Nope. With good instruction, West Coast Swing (WCS) is a dance you can learn and use immediately in a social or club scene. It’s cheap fun, too – $12 average per lesson or per cover charge for most dances.
Nope. You don’t need a partner to take classes with: 60-80% of dancers are single. Classes rotate partners – you’ll meet lots of fun people there! You’re actually expected to show up single. But feel free to learn with a friend.
Nope. Wear what you would wear if you were going to a pub or club. Dressy-casual (jeans or dress pants and a nice top) will do just fine. Don’t bother with skirts. Shoes: try to choose ones that aren’t too clunky or grippy. Ladies, no backless shoes – make sure your shoes will stay on.
YES. It’s like playing pin the tail on the donkey with the phone book. You could get an ace professional, you could get a hack. Like you would with any professional service, do your research. Tell you what, we’ll show you how: Read this article on how to choose an instructor.
A Swing Dance Club is like a dance studio but is a non-profit organization that usually offers social dances on a weekly or monthly basis. It is not associated with any particular studio or school, and therefore tries to promote the dance itself, not the business of lessons. Some Swing Clubs invite local or international instructors in to guest teach workshops, and some even co-sponsor dance conventions.
No problem! That’s what lessons are for! NO ONE EXPECTS YOU TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING WHEN YOU START. Of all the partner dances, West Coast is a very non-strict dance where creativity and freedom are encouraged! A sports or music background are assets, but not necessary.
Ah, yes, that is an unfortunate stereotype. He is probably concerned that he is going to feel self conscious about not being good at it right away. Settle his concerns by mentioning that everyone has to start somewhere, and that all the dancers in the class are newbies too. You can challenge him by asking, “How do you know you’re not going to like it until you’ve tried it?” It might help to suggest that you take private lessons together first before going out in public.
It might feel like that when you walk in, but every single other person in the room feels this way too. No one expects you to know ANYTHING before your first beginner lesson. Everyone there has approximately the same experience level that you do.
This is a common misconception. The WCS techniques are different from other partner dances, but not harder. All of the techniques are based in sound biomechanical principles so the dance is meant to feel natural and ergonomic. This should make it easy right from day one. If it’s a struggle for you, adopt a growth mindset: like learning a new language, embrace the challenge. If you are still struggling after a few months, don’t quit: switch instructors.
Your valid concern comes from the old fashioned tradition that men always do the asking. This no longer exists in the social dance world. Everyone asks everyone, so feel free to invite partners to dance regardless of your role or gender.
If you want to learn with your partner for couple time or to prepare for a special occasion, sign up for private lessons! Here’s why: West Coast Swing is a social dance, intended to be improvised with a variety of partners, like mingling at a party. Most group classes are designed to support this, so rotating partners is required. Dancing with the same partner all class long actually makes you progress slower. Much slower. Because you learn to compensate for the other person’s errors, then you both never learn to do anything properly, but rather just fake it together. Rotating partners allows you to learn the DANCE, not the FAKE.
Social dancing is like going to a dinner party: you’re going to have conversations with lots of different people. The difference is, they last about 3 minutes and involve consensual, respectful, yet meaningless physical contact. Social dancing is not flirting behavior as it is in a nightclub atmosphere. There are no expectations. Most people shake this concern off after the first month or so. If you can’t, maybe this isn’t the right social activity for you.
More liberal than most. Of course, this depends on your region, and there will always be a few haters, as in any community, but you will find several out and proud dancers in every dance scene. The attitude of the general WCS population is mostly ambivalent, if not encouraging. It’s a non-issue. In fact, in recent years, there has been a strong movement and support in the competitive circuit to make competitions gender-neutral, so you can choose your own role even in competitions.
The guy who started the style, Dean Collins, back in the 50s, moved from New York to California to work in Film. In order to define it from the Lindy Hop that was being done in New York, people called it Western Swing. Then they changed the name so it wouldn’t be confused with Country-Western. Check out our WCS History page.
Nope. Swing is a family of dances separate from Country dancing. The Country dance world adopted East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing into their competition lineup, and modified the dances to fit the Country music & movements. You can dance it to Country music, but it’s not a Country dance. Check out this handy dandy comparison chart of different dance styles.
Nope. Swing is a family of dances separate from Ballroom. In the late 1950’s, ballroom studios modified it to fit their syllabus and marketed their own version of Swing (East Coast Swing) to draw in more customers. Today, Jive is one of the competitive Latin/Rhythm dances, but it is just one of many styles of Swing. Ballroom studios now offer West Coast Swing, but this version varies quite a bit from authentic WCS. If you see WCS being danced in a dress and high heels, it is likely Ballroom style, not authentic style. Read more about the distictions between dance styles on our Dance Comparison chart
Nope. You’re thinking of Lindy Hop, Jive, or Rock & Roll. When WCS was developed, it focussed more on Blues. The most versatile partner dance, WCS follows the popular music of each decade. Today, it is mostly danced to Blues, Top40, and R&B. Here’s a list of examples of WCS music.
Probably not. Schools usually bring in instructors to teach Lindy Hop or East Coast Swing and label it “Swing” or “Jive”. But just be glad you didn’t have to Square Dance! Get info on how to bring Swing to your school
YES! Yay! We are all very grateful for the exposure of dance in the media these days. However, the Hollywood influence has been affecting the examples of WCS. Some of the primetime reality shows have tried to include West Coast Swing in their repertoire, but we have yet to see an authentic representation of the dance that is relatable and viral. The best models of our dance, however, are too busy working around the world to be tied down to Hollywood – look for them on You Tube.
Well, there are two possible reasons for that. West Coast Swing is a constantly evolving dance that is always getting more diverse, more ergonomic, and more fun. Unfortunately, this makes it hard for most local dance teachers to keep current, so their material and teaching methods get outdated quickly, which means their students do too. You may have learned WCS from an outdated source and the dancers you observed were current, or vice versa. The other possibility is that you may have been watching dancers from another area of the continent dancing a regional style of WCS.
I would love to say yes, but the answer is no. After one snowboarding lesson, did you feel ready to ride every run on the mountain? No, you probably learned enough to successfully ski one run. One. You can’t just click download and expect your body to perform the dance at a reasonable level. Your one class served as an introduction to the basics, not the complete basics. Like any physical skill, it takes a continuous cycle of lesson-practice-feedback in order to improve. Neglecting to learn your foundation skills, like on the mountain, is likely to result in injury and frustration.
Absolutely! WCS is the most flexible partner dance. It welcomes the introduction of ideas from other dance styles. They can’t always be used verbatim, but there are lots of ways to convert your favourite moves, and a good instructor can show you how.
There are competitions in improvised dancing available for every level of dancer – newcomer to pro. You only have to know your basics, which means you could compete after 6 weeks of training or 6 years! You are only ever competing against people of your same level. As you get more advanced, there are competitions for choreography, but it’s all optional. Competition is only a secondary activity. The main activity is improvised social dancing.
This is an advantage. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have the training to communicate to you exactly HOW. It is a common misconception that ballet and jazz will “taint” or “ruin” your ability to learn Swing. That’s a load of crap. Just like university teaches you how to use your brain (regardless of the subject area), dance training teaches you how to manipulate your body (regardless of the dance style). In short, dance training will make you a quicker learner. Yes you will have some habits to change, but that is the case for all dancers, trained or not.
This may seem like a logical question if you are coming from other sports that segregate participants in different levels. This is not the case for the WCS scene. Everyone integrates, both on and off the floor. Everyone dances with all levels. There is no such thing as “being good enough” to dance with someone.
There are multiple formats available for learning WCS: group classes, private lessons, workshops, instructional videos, and dance conventions. It is advisable to have a balanced diet of instruction between all these modalities. A workshop consists of several group classes strung together in one weekend afternoon, usually taught by a special guest instructor. They are great for gaining invaluable perspective, new ideas and challenges, community bonding, and meeting new people. Read the complete story here
Change instructors. WCS can be taught in a way that is easy, ergonomic and instantly fun. If you aren’t “getting it” after few months or so of classes, and you’ve tried a private lesson, don’t quit – try a new instructor.
If it’s your significant other, try taking a private lesson together, so the instructor can see who is making the mistake and correct it. Try to avoid “I told you so”. If it’s just a classmate, smile and say “I’m just doing the best I can”, then ask the instructor to help you both out.
This is most likely because the instructor does not dance in the rotation with the students, sometimes because the class is too big. If you really like the instructor, ask them for feedback after class, or take a private lesson. If you’re on the fence, try another instructor. Here’s an article to help demystify Private Lessons.
Fabulous! Be sure to be very supportive and enthusiastic of their decision! Depending on your level, you may be able to take a beginner group class together – the review will be good for you. But if there is a drastic level difference, your best bet is private lessons – your partner can catch up to you quicker.
I know the person you’re talking about! The one with the bad breath/B.O./rough lead/sloppy frame/negative attitude, right? Chance are, all the other dancers in the room hate dancing with them too, so you just have to suck it up and take your turn. If it’s really awful, say something to the instructor so they can have a word with the person. Then learn from their mistake – check your own hygiene and attitude just in case. Here’s a great article to “check yourself”
CAREFUL! You Tube is an amazing resource for inspiration and promotion. But it is not intended to be a learning tool! You can’t see the techniques that make the moves work, and trying to copy them without the techniques can be reckless and dangerous. Many moves in routines are meant to be for choreography only, not for social dancing. You’re better off showing your instructor the clip and asking them if they can teach it to you. Or better still, hire the real deal to come to your city and teach you in person. There are several online learning options these days, so do your due diligence and check out our Online Resources page. Here’s a much more detailed article about How to Use YouTube to Learn WCS
Not really. The dance has changed so much in the past 10 years that it is a completely different animal now. It will do you the most good to go back to square one. The good news is, you will find it MUCH more ergonomic and efficient and fun to learn now!
It’s like that game of telephone – by the time the messages gets to the end of the chain, it’s distorted. On a very basic level, there are different levels of instructor just as there are different levels of dancer. Teaching is a skill, and the more training and experience one has, the better they are at that skill. Some instructors are just dancers who decided to turn their passion into a business. Some instructors are trained professionals who decided to apply their teaching skills to dancing. Some instructors are just talented top dancers thrust into a teaching role. The end result is a whole lot of very different perspectives on teaching a skill set that was vague to begin with! The best thing you can do is look at everything you learn like groceries on the shelf. Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean you have to buy it, and it doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Think critically about what you are told: ask yourself if the movement makes sense in your body, in science. If the science or logic of it can’t be confidently explained, don’t buy it. Keep shopping. Keep in mind that there are 2 layers of the material you learn: the base layer of non-negotiable mechanical principles and ergonomics, and a superficial layer of style, preferences, and opinions which will fluctuate between artists. You can expect different teachers to have different preferences, but no one can dispute basic science!
Physics and comfort. The best dancers have found the most efficient way of moving their bodies. It’s all about body mechanics. Because they are moving more efficiently, their movement is more ergonomic, more natural, easier to do, and they feel more comfortable. How do they get that? Great instruction, feedback, and practice…and in rare cases, natural talent. Be cautious with your admiration: some dancers look great to the untrained eye, but are an eyesore to trained dancers, or a sore shoulder to their partners.
10% of the time it will be because the follower’s frame is really that bad (or she has not been taught frame yet). The other 90% of the time, it’s because of you. Advanced followers are not only advanced at following a true lead, they’re also experts at following poor leads, because they can tell what you meant to lead. So they’re expert fakers: they can cover for your mistakes. So the dance runs smoother because they appear to follow you better. Beginner followers haven’t tuned this skill yet, so a poor lead fails on them more frequently.
NO. You can’t get away without it. It is the characteristic of WCS – the essence of the dance. Without it you are just walking around holding hands to music. If you think you like WCS now, and you aren’t doing stretch yet, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, baby! You absolutely can not learn this accurately through a screen – you need to feel it to learn it, which requires you taking live lessons.
Most instructors teach patterns in order to give people some structure, or to “get people moving” or because that’s how they learned, so that’s how they teach. WCS is a dance that is becoming less and less reliant on set patterns, and more reliant on technique in order to create patterns on the fly. The latter allows you to improvise according to how the music inspires you. So, when you learn patterns in classes, learn the skills, but pay more attention to how movements fit the music. Adopt a growth mindset: pay attention to all the technique tips you can get your hands on, and crave more!
West Coast Swing encourages musical interpretation and expression, which sometimes means that there is a more appropriate movement than a triple step for a certain part of the music. Or sometimes, they do a triple rhythm, just not in the traditional 3rd position, or with a different part of their body. Either way, triple steps are a default movement, but not mandatory on every pattern. On the second triple step there is an anchor at the end, but as long as the dancer still does an anchor at the end, before stretching and beginning the next pattern, he or she does not need to do a triple to create it.
This is a cute piece of “advice” that sounds better in theory than in practice. When in doubt, triple, yes. Because the triple step is the core rhythm of the dance. But ripple? Body ripples/bodyrolls were a trend about 15-20 years ago that the Champion dancers started doing and everyone tried to copy them…ad nauseum. Like those songs on the radio that sounded great – until they played it 10-20 times per day! Ripples are like any other styling variation – they should be treated like salt on a meal – a little makes everything better, but a lot can ruin the meal. They are to be used sparingly, and only if you’re good at them. It is more common and appropriate nowadays to use partial body rolls rather than full body rolls.
2 reasons: 1. This is a dance with a history and a culture. You need to be able to understand the historical references: HOW the moves you enjoy today came to be. You also need to be fluent in the vintage songs and style when they are played in competition. 2. Part of learning any art form is learning the styles of the masters before developing your own. Learning by retracing the steps of your elders will make you a wiser artist.
You are not alone. Blues music is usually synchopated, which makes the tempo feel slower and more predictable. Contemporary music is faster and more driving. It just takes practice – try tuning into the Pop/Top40 radio station every time you are in your car. If you are searching for the shuffle rhythm in pop songs, this can get frustrating, as it does not exist in 90% of them. Stop listening for a shuffle rhythm and just listen for the downbeat/upbeat – the vast majority of contemporary songs are in straight time.
You are not alone. Blues is the visceral, root form of all Contemporary music, like R&B. There is good Blues and bad Blues. It’s likely you have only been exposed to bad Blues, (the kind that sounds like you should be riding a horse). Check out some of our recommendations here. There are ways of moving your body that are unique to Blues that will help you “get” Blues and enjoy it more. Spend some time in a lesson learning some Blues moves from an instructor.
It’s hard to hit a break you can’t hear coming. If you have a quick reaction time, you can “freeze” on the beat or shortly after to acknowledge the break, wait 4 counts or until the music starts up again, then continue on. It’s worth it to learn a little music theory in order to hear those breaks coming. It’s not difficult if you find the right source, and you don’t need to be a musician. There are a few great out there that explain Musicology.
When you get to a point where you don’t have to count in your head, you can concentrate more on listening to the music. Advanced dancers have either taken the initiative to study music interpretaion in workshops, or they are used to hearing the song, so they know each break and accent. There is a formula to music that is easy to learn for dancers. The instructional video, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Swing Dancers includes a chapter on Musical Interpretation.
Check out the Music page for our Top 20 recommended songs in each genre. In your own collection, look for songs that are in 4/4 time, between 90 and 120 bpm. After that, the genre, era, and artist is up to you! Many Westies have posted their playlists on Spotify and YouTube.
This is typical of learning any skill. Sometimes you have to step sideways in order to go forward. Try a new class, attend a dance event, work on a different part of your dance. Anything to change your focus. Another possible cause is that you have learned all you can from your instructor and it’s time to hear advice in different words. Try picking up some instructional videos. Or maybe it’s time to go back to taking lessons again, private lessons in particular with help target your needs and goals.
You’re not going to like the sound of this, but trust us, it’s for your own good: If you’re bored, it’s because you are doing it boringly. Which means you need to go back to your basics. WCS is a dance that allows you to constantly invent new patterns and movements. If you can’t do that, it means you missed learning something along the way. Go take some private lessons from dancers whose style you admire, or take a beginner class but in the opposite role (leader instead of follower). As a last resort, instructional videos are an excellent way of picking up new material.
No! Blues Dancing is a completely separate art form, adopted by Lindy Hoppers. It emerged around the same time, and Lindy Hoppers have recently sunk their teeth into it as a fad, more popular now on the West Coast of North America than the East Coast. The irony is, when Lindy Hoppers do “Blues fusion”, a more freestyle, modern version of the vintage style, they are actually doing West Coast Swing without structure. And West Coast Swing dancers who take the time to learn Blues dance skills, can exponentially improve their WCS. This convergence is a perfect crossover opportunity. See our Dance Comparison chart for a breakdown.
Lindy to WCS is not hard at all. It’s mostly the same connection, no bounce, no swivels, a little more upright, and alot more linear stretch. Converting from Ballroom WCS to authentic WCS isn’t too hard, there’s just alot of habits to change: eliminate all hip swiveling, hook steps, and tap steps, and add foot rolling, stretch, frame, and forward pitch.
No. Don’t start teaching just because people ask you to. Just because people admire your dancing does not mean you will make a good teacher. Becoming a teacher is a professional trade. You are responsible for the development of other potential dancers, and for the survival of the art form. It takes training and commitment. It’s not just a way to make money to afford dance events. If you are prepared to invest in your own professional development, and you are motivated by a desire to help people discover, fall in love with, and succeed at dancing, then go ahead. Keep in mind that if you are a competitor, teaching may mean giving up your amateur status, which means that if you will have to compete against the highest level of pro dancers. If you are not comfortable with the idea of teaching people privately, refer them to your instructor. Here’s a great article on Becoming a WCS Teacher
Check out the Event Directory to find an event in your neck of the woods. The Westie world lives on Facebook, so when you pick your destination, search on Facebook for WCS groups in that area. Most have community pages that describe upcoming events. A great new resource for travel enthusiasts is www.wanderingwestie.com
Now that WCS is exploding all over the world, dancers from other continents are so curious and committed that they are looking to travel to North America to train in WCS and experience the truest forms of the dance. Good events are held at a large convention hotel, offer a strong balance of top professional instructors, current music, late-night social dancing, high-level competitions, and positive social atmosphere. NASDE events also offer routine competition divisions. You can ask around on the various social media sites to find out what people are saying.
Heck no! They’re for enthusiasts! It’s like a trade show, or an exhibition – everyone is welcome, regardless of your level of participation. Some people go just for the social dancing, and find that 3 nights of intensive social dancing with dancers from out of town gives them a huge boost in their WCS development. Some people go to enter into amateur competitions – as a measurement of the progress they have made through lessons. We recommend everyone go to a dance event fro m the moment they discover WCS – it is the truest example of what WCS is, and doesn’t hold a candle to what you can find in your own home town. Read an awesome explanation of dance events on the Events page.
Yep – depending on the type of venue you visited, it’s most likely you encountered a regional variation. Embrace it and enjoy it – diversity is fun. You can learn some new moves and challenge your brain a little. It’s also possible you are from a relatively small dance community and you visited a larger, more established community where the dancers are at a higher level and are dancing more current techniques and style.
There are several websites that have emerged recently, and more in the works! YouTube may seem like an obvious answer, but it is not a good tool for learning, only for inspiration. See our Online Resources page for some great websites. We teach lessons via video conference (Skype), and several instructors have awesome instructional videos available in both physical DVD and digital download formats. Check out ours here
No! But you do have to have a certain level of skills before you can start. You have to know your basics, both patterns and techniques. You have to be able to count consistently and stay on time with the music. If you’ve got that much, you can hire a choreographer to prepare a routine for you at your level, not their level.
Absolutely. There is a division where you can dance a routine with your teacher, called “ProAm”, and a division for amateur routines, called “Rising Star”. You can compete against other dedicated amateurs like yourself, rather than against your teachers and heros. But aside from competition, many people prepare routines for performance only – studio shows, dance demos, etc.
Not generally. WCS is a social dance, meaning the common emphasis is on improvisation and dancing with many different partners, like mingling at a party. “Scripted” dancing is highly frowned upon, as it does not allow for an authentic lead and follow conversation. In class, you will learn a variety of techniques and leadable patterns that you can apply in an order, with any partner from anywhere. Occasionally a “choreography class” is offered, which is specifically designed to introduce and sell the idea of performance, but this is rare.