West coast swing, or WCS, is a popular form of swing dancing that has spread from the US across the world. Part of the appeal of WCS is that it is an adaptable dance; it can be danced to a variety of musical styles and tempos, from 1940s big band swing and 60s soul to contemporary/top 40, hiphop, and of course the blues. In addition, the dance itself creates room for improvisation and interaction between the partners. Combine these elements with the ethos of a street dance—most west coast dancers resist the urge to formalize the dance into a ballroom-like curriculum—and it’s easy to see why west coast can be so hard to define!
Some of the general characteristics of west coast swing, as it is danced socially, include:
- WCS is a lead-follow partner dance that emphasizes the conversation between the partners. The leader is responsible for selecting the patterns of the dance, but is encouraged to create opportunities for the follower to shine within the dance. The follower is responsible for carrying out the intention of the leader, but is encouraged to play and interpret within the leader’s overall structure.
- WCS is generally danced in a linear slot, with the follower moving to either end of the slot and the leader remaining in the center. Although the slot can rotate or travel on occasion, WCS is not a circular or progressive dance.
- Every pattern in WCS ends in an anchor; the leader and follower are stretched away from each other. This stretch, or elasticity, creates a smooth and relaxed look for the dance. In contrast to other forms of swing, west coast settles into the end of each pattern through the anchor.
One of the greatest parts about west coast swing is that the dance is highly personalized. There is no “one way” to dance WCS, and dancers are encouraged to develop their own style within the basic framework of the dance.
YouTube has hundreds of videos of great WCS dancing. To get started, I would suggest checking out the US Open Swing Dance Championship channel, which has videos of the winning dances in each category for the last several years.