West coast swing is generally regarded as one of the most challenging social dances to learn. The purpose of this post is to explore some of the reasons why WCS can be challenging in order to help dancers understand why learning WCS can be difficult. Obviously, I believe that west coast is well worth the challenge, but it’s also worth acknowledging that this is a demanding dance, and that it’s natural to have moments of frustration.
1. Triple steps are hard. Very few social dances use triple steps because they require a strong sense of rhythm to place the & and they demand a high level of control over the body center during the triple.
2. Dancing in open position requires a good frame.There are a lot of ways for closed position dancing to compensate for a weak frame. In open position, if you don’t maintain your own frame then you’re lost.
3. WCS is not a mirrored dance. Followers can’t just match their leader. West coast demands a higher level of knowledge from the follower than many social dances.
4. Anchoring and elasticity are high-level concepts. Not only are these concepts tricky for beginners to master, they are also fundamental to the dance. Elasticity is needed to understand the coaster step in the whip, and staying back on the anchor is WCS 101.
5. West coast is inherently off-phrase. Because WCS has six beat patterns, the dance always gets off time from the music. This enables high-level dancers to reattach to the music in cool ways, but it means that beginners can get lost in the beat.
6. WCS is a conversation. Dancers are expected to not just perform their role, but to adapt to what their partner does during the dance. This requires both partners to learn lead and follow skills.
7. There is a huge range of musical styles and tempos. Extreme slow and fast requires a high level of body control, and expressing different genres requires a broad range of movements. WCS even changes the way that patterns are counted based on the music (straight vs. rolling)!
In short, it’s OK to feel like west coast swing is a difficult dance. It is! The key is to remember that this difficulty is not created just to mess you up—all of these challenges give WCS a huge degree of freedom and flexibility. Putting time into mastering these skills has a huge payoff precisely because developing talent at WCS forces you to learn a lot of solid dancing skills.
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