West Coast Swing is a contemporary style of swing developed in the 1940s on the West Coast in California. It has spread throughout the United States and is now one of the most popular forms of swing dancing. West Coast Swing is danced to a wide range of tempos (anywhere from 15 to 45 mpm). It can be slow and elegant, silky and sensual, or fast and furious, depending on the music being played.. It is danced in the Ballroom, Swing, and Country Western communities.
West Coast Swing is a "slotted" dance. Some say that this "slot" was born in Hollywood because "wide angle lenses" had not yet been invented. The directors needed to put the dancers in straight lines to get them "on" camera. This "slot" idea was to get the profile of the dancers rather than the backs of the dancers to the camera. If the dancers rotated while dancing it would not have shown the audience much dancing. This "slotted" style eventually caught on as the norm and it has stayed strictly "slotted" when danced socially.
Strictly "slotted" means the lady travels forward and backward along a single straight line on the floor (the "slot"). The man stays pretty much in one place. He is normally either in the other end of the "slot" or immediately next to the "slot" (which allows the lady to pass). Although there are turning figures, the lady should never step outside her "slot".
West Coast Swing employs both six and eight count figures. The six count figures begin with two walking steps, followed by two triple steps. It's counted: 1, 2, 3, &, 4, 5, &, 6 (walk, walk, tri-ple, step, tri-ple, step) The eight count figures begin with two walking steps, followed by a triple step, two walks, and a triple step. It's counted: 1, 2, 3, &, 4, 5, 6, 7, &, 8 (walk, walk, tri-ple, step, walk, walk, tri-ple, step) The last triple step at the end of the figures is danced in place and is called the "anchor step.
In the early days a "coaster step" (back, together, forward) was used at the end of the figures. This caused problems because the lady started forward too soon. The lady should not move forward under her own power at the end of the figures. This is how the "anchor step" came about. Now, she stays in place using the "anchor step" until she is led to walk forward.
The "anchor step's" main purpose is to reestablish the connection between the partners at the end of the figure and keep the lady from moving forward too soon. The "coaster step's" purpose is to change directions. There is a "forward coaster step" (forward, together, backward) and a "backwards coaster step"(backward, together, forward).
West Coast Swing allows the dancers more freedom simply because they are in "open dance position" most of the time. They can be very improvisational with the use of "syncopations" (i.e. rhythm variations, footwork variations, body waves, etc.). Syncopations are usually performed while not traveling (at anchor step time, at the 1st triple step in the sugar push, etc.). Syncopations are solo movements initiated spontaneously by each dancer. Theoretically the other partner doesn't know they are happening. The syncopations should not make the figure feel any different than the normal pattern.
West Coast Swing should feel very smooth and continuous no matter what speed you are dancing. This is only accomplished by being continuously connected to your partner. If there is no connection the dance can feel very mechanical and robotic (and looks that way too).
Reprinted with permission of Ron & Rebecca Kellen & Bogie of the Mile High Ballroom of Prescott, AZ