West Coast Swing

From Academic Kids

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.

It is easily recognized by a distinctive push-pull pattern 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 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 since the fork. There is still a large amount of crossover between the two dances and between the various styles.

Key differences of WCS are:


The follower moves back and forth along a shoulder width rectangle, called the slot, with respect to the leader. The leader is more stationary and also mostly stays in the slot. 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 emphasizes Blues and Rock and Roll music, rather than Swing Jazz. Funky WCS accepts a broad spectrum of contemporary music. In practice, WCS may danced to almost any music in 4/4 time.


Where Lindy Hop basics are almost exclusively 8 beat patterns, WCS steps can be 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, or more counts (though most basics are 6 or 8 beats). As in Lindy Hop, moves can be extended for as long as desired.

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 are modified or replaced. For example, the anchor step, the cornerstone of the classic WCS, is often replaced by hook-replace-side triple-step. The overall appearance is heavily influenced by funk and Hip Hop styles.

"True" WCS vs. ballroom WCS

Here lies an ironic controversy. It is argued that WCS in its modern form was documented and elaborated by Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance Studios (franchise). Afterwards it broke away to evolve on its own. A renewned 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 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.

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 it would benefit a prospective student to take longer classes (5-10 weeks) and try different teachers, to find what they like.

Typical beginners must concentrate much on being where the 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 may 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.


Ten Basic moves that any WCS dancer should know are:

  • 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.
  • Sugar Push: A six count basic where the follower, facing the leader, is led from the end of the slot to a two hand hold, then led back to the same end of the slot.
  • Right Side Pass: A six count basic where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, the couple passing the on their right.
  • 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 Pass: A six count basic where the follower is led past the leader to the other end of the slot, passing the leader on the left.
  • Return to Close: In six counts, the follower is led 3/4 of the way around the leader into closed position.
  • Tuck Turn: This is like a throw out in 6 counts, but the follower is blocked and led to turn under her arm (an inside turn).
  • 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.

With these ten moves, anyone can do a lot.


Beginning dancers focus on squaring up their bodies with their partners and staying with the music.

Advanced dancers

Advanced dancers may be allowed to break the rules and won't remember what patterns they've just done.

Other moves

West Coast has many colorful moves:

  • Sugar Tuck: Like a sugar push, but ends with a 2 count underarm turn
  • Cement Mixer:
  • Basket Whip:
  • Man around the Woman:
  • Woman around the Man:
  • Reverse Whip:
  • Reverse Close:
  • Swivel Walks
  • Chicken Walks
  • Octopus:


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 and flea hops (all others are disallowed in competition).


See also: dancing: Swing Out, Swing (dance), Lindy Hop, Ballroom Dance; music: popular music, pop music, contemporary music;

External links

California Roster (http://www.ss.ca.gov/executive/ca_roster/2003/roster03_sec11_miscellany.pdf); Official State Dance of California (http://www.streetswing.com/statednc.htm); Sonny Watson dance history archives: West Coast Swing (http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3wcs1.htm);


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