In West Coast Swing, movement by the follower towards the leader results from an away, or leverage, connection. This partner exercise is designed to help both partners maintain that connection, and keep you staying back in leverage.
Leverage, away connection analogy (car & trailer)
Imagine a trailer connected to a car with a rope with slack in it.
The car needs to drive very slowly away to take up the slack in the rope.
Once tension is achieved in the rope, that is an away connection and the cars forward movement will be communicated to the trailer.
Maintaining that slight tension in the rope is the goal of the away connection.
To do this we must first position the car and trailer far enough apart to take out the slack in the rope.
As the car moves the trailer must not be going so fast as to overtake the speed of the car and destroy the tension in the rope.
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2 Keys to staying in a leverage connection
There are two other elements of the picture that are important in west coast swing but aren’t as immediately obvious from the car & trailer picture.
- Both the leader and follower are responsible for taking up the slack in the rope and creating the away connection (it’s not just the car/leader driving away that creates this connection)
- The follower/trailer and she does have the ability to ride the breaks a bit to maintain the tension even after she’s been set in motion.
An easy place to drill this connection is the walk walk of a pattern.
Take a normal WCS hand hold with an away connection.
Then very slowly have the leaders begin walking back.
Followers monitory your connection and try to keep your center slightly behind the foot in order to feel the distance the leader is leading.
Leaders make sure your center stays behind your foot so that you’re not putting slack in the connection.
You should be able to maintain an away connection for as many walks as the leader cares to lead.
This away connection in a simple walk walk will later allow the leader to have the connection to effectively lead perps for turns, whips ect.
Leverage, away connection analogy (water skier analogy)
Another way to describe the away connection in terms of waterskiing. The leader is the boat and the follower is the waterskier. Several things have to occur in order for the waterskier to be comfortably “led” by the boat:
- The boat must be moving in the direction that the waterskier will travel (setting aside cases where the boat turns, which adds in centripetal force and is unnecessary at this point since WCS is a slotted dance). If the boat is moving towards the waterskier, the rope will get slack and the motive power will no longer be transmitted to the skier’s body.
- The center of balance for the boat must be in front of the boat’s motor. If the boat’s center of balance is at, or behind, the motor, the boat will be pulled over from the combination of the boat’s mass and the mass of the waterskier.
- The rope must be taut between the boat and the waterskier. If the rope goes slack, the skier will coast to a stop and eventually sink. If there is slack in the rope and then the rope is pulled tight (from, e.g., the boat accelerating), the waterskier may be pulled off balance and will definitely feel the jerk in the shoulder.
- The skier must keep his or her center of balance behind the feet. If the skier’s center comes over the feet, the boat’s pull through the rope will result in a faceplant.
All of these things also must occur for a comfortable away connection in WCS. If the follower’s or leader’s center comes over the feet, that person will be pulled off balance. If there is slack in the arms, shoulders will get injured when the slack is removed, just like a waterskier can be hurt by a boat driver who guns the engine while the rope is still slack. Finally, the leader and follower must be moving their centers in the same direction (which is hopefully the direction chosen by the leader).
The partners should connect in a standard open position as if they had just completed an anchor.
The follower may choose to close her eyes in order to make sure that she’s following the connection, and not her partner’s visual cues.
Without music, and without moving to any specific rhythm, the leader should walk backwards.
Both partners should focus on keeping the same connection weight throughout the movement.
If the connection loosens briefly, it indicates that the follower moved too far or too fast; if the connection gets heavier, it indicates that the follower took too small or too slow of a step.
Now, switch roles.
Leaders, you need to be able to respond to the size of your follower’s movement just as much as she needs to respond to the degree of your lead: that’s what allows you to cushion the posting action right before the anchor, maintain the right distance while the follower is spinning, and work off your follower’s play.
So, do the drill again in the opposite role.
If you have a video camera, you can record the movement to make sure that both partners are moving together. What you should see is the leader’s feet moving before the follower’s, but both feet land at the same time and the centers stay an equal distance apart throughout the entire movement.
Once both partners are comfortable keeping the connection while simply moving backwards, try moving to different rhythm patterns (e.g., walk walk vs. triple step) and taking different size steps. The follower should be able to maintain the same connection no matter what the leader throws at her. (Good luck!)
The next level of this drill is dancing basic West Coast Swing patterns. Every WC Swing basic should have this away connection through at least the first two beats, so practice feeling this constant away connection all the way through beat 2. Leaders: you should pay particular attention to beat 2 of your right side patterns (right side pass and whip), especially if you cross in front on 2. Even though your right foot is in front of your left, your center should still be back relative to your partner. If there is slack in the connection on the 2 of these patterns but not the 2 of a left side pass, chances are that it’s your fault for bringing your center forward.
One of the important things for West Coast Swing beginners to know are core patterns. The core patterns of WCS (side passes, push breaks, and whips) use leverage and compression in fairly straightforward ways. In intermediate-level patterns, these same connection concepts are used; however, because the moves look different, it can be hard to see how those connections work. These drills aim to help you apply the basic connection principles to higher-level moves.
These drills can be done either by yourself or with a partner. If you are with a partner, actually dance the move up to the connection that is being focused on, and experiment with changing the connection at that time to feel what makes the move easier and clearer. If you are doing the drills on your own, think about where you are located relative to your partner and where the follower is being asked to move next, and position your body so that you are able to create the appropriate kind of connection.
The Drill—Leverage: WCS uses leverage when the follower is being asked to move towards the leader. A straightforward application of this connection principle is the walk walk of any pattern, in which the follower keeps her center slightly behind the foot in order to feel the distance the leader is leading, whether he is creating a prep on 2, etc. (And the leader likewise makes sure his center stays behind his foot so that he’s not putting slack in the connection.)
So, let’s take a more complicated move: the basket whip. On this move, the leader does whip footwork. He is holding both hands of the follower and leads her down his right side, looking at his left wrist on 2 like an underarm turn. Because the follower’s arms are crossed, she continues straight and ends up going into whip rhythm when she feels the leader step across on 4, creating her coaster step.
Walk through this move and stop right before count 4. What kind of connection should the partners be in? The answer, surprisingly, is leverage. Even though she is facing away from the leader, the follower’s next step is going to be towards the leader. How do you create leverage in this position? Well, both partners’ centers must be further away from each other than their feet. So, the leader’s center should be behind his feet, like they normally are for 4 of a whip. But, the follower actually needs to move her center forward—which is away from the leader, because she is facing away from him—in order to create the leverage connection.
If you are doing this drill with a partner, this would be a great time to dance two version of the basket whip. In the first version, have the follower take her center further forward than normal on count 4, so she is leaning further away from the leader. In the second version, have the follower leave her center directly over her feet. The first version should feel more connected because the partners’ centers are in the correct relationship.
Bonus Variations: Walk through your pattern repertoire and identify moments in which the follower is moving towards the leader. Ask yourself where you need to position your center in order to establish a leverage connection at that moment. If you have a partner, also try dancing through the pattern and test whether that connection makes the move work better.