West Coast Swing (WCS) is a partner dance with roots in
Lindy Hop. It is characterized by a distinctive elastic look that results from
its basic extension-compression technique of partner connection, and is danced
primarily in a slotted area on the dance floor. The dance allows for both
partners to improvise steps while dancing together, putting West Coast Swing in
a short list of dances that put a premium on improvisation.
Typically the follower walks into new patterns traveling forward on counts "1" and "2" of each basic pattern, rather than rocking back. Traditional figures include 6-count and 8-count patterns of one of the four basic varieties: (1) Starter Step, (2) Side Pass, (3) Push Break / Sugar Push, (4) Whip.
Alternatively the basic patterns in WCS are defined as: Sugar Push; Left Side Pass; Right Side Pass; Touch Turn; and Whip. Virtually all other moves in WCS are variations of these basic patterns.
The Anchor Step is a common ending pattern of many West Coast Swing figures
It is believed that the origins of the WCS are in Lindy Hop. In a 1947 book, Arthur Murray recognized that, "There are hundreds of regional dances of the Jitterbug type. Each section of the country seems to have a variation of its own."
Dean Collins, who arrived in the Los Angeles area around 1937, was influential in developing the style of swing dance on the West Coast of the United States, as both a performer and teacher. When his wife, Mary Collins, was asked if Dean was responsible for the emergence of the dance, however, she said that Dean insisted there were "only two kinds of swing dance - good and bad".
Lauré Haile, Arthur Murray National Dance Director, and an instructor of teachers documented swing dancing as done in the Los Angeles area and used the name "Western Swing". Murray had used the same name, "Western Swing", in the late 1930s for a different dance. Haile included Western Swing in Dance Notebooks she authored for Arthur Murray during the 1950s. Western Swing was also called "Sophisticated Swing" in the 1950s.
Dancing to musicians wearing cowboy hats and string ties playing fiddle, steel guitar, etc. Pumpkin Center, Bakersfield, CA 1950s
Western swing, country boogie, and, with a smaller audience, jump blues were popular on the West Coast throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s when they were renamed and marketed as rock 'n' roll in 1954. Dancers danced "a 'swingier' - more smooth and subdued" form of Jitterbug to Western Swing music.
West Coast Swing (still known as Western Swing at that time) is the basis for the dancing in the rehearsal scene in “Hot Rod Gang” (1958). Music is supplied by rockabilly musician Gene Vincent’s “Dance to the Bop”. The song alternates between very slow sections and those with the rapid pace and high energy of rockabilly. Staged by a young Dick Di Augustin, the dancing includes recognizable patterns such as the chicken walk, swing out from closed position, etc., along with the classic woman’s walk walk triple step triple step at the end of the slot. On the final step of the second triple the women are weighted left with the right heel on the floor and the toes pointed up. Dancers also do classic Lindy flips at the end of the slot, as well as non partner, non West Coast Swing movements.
Murray's taught Western Swing beginning from a closed position and the possibility of dancing single, double, or triple rhythm. After "Throwout" patterns began with the woman "walking in" and the man doing a "rock step", or step together for counts one and two. Although the dance remained basically the same, the Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSDTA) began teaching from the walk steps, counts 1 and 2. It replaced Lauré Haile's Coaster Step with an "Anchor Step" around 1961.
"West Coast swing" as a synonym for "Western swing" appears in a 1961 dance book, and was used in an advertisement by Skippy Blair in 1962. but wasn't incorporated into mainstream swing circles until the late 1960s.
Blair credits Jim Bannister, editor of the Herald American newspaper in Downey, for suggesting the name West Coast Swing. When the Golden West Ballroom, in Norwalk, California, changed from Country to Ballroom dancing, the dance most advertised on the Marquee was West Coast Swing.
Western Swing was documented in the 1971 edition of the "Encyclopedia of Social Dance". Patterns began with the woman stepping forward twice, but described the "Coaster Step" with a forward step as the last step of the 2nd triple. As late as 1978, the term "Western Swing" was common usage among Chain and Independent Studios to describe "slotted swing".
Circa 1978 "California Swing" was yet another name for West Coast Swing, albeit with styling that was "considered more UP, with a more Contemporary flavor." By 1978 GSDTA had "some 200 or more patterns and variations" for West Coast Swing."
In 1988, West Coast Swing was pronounced the Official State Dance of California.
Most recently since circa 2008 West Coast Swing has been a major influence with in the development of Fusion Dance. West Coast Swing is one of the base dances that is currently utilized by many fusion dancers.
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