West Coast Swing (WCS) developed, not surprisingly, on the West Coast of the United States, especially in southern California. Much like other dances in the swing family, West Coast Swing can trace its lineage back to the Lindy Hop, and this heritage can be seen in moves like the whip, which is a descendant of the Lindy Hop swing out. In the 1940s and 1950s, West Coast Swing, which was then called Western Swing or Sophisticated Swing, was gaining steam, and it increased in popularity under the name West Coast Swing in the 1960s. Later it became the state dance of California.
Even more than many other dances, West Coast Swing has been an evolving dance. Skippy Blair in “Dancing My Way through Time” identifies its shift from being a lead-centered dance to one in which the follow “is as responsible for the partnership as [the lead] is. He leads – but she needs to know enough about the dance to ADD to the performance.” Follows frequently add embellishments such as syncopations and styling.
According to Richard Powers, “West Coast Swing is much more than a style and syllabus of figures. It embodies the West Coast attitude about dance, a mindset of freedom, ease, flexibility and infinite possibilities.” For more on the history of West Coast Swing, see Richard Powers’s article “The Evolution and Spirit of West Coast Swing”.
Creating the appearance of smooth gliding and elasticity, West Coast Swing dancers embrace improvisation and continuing evolution in the form. For an example of the smoothness of West Coast Swing, see this routine by Diego and Jessica or Maxence and Emiline!
The new West Coast Swing dancer may have trouble distinguishing its step patterns from its eastern cousin with their similar use of triple steps; however, the two dances have very different aesthetics. For starters, West Coast Swing is a slot dance, which means that the dance emphasizes an imagined line or “slot” on the dance floor. Many instructors compare dancing in this imaginary slot to dancing down a narrow corridor.
A number of differences, such as the basic step and type of partner connection, set West Coast Swing apart from East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop. Modern West Coast Swing most often uses an anchor step with resistance rather than a coaster step with its back-together-forward pattern at the end of each step pattern, though the coaster step still appears in ballroom swing. The anchor fuels the aesthetic of this dance by emphasizing partner connection through tension.
For a dictionary of West Coast Swing terms, see Skippy Blair’s dance terminology notebook.
One of the most obvious differences between West Coast Swing and its East Coast cousin is the music. While East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop are danced to swing, jazz, and big band music, West Coast Swing is often danced to more modern varieties of music. The music that’s playing, be it blues, rock ‘n’ roll, hustle, hip hop, or pop, leaves its distinctive stamp on the dance’s aesthetic. West Coast Swing can be danced to songs ranging in tempo from very slow to fast, often between 112-128 bpm laid out by the National Dance Council of America, though it can be danced to both slower or faster songs.