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Friday, May 14, 2021
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What Is West Coast Swing and Why Is It Such a Great Dance?

what is West Coast Swing and why is it so great?
Photo by Dan Yamamoto, WanderingWestie, at Asia West Coast Swing Open 2019.

When I tell someone I dance West Coast Swing, people usually have no idea what I’m talking about. They might imagine anything from Lindy Hop through Ballroom or Salsa to dirty dancing.

I even heard that some West Coast Swing schools and studios are sometimes asked whether they host swinger parties. Yes, that’s exactly what you’re thinking of.

Therefore, I’ve decided to write down everything I know and gathered from different sources about West Coast Swing, which is much more than just a hobby – at least for me.

West Coast Swing is my biggest passion; it is my community and family; it’s a magical combination of sports and art, and socialization and competition; it grants people the opportunity to make friends all around the world, express themselves in an accepting environment, and discover themselves.

Writing this article has been a real journey for me. I’m inviting you to join me and explore a world, which is probably only known to very few of you.

What is West Coast Swing?

First things first, West Coast Swing is a partner dance. It is a vernacular Jazz with roots in Lindy Hop. However, this dance has evolved and changed over the years, and it keeps evolving along with the music we dance to.

One of the things that make West Coast Swing unique is that it isn’t defined by a single music style it is danced to. People dance this style to most kinds of popular music.

Specifically, it is mostly danced to the music that is most popular in contemporary times. It started with Jazz and Blues in dim-lit bars around San Diego, moved on to Country bars in various areas in the US, then Pop music took over, and now Hip-Hop and Lyrical Contemporary songs are making a big impact on this dance.

Furthermore, this is a social dance, which has a very strong improvisational aspect. Even most competitions are not choreographed, as the competitors draw random songs and even random partners in a format called Jack and Jill.

In West Coast Swing group classes and parties, which we often simply call “socials”, dancers switch partners all the time. Of course, during social dancing, you can stay with the same partner for more than one song and switch whenever you want.

In most of the world, you should dance with the same partner for at least an entire song. In some places, especially in Europe, it may be impolite to dance less than two songs with the same partner. However, when you dance West Coast Swing in a bar to live music and the songs last more than four minutes each, it’s completely acceptable not to dance with the same partner for the entire song.

As I mentioned, West Coast Swing has a prominent improvisational aspect. This means that there are some basic patterns, but they are all adjustable. Dancers often combine different patterns, extend, accelerate, and decelerate them. Moreover, they even integrate patterns and moves from other dance styles into their West Coast Swing.

There are basic principles, which dancers should adhere to in competitions. These include anchoring, swinging, maintaining a slot, and linear movement. Nonetheless, this dance has been, is, and will be strongly affected by various dance and music styles. That’s one of the most beautiful things about this dance: There is always more than one way to dance it.

I’m sure you all want to see what this dance looks like, so here’s a fantastic video that demonstrates it:

Video created by BarnaWesties – West Coast Swing Bracelona.

Where is West Coast Swing danced?

This is a question people often ask me, so I decided to address it here. Since the international West Coast Swing community is pretty small in comparison to the Salsa or Bachata communities, many people aren’t even aware that there is a West Coast Swing community in their town.

Since this dance started in California, the biggest communities are still along the West Coast of the US. Nevertheless, this dance has since spread all around the US. Nowadays there are also many communities of dancers in Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

I constantly discover new communities in different countries, so it’s hard to tell exactly where people dance West Coast Swing. I’ve found evidence for the existence of this dance in 42 different countries so far.

There is a wonderful tradition in the West Coast Swing world, which we call the West Coast Swing Rally (or Flashmob). Every year at the beginning of September, all the different West Coast Swing communities around the world perform the same choreography to the same song in their own city, town, or village. They perform the dance outdoors in a central location in order to introduce West Coast Swing to the masses. For us, this is a great way to attract a new audience. And for you, it can be a nice way to learn about the different communities around the world. For example, you can watch West Coast Swing Rally videos from different communities made in 2020 in this article.

Hence, you better Google west coast swing in your city since there is a pretty good chance you’ll find something.

West Coast Swing history

Shorty George Snowden and Big Bea
Shorty George Snowden and Big Bea, the pioneers of Lindy Hop. Source: http://jassdancer.blogspot.com/

West Coast Swing evolved as a smoother, bluesier, and sexier version of Lindy Hop. There are many stories about the birth of this dance, and they might all be true. However, there’s no telling which had the most influence.

Lindy Hop started as a very athletic dance that people danced to Big Band music, which was the most popular music at that time. However, the masses couldn’t really do this dance since it was just too hard. Thus, various studios and teachers all over the US started developing their own Swing styles, which derived from Lindy Hop, in order to create dances that will be simpler and attract large audiences.

Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan
Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan. Source: Atomic Ballroom

Dean Collins, who arrived in the Los Angeles area around 1937, has greatly influenced the local Swing scene on the west coast of the US and may have contributed to the creation of West Coast Swing. Collins learned the Savoy Style Lindy in New York and moved to LA to get into the movie business. He brought a style of Swing that was new to the locals. As he started winning competitions, more people wanted to learn his style and become his students. Collins’ style was more upright than the original Lindy Hop. It was also linear in order to suit the cameras filming his movies.

However, Collins refused to name “his style”. He claimed that “There is no style, there is only Swing”. In the beginning, people called his style “The Whip”, “Sophisticated Swing”, or even “New Yorker”. It is said that Lauré Haile, who was hired by Arthur Murray to document the contemporary dance styles in California in the ‘1940s, was the one who coined the term “Western Swing”.

Arthur Murray
Arthur Murray. Source: arthurmurraydanceclasses.com

Murray, an American Ballroom franchise king, has then created a ballroom version of Collins’ style. Murray tried to standardize West Coast Swing and create a unified syllabus, similarly to Ballroom. However, due to the fact that another “street style” of West Coast Swing kept evolving in parallel to his, this dance remained diverse and more loosely defined than Standard Ballroom.

According to the stories, West Coast Swing also evolved in the late ‘1940s in the bars of San Diego and Long Beach, California. Sailors and soldiers that returned from overseas wanted to dance with the ladies (often prostitutes) they met in these bars and together they created a sexier (and also drunker) version of Swing.

East Coast vs. West Coast Swing

As the competition between America’s dance masters and studios became fiercer, these studios constantly invented new styles to adapt to the most popular music style at the time and cater to the needs of new audiences.

One of these styles, created by the Ballroom community in the ’40s, was East Coast Swing. It was much simpler than West Coast Swing, and therefore, easier to teach and sell to the public. Moreover, back in the days, many people in the American society were much less tolerant of African-American vernacular dances, such as West Coast Swing. Hence, West Coast Swing went underground and was mainly taught privately or in independent studios.

East Coast Swing basic patterns comprise two triple steps and one rock step, while in West Coast Swing, there are two walking steps and two triple steps. More importantly, East Coast Swing is a circular dance, while West Coast Swing is danced in a linear fashion using a “slot”, something which I’ll elaborate on later in this article.

In addition, East Coast Swing is a bouncy dance, similar to Lindy Hop, while West Coast Swing has no bounce element at all, as it highlights smooth movement across the dance floor. Furthermore, in general, East Coast Swing is danced to faster music than West Coast Swing.

From Western Swing to West Coast Swing

Skippy Blair
Skippy Blair. Source: csdhof.com

The name West Coast Swing as a synonym for Western Swing first appeared in a dance book in 1961 and used by Skippy Blair in 1962. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the end of the ‘1960s that it became common among the mainstream swing circles. Blair credits Jim Bannister, editor of the Herald American newspaper in Downey, California, for suggesting the name West Coast Swing. Nevertheless, it’s hard to tell who was really the one that coined the term “West Coast Swing”. Different ballrooms and teachers in various places in California all claim to be the first, and they might have done it more or less at the same time.

When Country Western music and dancing gained popularity, people started confusing Western Swing music with “Western Swing”. Then, the teachers had to distinguish the two, and the name “West Coast Swing” became the most common one used to describe the dance.

Since West Coast Swing is a relatively long name, dancers often use the abbreviations WCS, West Coast, or even just West. WCS dancers are simply called “Westies”. And now you know why I called this portal “YY Westie”. 😉

The lost twins of Swing

While West Coast Swing was evolving in California, other Swing styles that originated from Lindy Hop evolved independently in other areas in the US.

Charlie Fitzgerald, Owner of Charlie's Place
Charlie Fitzgerald, Owner of Charlie’s Place. Photo by Jack Thompson. Source: beachamjournal.com

Charlie Fitzgerald brought Swing from New York to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he opened a nightclub called “Charlie’s Place”. This was an integrated nightclub, which wasn’t such a common sight in South Carolina back in the days. This integration between black and white dancers may be what eventually created the first version of Carolina Shag.

In Texas, two other forms of Swing have evolved thanks to soldiers coming back from their bases in San Diego and Long Beach, California. After learning early versions of Western Swing and dancing them to Jazz music, which was popular along the coast of California, these soldiers came back home to Texas. There, Blues was the most popular music style in bars. They had to adapt and developed two different styles in two different cities – Dallas Push and Houston Whip.

At the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, all these styles finally found each other, so to speak. As people could travel more easily and cheaply and dancers started flying to other states in order to compete and perform, Swing dancers from different styles met and even performed together. They realized they had a lot in common and a lot to learn from one another. Furthermore, when Jack and Jill competitions came about, these dancers drew each other randomly. That forced them to adapt to each others’ styles, which opened a new era in the evolution of West Coast Swing.

Since then, dancers coming in from different styles, such as Argentine Tango, Hustle, Ballet, and Ballroom have greatly influenced West Coast Swing. Nowadays, as this dance is already widespread around the globe, other dance styles such as Contemporary Jazz and Zouk also have an impact on it.

You can learn more about the history of West Coast Swing in this fantastic lecture given by Robert Royston on MadJam 2017:

West Coast Swing music

At the end of the 1950s, Big Band music was no longer the most popular style. Then, Swing dancers had to adapt to a new style – Rock and Roll. In the 1960s it was the Twist and in the 1970s the Disco, which turned all the nightclubs into “Disco’s”. Rap and Hip Hop changed the dance again in the 1980s, and nowadays, with Pop, Lyrical Contemporary, and even Latin influences, West Coast Swing looks very different than it looked in the ‘40s.

West Coast Swing can basically be danced to any 4/4 time music and would look different depending on the music it is danced to. This is one of the most beautiful characteristics of this dance, which makes it very unique. Here are some examples of West Coast Swing playlists created by top DJs in May 2020.

Moreover, West Coast Swing will always keep growing and evolving with the ever-changing music. So, I wonder what will be the next sections I’ll add to this article in a few years from now.

West Coast Swing steps

As I have already mentioned, the basic steps for a West Coast Swing pattern are 2 walks followed by 2 triples for a 6-count pattern and 2 walks, a triple, 2 more walks, and another triple for an 8-count pattern. One can alter these structures, of course, as dancers also use tap steps, kick-ball changes, hitches, and way more. As a rule of thumb, in West Coast Swing, the leader starts by stepping back with their left foot, while the follower’s first step is forward with the right foot.

Most basic West Coast Swing patterns are 6-count patterns, which is very unique to this dance. Now, you might ask yourself, why would a dance need such patterns if it is danced to an 8-beat rhythm, right?

Well, 6-count patterns date all the way back to West Coast Swing’s ancestor Lindy Hop. The dancers used them to get on- and off-rhythm in order to express musical breaks. For this reason, Lindy Hoppers used to call them “break steps”. Lindy Hoppers had their own versions of all basic West Coast Swing Patterns: Push Break, Underarm Turn, and Left-Side Pass.

West Coast Swing basic patterns

  • Starter Step: As the name of this pattern implies, dancers use this move to begin a new dance. It usually starts as the couple is in a closed position. Then, the leader starts the dance by moving the follower with them to the left, anchoring, and exiting from a closed position. The classic exit move after a starter step is a Left-Side Pass. However, one may use many other patterns, such as Inside-Turn or Tuck Pass to exit as well.
  • Push Break: This interesting pattern incorporates 3 main principles of this dance: tension, compression, and a change of direction. In contrast to other basic patterns, the follower doesn’t travel through the entire slot but rather driven back by the leader using the transition from tension to compression in order to create a change of direction. This move is called a Push Break since dancers use the term “break step” to describe a change of direction. The name “Sugar Push” originates either from the Texan tradition of the ladies asking their partner for a kiss as they come closer, saying, “Give me some sugar, baby,” or from the soldiers’ habit to reach out for some “sugar” as the ladies come closer while dancing in those dim-lit bars. No one knows for certain.
Gimme Some Sugar Baby Meme
  • Underarm Turn: It is also called an Underarm Pass since the follower passes and turns under the leader’s lifted arm. Another name for this move is “Right-Side Pass”, as the follower passes the leader on the right.
  • Left-Side Pass: In this pattern, the leader clears the slot – similarly to an Underarm Pass – and leads the follower to the other end of it. However, this time the follower passes to the leader’s left.
  • Whip: This is a basic 8-count pattern, which originates from the Lindy Hop’s Swingout pattern. In this move, the follower is led past the leader and redirected (or “whipped”) back to the end of the slot from which they started.

Most other basic West Coast Swing patterns are variations of these four basic patterns. Here are a few examples.

West Coast Swing variation examples

  • Tuck Turn: Also known as a “Sugar Tuck”, this is a variation of a Push Break. In this move, the leader drives the follower back to the end of the slot from which they started. This is done using a “tuck” action, causing the follower to redirect and turn under the leader’s arm.
  • Inside Turn: A variation of a Left-Side Pass. Here, the leader initiates a turn for the follower to rotate in the leader’s direction (counter-clockwise).
  • Outside Turn: A variation of a Right-Side Pass. In this pattern, the leader initiates a turn for the follower to rotate away from the leader (clockwise).
  • Tuck Pass: Also known as a Traveling Tuck. This variation of a Left-Side Pass contains a “tuck: action that causes the follower to turn in the leader’s direction.

There are many more variations and every pattern can be extended, accelerated, decelerated, or altered in other ways. This is the beauty of West Coast Swing, and therefore, I can not cover all the existing patterns.

The principles of West Coast Swing

The slot

West Coast Swing is a linear dance. When a couple is dancing, they’re creating an imaginary slot. The follower basically walks down and up the slot, while the leader gets off the slot to make way for them and gets back on it.

There are many legends about the origin of the slot, as not all Swing dances are linear. Some claim it started with Dean Collins, who made it for the camera’s sake when dancing in movies. Others tell about teenagers dancing Western Swing in the aisles during concerts, where the limited space forced them to use slots. However, no one knows for sure.

Anchor

In West Coast Swing, anchor describes a situation in which the leader and follower stretch away from each other. The anchor is one of the main characteristics that distinguish this dance from other Swing dances.

Compression and extension

The two main driving forces that create every kind of movement in this dance are compression and extension. These are two kinds of connections between the leader and the follower that are used to develop the conversation between them.

Compression is an action towards each other, while an extension is an action away from each other. The connection between the partners should always be somewhere on the scale between extension and compression.

Note that the leader should move the follower using weight shifts and not by pulling or pushing with the arms. The leader should shift their center point of balance, and this action should drive the follower’s movement.

Action/Reaction

When the leader or the follower takes action and creates a change in the connection, this must drive a reaction from their partner. Compared to many other partner dances, in West Coast Swing, the follower has a lot more room for self-expression. Therefore, it’s not always the leader who acts and drives a reaction from the follower, but also the other way around.

Action-Reaction meme

Improvisation and interpretation

This is a very important aspect of West Coast Swing. The basic patterns and all of their variations are just a basis you can build your dance upon. Moreover, since this dance is being danced to different styles of music, musicality is a huge part of the story here. The dancers can play with the patterns in order to express their interpretation of what they’re hearing.

West Coast Swing clothing

In contrast to many other dance styles, West Coast Swing does not have a defined dress code. This means you can feel free to wear almost anything you like to make yourself comfortable and express yourself.

For social dancing, it’s most important to wear something convenient. Men usually wear stretchy pants, such as jeans or anything similar, and a t-shirt. You’ll probably get sweaty during social dancing, so better bring extra t-shirts for changing. Some wear fancier-looking buttoned shirts, which is, of course, totally acceptable. However, they’re less stretchy and don’t respond so well to sweat. Thus, you should decide whether you rather look fancier at the beginning of the evening, or feel comfortable for a longer period of time.

Women usually wear pants and shirts when dancing West Coast Swing, and not skirts or dresses. These are, of course, acceptable as well, but less comfortable to dance in. Wearing a top that has extra fabric and can float during spins can be a cool idea.

If you have long hair, it may be helpful to clip or pin it away from your face in order to keep it out of your eyes and out of your partner’s face while spinning or turning. Believe me, I was hit by my partners’ hair more than once. 😅

In conclusion, when you attend a party, a workshop, or a class, choose clothes that make you feel like yourself. Wear something casual, just like you would wear when you go shopping or hanging out with friends.

Casual West Coast Swing clothing
Casual West Coast Swing clothing. Photo by Sergey Khakhlev Photography, Swingvester 2019, Vienna.

However, there are a few “special occasions”, on which you’d like to dress a bit differently:

What to wear for a Jack and Jill competition?

I’ll elaborate on this kind of competition later in this article and explain exactly how it works. But just like in every competition, you want to stand out and impress the judges, right?

Thus, this time, you’re going to wear something a bit more formal and fancy. You don’t always have to dress up for competitions. However, some events have a dress code that requires you to wear something more elegant than jeans and a t-shirt.

For women, dressy tops with pants or leggings are very popular. Looser dress slacks are also pretty common. During comps, it may be even more crucial to pin or clip your hair to prevent it from hitting your partner’s face or your own.

Men usually wear a buttoned-down, long-sleeved, collared shirt with dress slacks. Your shirt can have a solid color or a pattern, and many men add a vest on top of it.

Note that during Jack and Jill’s you need to wear a number safety-pinned to your clothes. So, don’t wear something you’re afraid will become torn. This is one of the reasons men sometimes wear a vest that protects their shirt from the pins.

Strictly Swing competitions

Matching outfits are very common as a means to demonstrate good partnership. You can wear the same colors as your partner (e.g. both wear all-black), opposite colors of pants and shirts (for example, black pants and a white shirt and vice versa), or any other idea that can complement your partner’s outfit.

Routine divisions

These kinds of competitions are a whole other thing. They require impressive and well-planned outfits that match the song and the tone of your routine.

Competitors in Classic, Showcase, or Rising Star divisions usually wear flashy costumes that help tell the story of their piece and make an impression. Moreover, they pay careful attention to their hairstyle and makeup. Routine partners plan their costumes together, of course.

Theme nights

Some events and local studios hold special theme nights, on which they request the participants to dress according to a certain code or based on a chosen theme. You don’t have to dress accordingly, of course, but it’s a lot of fun when many people do it.

For example, Halloween events have themed parties and even themed competitions, in which people usually wear scary costumes. Moreover, Silvester events have themed new year’s parties, in which participants are requested to “suit up”. Other examples may be pajama parties, summer-theme parties, or magenta nights.

Halloween-themed competition at Warsaw Halloween Swing
A Halloween-themed competition at Warsaw Halloween Swing. Photo by Anja Christina, Finallymoving Photography.

West Coast Swing shoes

The most important thing to state here is: You don’t have to buy dance shoes to dance West Coast Swing!

It is completely acceptable to dance in almost any kind of shoes, including sneakers and sandals. Furthermore, you can even dance in socks or barefoot.

Different shoes serve different purposes, and you’d like to choose dance shoes that best fit your needs. First, you should look for shoes that are comfortable for you and best fit the shape of your foot. Second, your shoes should provide you with a good grip on the dance floor while still allowing you to slide, turn, and spin.

For ladies, dance shoes and sandals are usually the most popular choices. Nonetheless, many female dancers choose to dance in sneakers, closed-toed shoes, or other casual shoes. Women’s shoes for West Coast Swing often have a small heel – much smaller than used for Latin dances like Salsa.

Men may select ballroom shoes, sneakers, hybrids (a mixture of ballroom and sneakers), or any kind of street shoes, like Toms.

Now let’s get to the bottom of it, or, to be precise, to the soles of your shoes. Usually, it’s best to have suede soles to have a good grip and still be able to slide and turn. Alternatively, you can use felt. You can attach these materials to any kind of soles, and you can even add them yourself. I, personally, dance in sport’s shoes made by Vty, to which I simply glued suede soles. Otherwise, you can buy dance socks that you can wear on your shoes instead of attaching an additional sole.

West Coast Swing dance lessons

How to learn West Coast Swing?

The most common way to do it is in group classes or courses given in a dance studio in your area. Different studios and West Coast Swing schools teach different syllabuses, but I’ll introduce the common course structure I’ve witnessed in most places I’ve been to.

West Coast Swing courses are usually leveled and last for a couple of weeks or an entire semester. Classes usually take place in the evening or late afternoon and last for about 1-1.5 hours. Once you complete a course, you may progress to the next level in order to learn more advanced material.

A West Coast Swing group lesson usually comprises a warmup, teacher demonstration, practice time, teacher feedback and corrections, more practice time, and a summary at the end. Many students record a video of the summary to practice what they learned later on at home.

Practicing at home – even without a partner – can be very beneficial to your progress as a dancer. You may practice what you’ve learned in class, in a workshop at an event, or even in a private lesson if you’ve taken any. You can practice solo drills or even imagine you’re dancing with an imaginary partner. I do it very often – it’s a lot of fun. If you want more tips for practicing West Coast Swing at home, read my article – How to Dance West Coast Swing at Home?

Private lessons are a great way to hone your craft and focus on the elements and aspects that are most important for your own dancing. As might be expected, this option is more expensive than group classes. However, it also provides you with the most value, so it’s definitely worth considering.

I highly recommend learning West Coast Swing from different teachers and in various studios. The reason is that there is no single way to dance West Coast Swing. You should discover which style of West Coast Swing appeals to you the most and what method of teaching you find best. Moreover, I mostly recommend traveling to West Coast Swing events, and here’s why.

West Coast Swing events

The cherry on top of the West Coast Swing world is definitely the dance conventions, which we simply refer to as “events”. A West Coast Swing event is a weekend that makes you forget about the world outside and live in the now. Once a new dancer attends their first event, they fall in love with the community and become completely addicted to West Coast Swing.

What makes West Coast Swing events so great then? In one word: community.

In an event, you get the opportunity to meet so many new people from different countries, and the atmosphere is very welcoming. You get to share an experience with people like you: learning and practicing together in workshops, competing against each other – but in a friendly way 😉 -watching the pros perform together, and usually staying in the same compound for the entire weekend. It makes you feel part of something bigger – the international West Coast Swing community. But don’t take it from me – read this wonderful story about a dancer who attended his first event and couldn’t stop dancing ever since.

These events usually last an entire weekend – from Thursday evening to Monday morning. Some events are shorter – starting on Friday afternoon and ending on Sunday afternoon/evening. Other events are longer and can even last an entire week.

Attendees can of course choose how long to stay and in which activities to take part. During the day there are usually workshops. These are group classes taught by the event’s staff, which is composed of professional West Coast Swing dancers. In the afternoon and evening, there are various activities such as competitions and staff performances. Eventually, every day ends with an all-night party.

In the past couple of years, West Coast Swing events have taken place annually in at least 31 countries that I’m aware of, and almost every weekend you’ve had at least one event in the US and one somewhere in Europe.

West Coast Swing Events
TLV Swingfest 2019, Tel Aviv. Photo by Sergey Khakhlev Photography.

West Coast Swing competitions

Many events are recognized by the World Swing Dance Council (WSDC) and are therefore allowed to run official Jack and Jill Swing competitions and give away WSDC points. These are West Coast Swing registry events, and they should follow certain rules to achieve this prestigious status.

Jack and Jill Swing competitions best demonstrate the social and improvisational elements in West Coast Swing. In these competitions, you draw a random partner you may have never danced with previously, and you dance to songs selected by the DJ. This means you have no idea what they will be, and you might have never heard them before. During preliminary rounds, you switch partners every song, and you are judged independently of your partner. In the final stage, you draw a partner with which you dance all the songs, and you are judged as a couple.

Winning, achieving a top placement, or even making finals in an official competition will grant you WSDC points. Gaining a certain number of points will allow you to advance to a higher division. In addition, the first 3 or 5 placements usually get trophies and various prizes, which can include prize money, free passes to events, and more.

There are six divisions in the WSDC system: Newcomer, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, All-Star, and Champion. Starting in Newcomer is not a must, but it is usually recommended for less experienced competitors, for whom it is only the first or second competition. When the competitor feels ready, they can move on to the Novice division, in which they need to accumulate a certain number of points in order to progress to the Intermediate division, and so on.

The Champion division is usually an invitational division, to which only dancers who have proven themselves for a long time in the All-Star division get invited. Although nowadays All-Star dancers with a certain number of points are allowed to compete in Champion Jack and Jill, achieving a Champion’s status is like becoming a professor: You need to stand out and prove yourself as a professional West Coast Swing dancer in order to be recognized by the current Champions and the leaders of the community.

Jack and Jill Swing Competitions
Jack and Jill Swing Competitions, Berlin Swing Revolution 2019. Photo by Anja Christina, Finallymoving Photography.

Another kind of competition that takes place at events is Strictly Swing. In this type of contest, you select your partner in advance. Thus, you can even plan some moves and match your outfits prior to the competition. However, you are not allowed to prepare choreography and are still required to improvise during the competition. Furthermore, you don’t know the songs you’ll dance to, prior to the competition. Therefore, you can’t really plan everything in advance.

Some events also offer routine divisions, such as Classic, Showcase, or Rising Star. These divisions are governed by the National Association of Swing Dance Events (NASDE), and they are not improvisational at all. Here you register with a partner with whom you created and practiced a specific routine to a specific song you’ve pre-selected. These divisions differ in rules and characteristics, and you can read all about the differences between them here.

Some events also hold Pro-Am competitions (mainly in the US), in which a professional dancer dances with an amateur. In addition, some events hold fun competitions, such as All-American/All-European. In these competitions, you draw a random partner from a random division – from Newcomer to Champion.

Where is West Coast Swing headed?

As I’ve already mentioned, West Coast Swing keeps evolving and changing with the music and the impact of dancers coming in from other dance styles. As West Coast Swing has spread into Europe, Asia, and Oceania starting from the early 2000s, it evolved even further and in different directions. This has incited disputes between Pros and community leaders on whether the dance is getting too far away from its roots, or should we simply adapt and welcome the changes.

One of the most prominent disputes relates to “Swing content”. Since most popular music nowadays has a straight rhythm instead of Swing rhythm, and the influence of non-Swing dance styles such as Contemporary Jazz and Zouk on West Coast Swing grows, Pros want to ensure that we don’t lose the essence of our dance. They do it by trying to define “Swing elements” and “Swing content”, putting an emphasis on these criteria when judging routine divisions, and encouraging dancers to dance to Swing-rhythm songs, especially Blues songs.

Another discussion that’s been going on in the West Coast Swing community relates to the name of the dance. Some claim that West Coast Swing is a long name that is difficult to market, comparing to other popular partner dance styles: Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Zouk, Lindy Hop, Tango, etc. Other than for marketing reasons, some believe the name “West Coast Swing” doesn’t reflect what our dance is about anymore. Hence, a few alternative names for this dance have been suggested.

The most notable example is “Modern Swing”. Benji Schwimmer, one of the top West Coast Swing Champions is probably the main promoter of this idea. He even has a podcast called “The Modern Swing Podcast”. Another name that some Pros suggested is “Flow”. In addition, as I’ve mentioned before, in many countries the dance is called “West Coast” or even just “West”.

However, others claim that we can not change the name of this dance because it would take away the dance’s identity. They say that we must stay connected to our roots, and changing the name of the dance will detach us from them. This discussion about the name of the dance is also connected to the dispute regarding the presence of Swing content.

I don’t want to state my personal opinion here since I want you to be as open as possible to the different opinions in the community.

So, where is West Coast Swing going from here?

I have no idea, but I hope you’ll be part of it. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you on some dance floor in the future.

Yuval Yaary
Yuval is an ambitious entrepreneur and an enthusiastic dancer, who has combined those two characteristics in order to create the YY Westie. He also works as a content writer for marketing and besides dancing, he loves football, cats, pizza, and making friends.
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