So you’ve never done West Coast Swing before? Well here’s a little primer to help you get started.
What is West Coast Swing?
West Coast Swing (WCS) is a smooth, slotted swing dance. It evolved from a smooth style of Lindy Hop here in California and adapted into its own dance form back in the ’50s and 60s. Danced to a wide range of music genres, it is slower than Lindy and East Coast Swing, which are danced to up-tempo swing and big band music, but it is very improvisational, creative, and musical. Often it is defined by the stretch and flow of the dance and its linear shape. West Coast Swing is danced to a wide variety of music from the last several decades, including current top 40, R&B, pop, soul, and blues – everything from Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars and Usher to Al Green and Aretha Franklin and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Check out some good dancing here:
A good way to start learning West Coast Swing is by taking a weekly group class. A group class will not only teach you the basics of the dance but will also introduce you to other people who are also just starting out. And a weekly class will make sure you’re getting regular, consistent instruction and practice.
We recommend you check out our WCS Fundamentals class on Wednesday nights at 8:00pm. Whether you’ve never danced before or you’re familiar with other partner dances, this class will teach you basics and help you do them well. In addition to learning to passes, pushes, and the whip, you’ll learn about body movement, footwork, connection, and how to lead or follow.
It’s a three month program, with each month offering a progressive series. You can take the three months (A, B, C) in any order, but enrollment is only allowed in the first two weeks of the month. No partner is necessary, as we rotate partners in class. (Rotating partners helps you improve by testing your skills on multiple people – and introduces you to more people!)
If you’ve never tried West Coast Swing before, you can take the Fundamentals class and stay for the dance for just $5. Plus, we’ll give you half off a monthly pass. This way you can take the whole Fundamentals monthly series and get more comfortable with WCS!
Learning to dance
Learning any new skill requires three things: a commitment to getting better, proper instruction, and regular, focused practice. (As we like to say, you won’t get better at something by not doing it!) The WCS Fundamentals class is designed to accelerate your progress, using methods and approaches to get you better faster. The class is also structured as a three-month program, allowing you time to absorb the material before giving you more. We encourage people to take it at least twice (some have taken it multiple times!) because each time you take it you’ll absorb more information and get more comfortable with the material. We invite you to stick around for the dance to practice what you learn in class – and to learn more about the dance by watching. You should dance with as many people as you can, as this will greatly improve your lead and follow skills and ensure you can execute the material with any partner. While social dancing is the best way to practice a partner dance, you will also learn exercises in class that you can practice on your own. For the fastest learning, you should practice often – at least every other day, if not every day!
What to wear
West Coast Swing dancers are fairly casual – most wear jeans and a nice shirt (t-shirt or dress shirt). We tend to dance in particular dance shoes, but we also dance in sneakers and plimsolls. For now, comfortable shoes with a non-stick or leather sole will do. If you’re prone to sweating (hey, it happens) feel free to bring an extra shirt (and deodorant, ahem).
Social dance etiquette
Social dancing can be tons of fun, but it can also be confusing and intimidating. Here are some tips to help you navigate the social dance floor:
- Don’t be afraid. Everyone is there to dance, so feel free to go up to someone and ask if they’d like to dance with you. In West Coast Swing, anyone can ask anyone – regardless of gender, skill, experience, or anything else.
- Be polite. Make sure you ask politely (a simple “Would you like to dance?” will do) and be sure to thank your partner afterwards. A little courtesy makes a big difference.
- Watch out. The social dance floor can get crowded, so it’s important to manage your space and avoid bumping into other dancers (we call this “floorcraft”). Leaders in particular should keep an eye out and make sure not to lead your follower into anyone.
- Take care. Both leaders and followers should take care of their partners. (That’s a person you’re dancing with, not a machine or a toy.) Respect others’ boundaries and abilities and do your best to make sure they have a good time.
- Dance up… and down. We know it’s intimidating, but go ahead and ask the better dancers in the room. Dancing with more skilled dancers is a great way to get better and experience the dance at a higher level. But also be sure to ask someone who isn’t as skilled as you – you’ll help someone else have a good time while also getting an opportunity to strengthen your own dancing.
We also have a Code of Conduct that provides more guidelines on appropriate ways to interact with others (and what may happen to those who act inappropriately).
We ask that all new students take the Fundamentals program at least twice (two cycles of our three-month series, for a total of six months of class) before moving up. The goal is to get a strong grasp of the material and build a solid foundation for great dancing. Once you get comfortable with the fundamentals, you’ll be ready to expand your dancing and move up. With permission from the instructor, you’re welcome to take our Intermediate WCS class at 7:00pm. In this class you’ll learn more advanced patterns, techniques, and concepts, expanding your repertoire of moves and learning to dance to the music while ensuring it all feels good for your partner. If you’ve passed out of the Fundamentals class, we invite you to continue taking it free of charge because we want you to keep working on your fundamentals, while also dancing with and welcoming the newer students. (Many of our Intermediate students take both classes concurrently.) To supplement your education and get more personalized instruction, you can also take private lessons.
West Coast Swing is arguably the most difficult partner dance to master. While no dance is closer to walking, there’s a lot to learn in order to really maximize one’s potential in the dance. Here’s some advice as you move along on your WCS journey:
- Be patient. No one gets good at something overnight, and everyone has their own pace. While the Fundamentals class will get you up on your feet and ready to dance, there’s a difference between doing a dance and doing it well. The latter takes time and practice.
- Be forgiving. Don’t expect to get everything right away. Whenever you learn something new, you’re probably not going to be very good at first, but with time and practice you’ll get better. That’s just how we learn. As they say, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!
- Be kind. Whether you’re in class or at a social dance, be respectful of others’ skills and abilities. Stay focused on your own journey and allow the other person to work at their own pace. Teachers are available to answer any questions and offer any necessary instruction.
- Practice! As with any new skill, the only way to get better is to do it and do it more. The more you practice – meaning focused repetition – the better you will get, and the more often you practice, the faster you’ll get better.
- Have fun! Dancing is something we do for enjoyment, so don’t forget to enjoy it!
If you’d like more personalized instruction, you can take a private lesson to enhance your education. Private lessons offer a good complement to group classes, providing personal feedback and advice to match the content of a group class. If you’re interested in taking a private lesson, you can contact Eric for more information.
If you have any other questions about West Coast Swing or about taking lessons or dancing at Mission City Swing, please shoot us an email. For frequently asked questions about Mission City Swing, check out our FAQ.