Basic Dance
Guidelines

West Coast Swing is an evolving social dance that has gone through many changes throughout its short history, over time incorporating techniques from numerous dance styles. However, there are many guidelines that should be followed to maintain the true character of the dance. A dance's character is typically defined by a basic philosophy, principles of movement, and traditional steps and figures. While these guidelines can be violated, by committing too many violations one risks departing from the defining features of the dance.

Technical Guidelines

Every figure or pattern should end with an anchor step, a critical characteristic feature of WCS. This is used to mark the end of a figure and re-establish connection between the two dancers. The leader should maintain the slot. The leader should use his own weight changes to lead the lady's movement, not the arm or hand alone. The follower should continue to the end of the slot. The follower should assume a triple-step count unless led otherwise. Both closed and open positions are acceptable. A connection should be maintained at all times, using some combination of physical and visual connections. Most steps are danced in 2-beat groups, allowing 6-count and 8-count figures to be extended and shortened as necessary to fit the music. The leader should plan ahead in the dance to allow the follower to experience musical accents.

West Coast Swing is a slotted dance. The slot is an imaginary area, long and thin, eight or nine feet long if danced at a very slow Tempo, but shorter if the music is at a faster tempo. The follower travels back and forth in the slot dancing straight through the lead. The leader consistently moves a minimum amount (at mid-way point) to his sides, barely out of her way. She lightly brushes against him each time she passes him. Brushing seems rare these days though (2009).

Socially, it is considered good etiquette (particularly on a crowded floor) to use a fixed slot, in order to allow dancing without incident. Having danced the slot repeatedly, the couple "has a claim" on the area, and other couples usually cooperate and establish their own slot parallel with the dancers. If the dance floor is not crowded and the couple is afforded more space, such as during a competitive event, the dancers may move the slot around the floor more liberally.

There are urban myths regarding the origin of the slotted style. According to one version, it was an invention of Hollywood film makers who wanted “dancers to stay in the same plane, to avoid going in and out of focus”. Wide angle lenses with adequate depth of field for cinematography had in fact been available since the 1920s. A variation on the "Hollywood film maker" theme is that film makers wanted "to avoid filming the backs" of dancers. A viewing of films featuring the work of Dean Collins in the 1940s, and rock 'n' roll films made in the mid 1950s reveals the fact that dancers turn frequently and inevitably turn their backs to the camera. Although another unslotted swing dance, Balboa, became popular in the same area and under the same conditions, much has been made of "jitterbugging in the aisles" as a source of the slotted style.

Slotted moves were a common part of the step vocabulary of Lindy and/or Jitterbug dancers during the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than the walk, walk of West Coast Swing, however, two sets of triple steps were used when the woman moved down the slot, followed by a rock step rather than the current triple and anchor step.




Moden Dance Steps

Philosophically, Modern West Coast Swing is in large
part defined by an emphasis on Musicality and
Connection. Movement is based on a principle
borrowed from ballroom and Latin dance, in
which the dancer moves their center of gravity
immediately over the foot when a weight transfer
is desired.

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. Many common
WCS figures are derived from simple variations
of these basic figures.

West Coast swing is also a fundamentally
improvised dance, and thus such defined figures
are simply starting points for the skilled dancer.







Anchor Steps:

Typically the follower walks into new patterns
traveling forward on counts "1" and "2" of each
basic pattern, rather than rocking back.The Anchor
Step is a common ending pattern of many West Coast
Swing figures.

  • Side
  • Back
  • Cross
  • Kick ball change

Sugar Push:

A six-count "move" 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. The seemingly very simple Push Break requires
"compression" or "resistance", to make the pattern.
While the arms remain firm but flexible, there should
be no excessive pushing or pulling in the arms but in
the body. The Sugar Push has been around since 1952.
In some instances this sequence is taught as "The
Six-Count Basic". Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic
  • Right to Right arm Sugar Push
  • Side Sugar (follow on left side)
  • R2R behind head, hand drop

Tuck Turn:

This is like a left side pass in six counts, but
the leader creates a "tuck" action on 2 by turning
the woman towards the man and then reversing her
direction back toward the slot on count 4. Then the
woman turns under the man's left arm on 5&6. The turn
can be either a half turn or a turn and a half. Some
teachers teach that the "tuck" is no longer led because
it is difficult to follow. In theory, the Tuck action
ought to function similarly to the wind-up before
throwing a frisbee. Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic
  • R2R Double turn out

Left Side Pass:

A six-count basic where the follower is led to the
other end of the slot, passing on the leader's right
(right side pass) or additionally under the leader's
arm (underarm pass). Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic (waist or semicircle)
  • L2R over shoulder

Right Side Pass:

A six-count basic where the follower is led to the
other end of the slot, passing on the leader's right.
Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic
  • L2R over shoulder
  • Right Side Pass into Travel Pattern > Step Slide
    or both free turn
  • Right Side Pass Cross Steps

Whip:

An eight-count basic with many variations. In a basic
whip, the follower is led past the leader and then
redirected (or "whipped") back towards the end of slot
from which she (or he if a man is following) started.
The basic footwork for a whip extends the six-count
pattern by inserting a pair of walking steps between
the triple steps. The footwork is therefore
"step step tri-ple-step step step tri-ple-step."
Count: 1 2 3a4 5 6 7a8

  • Basic
  • Turns inside or outside
  • Apache ending with broad stance foot plant
  • Crossbow: R2R open with outside turn
  • R2R Open
  • Side (outside turn option)
  • With Ronde
  • With quarter turns
  • Inside turn, drop left hand

Basket:

An eight-count where the leader holding both hands,
steps to the left of the slot while pulling the follow
forward. Stepping around the follow entering the slot
from the right side while dropping the right hand.

  • Basic
  • He /She Turn
  • Double Turn
  • Cross hand Basket with Lead Turn
  • Pull crossed hands over follow's head, B2B into free turn
  • Lead turn ending
  • Turn > Hammer Lock > Prance

Wrap:

An eight-count where the leader holding both hands pulls
the follow into closed position with follower's back facing
the lead.

  • Basic (Leader changes direction)
  • R2R Wrap into Hammer lock, turn into Prance
  • Front wrap, turn, hip catch, free turn

Leader left step from slot

A six-count or eight-count where the leader is stepping
to the left side of the slot.

  • Waist turn
  • R2R roll across back
  • L2R roll infront of leader with change of hands
  • count Lead outside Turn
  • Shoulder turn

Leader right step from slot

A six-count or eight-count where the leader is stepping
to the right side of the slot.

  • Neck One Arm catch
  • Crossed hands LoR, He/She turn
  • Crossed hands LoR, He/She turn, side by side body roll
  • Crossed hands LoR, He/She turn, Arch Drop (option seat catch)
  • Ribbons R2R crossed right on top, leader change direction (he/she turn ending)
  • R2R cape with 1.5 spin
  • R2R cape with turns
  • Back to Back Foot Sweep
  • Free turn into neck roll
  • Crossed hand bow tie with step out into sweep
  • Crossed RoL Turn with rhonde
  • R2L waist wrap, half turn B2B with turn out sweep
  • L2R turn shoulder catch, walk behind (option send behind, pull back)

Front Prep

A six-count or eight-count where the leader is
stepping back in to the slot.

  • L2R free turn with chest push
  • R2R turn catch on back of neck with double turn out
  • R2L inside turn, she/he turn change direction
    leader, prep into free turn, catch into side sugar,
    leader half turn, hand change, pull follow down slot
  • R2L wrap follow change direction, shoulder push,
    back catch, inside turn, end of whip finsh
  • J-Hook (Sugar push foot work)

Hamer lock:

An eight-count where the follower has one arm behind
the back and the other in front.

  • R2R > HL > foot taps > shoulder Basket (tap roll-out)
  • HL walk, leader changes direction
  • Right step HL with a block
  • HL follow change direction, cross hands, turn with shoulder catch, free spin

Take a look at the
Youtube video breakdowns
to see more of
these moves in action.