Because play occurs within the WCS dance, it is important to be able to get out of play and back into WCS. Just like gymnasts begin learning tumbling skills by practicing how to land safely (and how to fall safely when the landing doesn’t work!), we will start by practicing how to get out of play and resume the WCS dance.
General Principles for Ending Play:
- West coast swing is a two beat dance. Play should thus generally start on a downbeat and end on an upbeat. Eventually, you will want to signal the play is done on an upbeat so the partners can resume WCS on the next downbeat.
- Whoever initiates play is responsible for ending it. If you are suggesting a change to (or extension of) the standard WCS structure, you need to make sure that your partner is on board for when it ends. Essentially, the person who starts play is taking over the leader role, and as a leader your responsibility is to take care of your partner.
- Anchors are a great way to signal the end of play. An anchor is normally a chance for both partners to regroup before starting a new pattern, so it makes sense to use that structure to transition back into the dance. This is not a requirement—play can end in almost any position—but it’s a very safe place to finish.
The Drill: Without a partner, put on a song with a clear beat. Freestyle dance for a little bit, then perform an anchor step on a downbeat-upbeat pair. This requires two skills. First, you need to hear when you are on an upbeat. Second, you need to recognize whether you are on your normal foot for count 4 (leader’s left, follower’s right). If you are on your normal foot on the upbeat, do your anchor as normal. If you are on the wrong foot, you need to take an extra step on the & before the downbeat in order to do your anchor. Repeat until you can fluidly anchor on a downbeat-upbeat pair after freestyling.
If you struggle with anchoring when you are on the wrong foot on an upbeat, practice simply putting your weight on the wrong foot. As you listen to the song, think downbeat-upbeat and when you hear an upbeat, immediately go into your & anchor step. Once you can do this smoothly, you should be able to pull out this skill if your freestyle leaves you on the wrong foot.
Extending the Drill with a Partner: Once you and your partner can both do the solo version of the drill, put on another song and pick one person to end the play. The person who will end play should do their freestyle dance; the other partner should simply mark time by doing walk walks. The drill is for the freestyling partner to go into an anchor as soon as the upbeat happens. Although the anchor footwork doesn’t start until the downbeat, the dancer wants to move into the anchor position after the upbeat so that the other partner has time to react. The partner marking time should match that anchor (fixing the feet with an & step if necessary). Switch roles and repeat until both partners can join in the anchor once the freestyling partner has indicated the end of play by going into their anchor.