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West-Coast Swing

by Harold & Meredith Sears

4 beats/measure; 22-35 meas/min

West Coast Swing is obviously related to the other swing or jive rhythms, and it evolved out of swing and lindy in the 1930s. It is lazy, slow, and easy-going. It is the official state dance of California, and it dances best to easy-going bluesy or beach music. It is an evocative dance, some say sexy. You have time to embellish the figures with whatever body styling you might be moved to add.

Where swing, jive, and lindy are circular dances in which the man and woman travel around each other, West Coast Swing is a slot dance in which the woman dances up and down within a 3 X 6 foot rectangle on the dance floor, sometimes making 1/2 turns at the ends and other times moving back and forth facing the same direction. The man leads the woman forward. He steps out of her way, dances around her in various patterns, and then gets back into the slot again. Given the man's pattern of stepping to one side of the woman's slot, moving back into her slot, and perhaps stepping out of her slot on the other side, we can also visualize two slots in the shape of a cross. The woman dances up and down in her longer slot, and the man dancies back and forth in his shorter slot perpendicular to hers.

West Coast has three important families of figures. One is the "sugar" figures, after the sugar push, maybe the characteristic or defining figure of the rhythm. In these figures, the man does not leave the woman's slot. He blocks her and sends her back. Sugar timing is 1, 2, touch, step; 1/&, 2, — that is four quicks and a triple. This pattern is kind of tough in the beginning; you sure want to step on that third beat, so be patient. Repetition and floor-time will iron it out. The second family contains the passing figures. Here, the man does leave her slot and so allows her to pass from one end of her slot to the other. The basic timing of the passing figures is a familiar jive pattern, 123&4; 1&2. And the third family are the whip figures, where the man leaves the slot on one side, allows her to pass, moves thru the slot and leaves it again on the otherside, perhaps allowing her to pass him again back to where she began. The typical timing of the whip figures is 123&4; 123&4. Of course, there are other patterns and many variations to all these patterns.

One option in timing is to dance each "&" as an "a" as in 3a4. This has the effect of lengthening the first step and shortening the second step in each triple, a pattern we are used to in jive.

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