routine. And the dancer has somehow gotten the idea that they should be done at the most basic and obvious execution, such as plain push breaks or tucks, with obvious triples on the anchor. As a judge, I begin to question the quality of the swing I am seeing. If the dancers are in split weight on their anchors, the degree of leverage is lessened, with the look and feel of swing missing. If there was little effort to syncopate, decorate, or contrast within the pattern it can lack substance or quality of swing.
Q. Are you saying then, that today’s routines that have long running sequences without anchors is in violation of swing content?
A. It certainly would appear so. There are certainly gray areas and when a fabulous champion level dancer performs at an exceptional level, this is when the “Essence” of WCS may sway a judge to accept or tolerate a less Swingable Routine. To violate competitors for lack of swing content is a rough way to educate. I prefer to educate vs. violate, but we don’t have open forum discussions with dancers, only scores or lame notes on a score sheet which mostly go unseen or misunderstood by the competitor. I dislike the word “violate” immensely. Judges are not the swing police. There is a lack of agreement of swing content interpretation among judges. Education and collaboration would be wonderful.
Q. Why then, do we have 60%, 80% and 90% requirements for swing content?
A. Because we make rules for what is lacking. But the rules can be vague. It is my opinion you cannot accurately measure swing content by percentage on the fly while judging. So, it seems a bit silly to use percentages. I tend to look for anchors, and WCS pattern definition overlaid onto the music to rely on swing content decisions. Certain tempos make it nearly impossible to swing. Also, how much time within the routine is spent on drops, weight support, and skater spins and musical pantomimes vs. a balance of WCS dancing. For example, if the music says shake your booty down-down-down and you do this standing still for 8+beats what part of this has to do with WCS? This is for “Show” Show must have a balance of good WCS attached to it. After your tricks, drops, and booty shaking, and long game of twister sequences what is left of the substance of the dance? Is this WCS or entertainment at the expense of the dance?
Q. You mention the “Essence of Swing” what is the meaning of this phrase?
A. Ah, yes, a somewhat vague term. Here is how I interpret this phrase. There are some identifiable characteristics of West Coast Swing, such as; partner connection, stretch, slot, follower walking forward on count 1. Uses familiar turns and spin patterns. Uses doubles, singles, delays, holds, and triple rhythms and some syncopations. The routine is choreographed primarily to follow music first. Long choreographed sequences that check forward in a “rock-n-go” vs anchor to continue a pattern sequence. Anchors are generally absent. An example might be a competitor who uses a very slow blues tempo. However, a foundation 6 count WCS pattern is executed so slow that it does not fit the music. Try to do an 8-count whip to a really slow blues tempo. Doesn’t work. The tempo dictates something else. This is when speed changes, rock-n-go, and long choreographed sequences ending on a major phrase work best. But the blues music may have great rhythmic flow and rolling triples and syncopations that work well. However, 6 or 8 count patterns that anchor do not work well. Now, take a piece of music with a slow tempo, unlike blues, that lacks a rhythmic beat, with the emphasis on the melodic or lyrical flow, you still cannot execute a 6 or 8 count basic pattern, because once again it is too slow. This type of music may only dictate holds, delayed rhythms, and long interpretative dance sequences with familiar turns and spins. This is where you are less likely to even see the “Essence” of WCS Swing. It may look pretty but it does not “swing” by any definition.
Author copyright Sharlot Bott 2017