1. Practice west coast swing blindfolded
Everyone agrees that a great connection makes the dance better.
But, it’s hard to get good feedback on your connection as a beginner because we don’t always listen to the physical connection.
It’s easy to respond to what you see from a person and assume that the connection is working. However, there’s a simple way to focus on the physical connection: dance blindfolded.
Blindfolded dancing is a very popular instructional technique.
How to practice blindfolded
For this exercise, pick one or two of the objectives below. With a partner, blindfold the follower. The leader should then lead for a song, with both partners concentrating on the selected objectives.
You can choose to focus on any of these objectives, or other objectives that your instructors have suggested:
- Having the follower stay back on the anchor.To help with this, the leader should occasionally anchor (but not stretch) and then hold for two extra beats before stretching. If the follower anticipates the next lead, you both will know it!
- Having the leader create a body lead on 1.Followers, if you can’t feel a clear lead from your leader, or if you can’t tell what direction you are being led, don’t go.
- Having the follower stay into the connection.Leaders, you can lead push breaks or whips and pause before the redirection on 4, extending for two beats. Followers, fight to stay into the connection as long as possible.
- Having the leader maintain the slot.Followers, focus on aligning with where the leader’s arm/hand puts you. The leader needs to ensure that he is keeping you in the slot.
Now, have the follower take off the blindfold and have the leader put it on. Dance again, focusing on your objectives.
When the follower was blindfolded, it was easy for her to tell when her instructions were unclear.
Now with the leader blindfolded, it should be easier to feel when the follower isn’t responding in the way you would expect. Leaders: this does not automatically mean that the follower made a mistake!
If something feels wrong, both of you need to work together to figure out how to fix the issue.
Sometimes it’s on the follower’s end, sometimes it’s a leader issue, and sometimes it requires both to change. If you can’t figure out a solution together, then this is a great question to take to your local pro.
2. Practice west coast swing with no music
Dancing can be defined as movement to music.
West coast swing is famous as a dance in part because of the variety of music that works for the dance. It’s so obvious that dance and music belong together that it can be bizarre to think about dancing without music.
We’re going to be bizarre.
When we dance with a partner, we tend to use the music as a shared metronome.
We figure out where we are in the beat, or the pattern, by first identifying where we are in the music and then asking whether our partner is there with us. As a result, we can lose sight of our partner’s timing.
It’s hard to listen to when your partner is moving if your default reference is the song.
To really hone in on our partner’s timing, your drill is to dance with a partner, without music. This is not your typical music-free practice when you go through moves slowly and pause to figure out how the pieces work.
How to practice with no music
You are going to do honest-to-goodness WCS dancing, but the only music will be the beat in your head.
Since you don’t have a shared timing device like a metronome or a song, you will need to pay attention to your partner much more than normal.
Each role has a slightly different responsibility during this exercise:
Leaders: Your lead needs to accomplish two things.
- You need to establish what the beat is in your head. To do this, your body needs to communicate your timing clearly. Your footwork, center movement, and even styling all need to send a consistent message about where the beat is.
- You need to tell the follower when to prepare for the lead.
Followers: You have two major responsibilities during the no-music dance.
- You need to “hear” the leader’s timing. Pay attention to his center movement, his footwork, and his connection in order to zero in on when the beat is hitting in his head.
- You need to identify when the leader is asking to lead. To do this, you need to stay responsive through all your movements. Maintaining your frame, paying attention to when the post is established, etc. are all part of being prepared to receive a lead.