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West Coast Swing

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West Coast Swing

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West Coast Swing (WCS) is a partner dance derived from Lindy Hop. It has the soul of a street dance but has been tamed by ballroom dance studios. Within the spectrum of partner dances, WCS is one of the most difficult and one of the most improvisational.

It is easily recognized by a distinctive elastic look that results from its narrow slot.



It is believed that the origins of the WCS are in Savoy style Lindy. Dean Collins moved to California in 1930s and introduced the dancing scenes there to Lindy Hop, which that took a firm hold on the West Coast through the 30s and 40s. When swing fell out of mainstream's consideration as pop music around the 50s and was replaced by rockabilly, dancers on the West Coast began using swing moves to the new pop music, thus changing the dance and bringing about the variation now known as West Coast Swing.

Step sheets from ballroom studios reveal that this particular style was known under different names, such as "Sophisticated Swing" and "Western Swing", until it took on the name "West Coast Swing".

In 1988, West Coast Swing was pronounced the Official State Dance of California (see external links).

West Coast Swing vs. Lindy Hop

West Coast Swing is believed to have evolved from Lindy Hop, though both have evolved into different dances for different musical tastes since the fork. There is still a large amount of crossover between the two dances and between the various styles.

The key differences of WCS from Lindy Hop are:


The follower travels back and forth along a shoulder width rectangle, called the slot, with respect to the leader. The leader is more stationary but will move in and out of the slot depending on the pattern led. A general rule is that the leader leaves the slot only to give way for the follower to pass him.

Various reasons have been given for the slotted style. One reason is that when all followers dance in lines, club owners could pack many more dancers onto the floor. Another reason was that in Hollywood, film makers wanted dancers to stay in the same plane, to avoid going in and out of focus.


WCS was originally danced to sixteen count Blues music, rather than the |Jazz from the early part of the 20th century. In practice, WCS may be danced to almost any music in 4/4 time. Such diverse musical genres as Soul, Funk, Rock and Roll, Pop, and Disco may be found in a typical evening of WCS dancing. In recent years, most WCS venues have seen a greater proportion of contemporary music played as opposed to blues. While some may lament the departure of WCS from its roots, others view this trend as another step in the continued evolution of the dance.

Classic WCS

The style of WCS that matches the "classic" WCS music featured by swung eighths. In this style the "split-beat" steps are typically counted as: "1 a2"; "3 a4"; "a3 4"; etc. Here "a" denotes the intermediate beat "swung" away from the strict middle position and splitting the beat approximately 2:1. For the comparison, the "a" in "1a2" of Samba rhythm splits the quarter note 3:1, i.e., it "splits off" a 1/16, so it is "straight" in the sense of binary note duration nomenclature.

Funky WCS

A more contemporary style of WCS that matches American pop music, which has square rhythms. In this style the "split-beat" steps may well be counted in strict time: "1&2"; "3&4"; "&34"; etc., to match the music.

The Classic WCS elements of standard step patterns were modified or replaced. For example, the anchor step, the cornerstone of the classic WCS, is often replaced by hook-replace-side triple-step. This was a short lived replacement, however, as it was realized that this terminal step destroyed any semblance of connection that a proper anchor step provided. Better staying power was afforded body motions such as ripples and pops, which some professional dancers have incorporated as a permanent part of their styling.

The "Funky WCS" classification in recent years has fallen by the wayside with the communal realization that WCS done to contemporary music is no different from WCS done to straight up blues. With the exception of footwork, funky and classic styling may be performed to any genre of music.

"True" WCS vs. ballroom WCS

Here lies an ironic controversy. It is argued that WCS in its modern form was documented and elaborated by Lauré Haile of Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance Studios (franchise). Afterwards it broke away to evolve on its own. A renewed interest in WCS encouraged ballroom studios to include it in their curricula.

Unfortunately, the original technique and style of this swing dance is being levelled out by the "averaged" ballroom technique of mass consumption, as it happened with many other dances such as Samba, Cha Cha Cha, and East Coast Swing. While abuse of improperly taught Cuban hip motion in "ballroom WCS," lack of understanding of swung eighths, and dancing rehearsed patterns strung one after another without paying much attention to musical phrasing are among frequent complaints of "true" WCS dancers, the main bone of contention is the Coaster Step variation of the anchor step.

The Coaster Step was actually in vogue during the early days of WCS when the dance closely resembled Lindy in connection and style. As WCS evolved further, it was found that the Coaster Step was detrimental to the connection between lead and follow, hence the ascension of the now ubiquitous anchor step where both partners step and end up with one foot behind and to the side of the other. However, some ballroom studios continue to teach WCS with coaster steps as termination steps due to the fact that the instruction they choose to hew to (i.e. videotapes that are bought to teach the instructors) have ideas long dismissed by the general WCS community.

Beginning dancers

Beginning dancers generally focus on simple moves as they gain understanding of the dance. There are plenty of beginning WCS lessons available in any city. Often there are lessons before dances, but due to the difficulty of the dance prospective students may want to take longer classes (5-10 weeks). They may also want to try different teachers, to find what teaching and dance style best suits them.

Typical beginners must concentrate much on being where they are supposed to be--including their feet or hands. Unfortunately, many teachers neglect to teach their students the importance of leading and following.

The next step, ironically, is to re-learn all that you know. Moves are to be led and followed, which is typically not what a beginner has been doing. Once one is comfortable dancing the basic patterns, it is time to learn to lead/follow them. This is the time when most people want to learn more complicated moves, and they often put off learning to lead/follow in order to do that. At some point it will become clear that all moves are just recombinations of the fundamentals or cribbed from some other dance.

The beginner is encouraged to attend a nearby regular dance that caters to West Coast Swing dancers to be exposed to a wide range of lead and follow styles. For most urban areas in the United States, a WCS dance club may be a good place to start. For those beginners who want to witness a better mix of leaders/followers, attending a regional or even national WCS dance convention is the next step. This last is often expensive in time and money.


Unlike many other dances, WCS does not have a single basic step. The footwork however remains the same for all beginners and consists of:

  • Lead: 1 step back with the left foot, 2 step back with right foot, 3&4 triple step and step forward with the left foot, 5&6 triple step.
  • Follow: Same steps, opposite feet.

A few basic moves that any WCS dancer should know are listed below, and performed with the same step-step-triple-triple pattern.

Open Position

  • Underarm Pass: A six count basic where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, passing the leader underarm on the right.
  • Left Side where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, the couple passing the on their right.
  • Sugar Push: A six count basic where the follower, facing the leader, is led from the end of the slot to a one or two hand hold, then led back to the same end of the slot.
  • Tuck Turn: This is like a Sugar Push in 6 counts, but the lead raises the left arm signaling the follower turn under their own arm (an inside turn).

Closed Position

  • Return to Close: In six counts, the follower is led 3/4 of the way around the leader into closed position.
  • Starter Step: Two triple steps in closed position to begin the dance, so that the leader and follower can get in sync with each other.
  • Throw Out: A six count basic where the follower is led from the closed position to open. Leads: Triple-step left, triple-step right, step forward with left and follow starts to move forward as well, push from frame of follow out down to the end of the slot.


Whips are the backbone of WCS that lead into more advanced stylings. The East Coast Swing equivalent would be Charleston kicks.

  • Whip: This 8 count basic resembles Lindy Hop. The follower starts at one end of the slot and is led around the lead, to the same end of the slot she started. However there is one fundamental differance from the Lindy Hop Swing Out. The follower stays in her slot, pivoting, then coming back to where she started. The leader steps in and out of the slot, creating a less circular, and more elastic move.


Beginning dancers should focus on keeping smooth footwork while doing patterns to the beat of the music.

Advanced dancers

Advanced dancers will break the rules and won't remember what patterns they've just done. Rather than lead or follow pattern after pattern, both leaders and followers shorten or extend counts, play with the music, and express themselves with the dance.

Advanced moves

Advanced West Coast Swing moves are merely variations of the basic moves done by using two hands connected, changing hands, and utilizing stops and reversal.

Some specially named advanced moves are:

  • Sugar Tuck: Like a sugar push, but ends with a 2 count underarm turn.
  • Cement Mixer
  • Basket Whip: Two hands together to start, lead performs an inside turn with the left arm to the 'Sweetheart' position facing the same direction as the follow, then pulls the follow backwards to her original position pulling the left arm over the follow's head to unwind them.
  • Man around the Woman
  • Woman around the Man
  • Reverse Whip
  • Reverse Close
  • Swivel Walks
  • Chicken Walks aka: Lindy swivels
  • Octopus

Example dance

  1. Sugar Push, taking both hands.
  2. Tuck Turn in place.
  3. Underarm Turn with hand change.
  4. Underarm Turn, taking both hands.
  5. Double Underarm turn with both hands.
  6. Underarm turn, catch in whip.
  7. Repeat.


Advanced dancers syncopate their footwork to match the music and turn their bodies to interesting angles to flow more gracefully.

Footwork variations include kick ball changes, sailor shuffles, flea hops, slides and applejacks.

Those advanced dancers who want to add more spice to their dancing may learn leverage moves that put one or both partners in extension. Some examples are leans, dips and splits. Contrary to what the casual observer might see, most dancers will keep their balance while performing such moves and will rely on their partners sparingly to keep them from falling over.

See also

External links

Home | Up | East Coast Swing | Lindy Hop | West Coast Swing

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

Sony Creative Software Inc.

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