While there are an unlimited number of things that could improve your ability to lead and follow west coast swing, we’re going to cover 3 common concepts that every west coast swing dancer should know.
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Elasticity in west coast swing
One of the distinguishing features of west coast swing is the elastic look and feel of the dance.
This effect of stretching away from each other before moving in the same direction is distinct from the rock step motion that characterizes other forms of swing.
Most dancers first learn about elasticity on the anchor.
At the end of the anchor, both partners settle away from each other in a stretched position. The follower continues this stretch for a brief moment as the leader begins to lead the next pattern; this subtle away action creates the elasticity of the dance.
At higher levels of the dance, elasticity occurs with almost every change of direction or speed.
- At the start of a new pattern, the follower will stretch away from the leader before moving forward.
- During the coaster step of the whip, the follower will stretch away from the leader before coming over the right foot on count 4.
- When coming up from a hip catch, the follower will sink into the caught hip before coming out of the catch.
- When exiting a throwout, the follower will stretch into the connected arm before coming towards the leader.
- When traveling past the follower, the leader will stretch into the connection before initiating the next pattern.
- When finished playing, the partner initiating the play will settle away in order to indicate that he or she is ready for the next movement; the other partner will match that settle in order to prepare the momentum for the next movement.
Whenever either partner is in a neutral connection, both partners will stretch into the connection before initiating the next movement in order to avoid a rough or jerky motion.
Although the mechanic is reversed in compression, the same idea—that the connection builds slightly before the follower is moved—occurs in compression-based movements like push breaks, tucks, and exits from wraps and folds.
Flash lighting in west coast swing
Flash lighting is a connection technique that visually emphasizes the center-to-center connection between the partners.
The name comes from imagining that both partners have a flashlight beam coming from their centers.
The follower shapes her body to aim her flashlight beam on the center of the leader. The leader can either aim his flashlight at the follower’s center or aim the flashlight in the direction the follower will go.
The Drill: With a partner, dance basic patterns without physically touching. The leader indicates where the follower should go by shaping his center in the direction of the lead. The follower keeps her flashlight aimed at the leader’s center throughout the patterns.
This drill works best with left side passes, push breaks, and whips—moves in which the follower’s center is constantly shaping the leader. For moves with turns (like a side tuck or an underarm turn), you will notice that the follower needs a lead beyond the center shaping in order to create the turn.
Intermediate dancers are taught to flashlight their partner in order to enhance their connection.
The next level of connection adds in an awareness of how the partner’s frame is asking to be shaped.
The following drill is designed to practice this concept.
The Drill: With a partner, stand in open position with a normal, left-to-right handhold. The leader should raise the arm so that the follower has room to walk underneath, and both partners should walk past each other. (The follower is passing on the leader’s left side, but the leader is also traveling towards where the follower started. This is not a WCS pattern, and the leader is not giving a body lead because he is moving against the follower’s motion.
As the follower and leader pass, both should rotate their bodies in order to keep their hands in front of them. The rotation action is much like a tether ball—as the rope (the arm) runs out of slack, the object at the end of the rope rotates around the point of connection. The rotation will be in the same direction as a side tuck, with the follower turning to her right and the leader to his left, but there is no tucking action. To feel the rotation, both the follower and leader need to keep a good frame; the pectoral muscle should be engaged throughout this exercise.
Both partners should continue to walk past each other in order to feel this tethering action. Be sure to practice with other hand connections and with moving down the other side of the leader!
Bonus Variations: Once both partners are comfortable with using the tethering action to rotate, the leader can practice adjusting the timing and degree of the follower’s rotation by moving the point of connection. The leader can rotate the follower early in the pattern by making the tether run out of rope earlier; if he delays the point at which the rope runs out of slack, the follower will rotate later.