West Coast Swing is one of the most open-ended dances in existence. If you watch a floor of professional ballroom dancers, you will see a dozen couples striving towards a shared ideal of what the dance should look like. In west coast, it’s virtually the opposite: every professional has their own style, and the magic of the dance is how the pros combine their styles within the partnership to embody something unique and yet still recognizable as swing.
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Creating you version of west coast swing
As you watch WCS you’ll find that there are different versions. Dancers across the world have taken this dance to new and exciting places. The freedom to interpret the dance is not restricted to the professional ranks. Everyone who dances West Coast Swing is—consciously or not—making a statement about how they visualize west coast swing. Being deliberate about those statements is the key to developing your own style. This article and the following drill aims to help you do just that.
A drill to make this dance your own
This drill is a mental exercise to think about what the key principles of WCS are, to you.
Sit down with a piece of paper and ask yourself, “If I were teaching WCS from scratch, what would be important? What are the fundamentals I would emphasize?”
The start of your list will probably seem formulaic: triple steps, anchors, and basic patterns. Push yourself to keep going. Are more patterns important? Anchor variations? Connection? Musicality? Lead-follow syncopation? Styling?
And keep drilling down within this list: if you chose musicality, what elements of musicality? Where should someone start in learning musicality? When is it okay for musicality to override basic rhythms—or is it never okay?
Once you have your list
Once you have your answers, go back to your own dancing. You could watch a video of yourself dancing, or simply pay attention when you go out social dancing. What elements of your dancing are consistent with the interpretation of WCS that you developed? Are there elements of your dancing that don’t match the interpretation you worked out?
When you find elements that don’t match, ask yourself whether you should revise your interpretation or whether that’s an area for improving your dancing in order to more closely match your interpretation.
Continue your evolution
The point of this exercise is to clarify what you think is important to west coast swing, and to bring your dancing into harmony with this viewpoint. To continue your evolution, come back to this activity on a regular basis (two or four times a year) and ask yourself how your interpretation has evolved. Hopefully you are continuing to improve in your dancing, and as you improve your understanding of what is important should develop as well. You’ll be well on your way to creating a West Coast Swing that is all your own!
Creating your own style in west coast swing
Have you watched a champions Jack and Jill and been amazed at how different everyone’s dance looked? West coast swing is one of the few partner dances that encourages its dancers to develop their own style. If you’re wondering how to start cultivating your style, keep reading!
A drill to develop your own styling
On your own, sit down and write down a list of five to ten adjective that you want to describe your dancing. Do you want to be funny? Cool? Silly? Funky? Elegant? Flashy? Relaxed? There are no wrong answers—just write down what comes to you!
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If you’re having a hard time coming up with adjectives, ask a trusted dance friend what they think your dance personality is like. They will probably have some great suggestions for what you do naturally.
Once you have your list of adjectives, pick two from that list. For each of those two adjectives, write a sentence or two describing what that adjective would look like in your dance. As an example, if you picked “silly,” you might write, “I want to pantomime lyrics in a comic manner, like Matt Auclair.” Or, for “elegant you might say, “I want all of my movement to appear graceful and classy, like Brandi Tobias.” If you can pick a specific pro that exemplifies that trait, that’s great!
Finally, spend some time watching videos of yourself and the pros that exemplify the adjectives you’re looking for. Note what movements showcase those adjectives. Are there specific things the pros do that you can incorporate? Are there elements of your dancing that you want to bring out?
This kind of reflection can be extremely useful for clarifying how you want to develop your dance style. Share it with your coaches and practice partners so they can help encourage your look. One more tip: make a note in your calendar to revisit this list in six months. By checking back in with your style goals on a regular basis, you can make sure that your dance is growing in the direction you want to go!