One of the tricky connections in west coast swing is the towards connection, which is also known as compression. A compression connection is used whenever the follower’s center is supposed to move away from the leader’s center. You’ll find this connection most prevalent in the sugar push but we will uncover some unusual places for it later in the post.
Compression connection (truck analogy)
Imagine a truck pushing another truck. In order for the pushed truck to have a reasonably smooth ride, several things must happen. The two most important are:
- The pushing truck needs to be in contact with the pushed truck. No contact = no power pushing the front truck (apart from gravity, if the trucks are going down a hill).
- The pushed truck needs to be riding the brakes. Riding the brakes ensures that the pushed truck stays in contact with the pushing truck. If the pushed truck gets ahead of the pushing truck for any reason (like a slight change in speed), both drivers will feel it when the gap between the vehicles disappears.
3 keys to good compression in west coast swing
- The center of mass for the leader must be closer to the follower than the leader’s contact with the ground. If the leader’s center is directly above or behind the supporting leg/foot, any compression from the follower will result in the leader being pushed over. This is hard to see in the truck picture because the truck has such a broad base between its four wheels.
- Likewise, the center of mass for the follower must be closer to the leader than the follower’s contact with the ground. Being directly over the feet is a sure-fire recipe for falling over when the leader applies compression.
- The connection point needs to be between the centers of both partners. If the point of connection is not between the centers, the energy created through the compression will not be transmitted from the leader to the follower. This will usually be relevant in WCS if the connection point is outside of the frame of one of the partners, rather than between the centers. If the connection point is outside of one partner’s frame, compression will result in a rotational lead rather than a linear lead.
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The Drill: In order to practice this picture, the leader and follower should get into the position of the 3& of a push-break. This is the point of maximum compression. The follower has the option of closing her eyes in order to focus on the connection. At a slow speed, the leader should step towards the follower. The follower should aim to maintain the same level of compression at the beginning and end of the step, which means staying into the compression and not going back further than the leader leads. Leaders: be careful that you are not settling back after your step forward! In a normal push-break you would switch to leverage after stepping your 4 in order to establish the post, but that is not the goal of this drill.
Bonus Variations: When both partners are comfortable remaining in compression, the leader can attempt to lead triple steps or walk-walk rhythms; the follower should be able to pick up on the difference from the center movement of the leader. Both partners can also practice maintaining compression in different positions, such as sweetheart wraps or hammerlock folds or the exit of a whip.
Remember to switch roles for this drill! Just as the leader needs to be able to match the follower’s leverage when settling into a post, anchor, ending a spin, or playing, the leader also needs to match the follower’s compression in a lot of situations. Guys: if you have ever seen a follower do a death-defying lean towards her partner, you were watching a follower that received a great response to her compression from her leader. Being able to give—and stay in—compression when your follower asks for it opens up a whole new world of styling and play.
Basic Compression in Unusual Places
Just like basic leverage principles show up in all kinds of moves, basic compression principles likewise apply to more than just push breaks and tuck turns. This exercise aims to get West Coast Swing beginners thinking about compression even when the situation looks very different from your standard push break.
The Drill—Compression: Our example pattern will be a 6-count roll-in/roll-out pattern. From a leader’s right/follower’s left connection, the leader brings the follower down his left side and preps her for an inside turn. He holds her hand as she turns into the arm and steps further down the slot on 4, then unwinds for her anchor. This move is used all of the time in various handholds: it can be down as a wrap, as a cuddle from a two-hand lead, to a fold or sweetheart position from a right-to-left connection, and more.
What connection should the partners have on count 4? Believe it or not, this is a compression connection. On count 4, the follower is stepping away from the leader. In fact, step 4 of this move is almost exactly like 4 on your basic push break, except the follower is facing down the slot rather than stepping backwards into her anchor and the leader is on the side of the slot rather than in the middle.
In order to create compression, the centers of both partners must be closer to each other than their feet. For the leader, who is on the side of the slot, this means that his center needs to be slightly further down the slot than his feet. For the follower, her center needs to be closer to the leader than her feet, which means that she can’t be standing directly over her feet on 4 (and certainly can’t be pitched forward!). Instead, the follower should be connecting her back into the arm wrapped around her (or the arm on her shoulders in sweetheart, or the fold on the small of her back, or…).
If you have a partner, try this move in two versions. In the first version, have the follower stay back slightly on 4 so that she is staying into the arm on her back. In the second version, have the follower stand straight over her 4 foot. Which feels better? It should be the first version: that allows the follower to feel how far she is stepping on 4, whether she is rotating, how fast she is moving, etc.
Practice going through this pattern, either on your own or with a partner, and pay attention to where your center is located for count 4. Make sure that you are putting yourself in a position to offer compression, rather than being in neutral or leverage.
Bonus Variations: Just like in the leverage drill, go through your patterns and identify moments in which the follower is moving away from the leader. What can you do to make sure that your center is positioned to generate compression at that moment? Practice doing those moves with compression and see how much better the move works.
Have you watched how great dancers can change direction with incredible speed? Most beginners try to replicate that effect by throwing themselves through the move, but they end up off balance. Actually, the key to direction changes is to finish the previous movement. This drill will help you finish movement by settling into the connection so that you can create that same energy.
The Drill: With a partner, dance a left side tuck turn. As you dance the tuck, try two different ways of dancing.
First, the follower should try to cut her rotation short as she turns into the leader’s hand on 3&. In other words, the follower should remain more linear rather than turning to face the leader. This will result in less compression into the leader during the tuck.
In the second version, the follower should turn to face the leader on 3& more than normal. This will require the follower to rotate more as she exits the tuck, and will create more compression during the tuck. Leaders, you need to make sure that you maintain your frame so that she has something to compress into.
Which version feels easier? If you are both giving compression during the tuck, the second version should actually be easier even though the follower has further to rotate. The reason it should feel easier is because the follower can work off of the energy of the compression rather than having to power herself through the rotation.
Beginning followers tend to make things harder on themselves because they cut their tuck short rather than finishing the compression movement. Beginning leaders tend to exacerbate the situation by not providing a solid platform for the follower to compress into. The key for followers is to learn how to finish the compression without over-committing and losing the momentum of the movement. For leaders, the key is learning how to provide a point for the follower to compress into without being too abrupt: your frame needs to absorb the energy and enable her to redirect, rather than making her feel like she is slamming into a wall.
The drill is to practice the tuck motion slowly in order to figure out when the compression has reached its natural release point. As both of you compress into the tuck, you will feel a point at which your bodies want to spring back. This point will vary depending on your builds, the relation of your centers, etc., so you are not looking for a specific position. Instead, try to feel when that point occurs.
You should feel like your body is a compression spring—it moves as it is pushed, but as it is pushed further the resistance increases. Your frame needs to relaxed enough that you can compress without feeling like you’re hitting a wall, but you need enough tone through your frame that you build resistance.
Keep practicing until you can consistently find that point of natural release. Getting to that point is how you finish your movement into compression.
Creating Energy with Compression (Advanced)
In an earlier drill, we worked on finishing movement into compression. You learned to find the natural release point for compression, rather than bouncing out of compression because “that’s what the pattern does.”
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Now it’s time to put that technique into more complicated movements.
The Drill: With a partner, practice doing a left side tuck turn. You know what it feels like when you reach the natural release point for the compression. The drill is to try to make that point occur right as the tuck is ready to release on 4.
This drill is all about timing your absorption and release, so practice with a variety of musical tempos. You’ll want to include some really slow music in order to become aware of how the compression builds and releases. If you can’t make the compression smoothly build and release during slow music, chances are good you’ll feel like you are hitting a brick wall on faster music.
As you practice, become aware of how your body is set when you reach that natural release point. Leaders, this will become something you can manipulate in the dance. By delaying that moment, you can extend a movement in compression, which opens up the door for cool moves like leans, walkarounds, and other variations. Followers, you should train yourself to be sensitive to that moment as well, because if a leader wants to extend the compression, you want to be able to match that.
Tucks are taught in a lot of different ways; sometimes they release on 3& while other times they release on 4. If you dance a syncopated triple (&3 4 instead of 3&4), the tuck will release on 3.
The syncopated triple is very common in today’s dance because it naturally hits a downbeat, which is where a lot of breaks occur.
The technique here will be the same regardless of when the tuck releases, but for the purposes of this drill we’ll practice with the compression building through 3& and hitting its maximum point just in time for the follower to be asked to step out on 4.
Both leaders and followers need to make sure that they are using their frames to absorb the compression, while keeping their frame with their body. (In other words, don’t push your arms forward of your body. When you extend your frame like that, it’s really hard to keep the energy moving from your frame to your center.)