Transitional weight in west coast swing

Transitional weight is a concept that describes a common led syncopation. The basic idea is that a dancer takes the first two steps of a triple, but the third step remains unweighted—usually in a line or pose. Then, the dancer takes a weighted step on the & in order to get back on “normal” footwork.

Beginners are usually introduced to transitional weight in the hip catch. Take the basic hip catch pattern: from a leader’s right hand and follower’s left hand connection, the follower is wrapped up on the leader’s left side (roll in), and then the leader catches the follower’s hip on the roll out. The roll in finishes on count 4, and up to this point the footwork of both the leader and follower is normal.

On the roll out to the hip catch, the transition weight syncopation begins. For the follower, she unrolls as she steps down the slot on her left foot on 5. By the & of 5, she feels the leader’s hand on her hip and steps together or slightly down the track with her right foot in order to fill the hand. On 6, instead of finishing the triple with her left foot (which would take her away from the connection on her hip), she continues to fill the connection point of the hand on her hip and points the left leg in a second position line. The leader syncopates in the same way: stepping right, left on 5 & and then settling into the left leg and creating a line with the right on 6.

To exit, both partners need to take an extra step in order to make up for the unweighted pose on 6. This is the transition: the dancers transition their weight to the posed leg in order to fix their footwork. This transition usually happens on an & count before a downbeat so the footwork is fixed for the next two beat increment.

Continuing our example, the leader is going to give the follower a free spin exit from the hip catch. He shifts his weight to his right leg on the & before 7, which causes the follower to also shift her weight to her posed (left) leg. Now they are on their normal footwork: the follower can do a free spin on 7&8 just like the 3&4 of a normal free spin or inside roll while the leader does his triple on the side of the slot, then both anchor at the end of the slot on 9&10.

Transition weight is used frequently when a couple is creating extra stretch or holding a pose. Leaders need to be aware of when they are asking for transition weight in order to have the follower on the correct foot to initiate spins, and followers need to be comfortable with transition weight in order to maintain the connection during delayed movements.

To become more comfortable with transition weight, watch videos of pros dancing for examples of transition weight. Start by looking at various catches: hip catches, shoulder catches, etc. You may also see transition weight on slingshots, whips (especially two-handed whips), and when coming out of play.

Transitional Weight Triple Spins

One of the common led syncopations in WCS is the transitional weight triple, in which the follower ends the spin with an extended leg but no weight change, and then shifts on the & in order to make up the weight change for the next movement. This rhythm is used in almost every hip catch, and the shift of weight on the & is a great mechanic for followers to fix their spins socially if the leader does not prep them correctly.

Most triple spins start on a downbeat and end on an upbeat. For instance, the left side inside roll has the follower spin on the 3&4. If the follower has a double outside turn on a whip, she will spin on 7&8. If a leader spins on the anchor of a pattern, he will spin on 5&6.

In the transition weight triple, the last action on the upbeat is unweighted. The leg extends out to create a line, but it does not receive weight. Because a weight change was removed, an extra step is needed in order to get on the correct foot for the next two-beat segment of the dance, and so a transition of weight is added on the & before the next downbeat.

The Drill: For this drill, you will need enough space for a standard triple spin. You are going to spin side to side, instead of progressively; when you face a wall mirror (or just a plain wall), you will be spinning parallel to the wall.

Start by facing the wall and put all your weight on your right foot. Your left leg should be to your side. You are not in a lunge, but your right knee is soft and your left leg is straight to create a line. You should be able to comfortably push yourself from your right leg to your left leg without having to bring the left foot in.

From here, you will spin to your left. Shift weight to your left as your preparatory step. This is the transition weight: you didn’t need to move your left foot, but you did need to move your weight to your left.

Now the spin proper occurs. Close your right foot to your left as you rotate halfway around. You should now be facing away from the front wall, with your feet together in first foot position and your weight on your right foot.

Take another step down your line of travel with your left foot as you continue rotating to face the front wall. Again, your feet should end in approximately first foot position. Your left foot doesn’t need to be tight against your right foot, but you don’t want to be in an open stance. To keep your feet together, think of softening into the left hip, knee, and ankle as your land. You should be directing your energy down into the ground, rather than down the line, in order to stick your landing. As you soften into your left side, allow the right leg to extend out to the right in a mirror of your starting position. Be sure that you aren’t putting weight into your right foot; this count is an unweighted action.

The timing for this spin one motion per every half count (beats and &-counts). When you translate this drill into the dance, you are doing a transition weight triple: the prep happens on &, you step on the downbeat and the next &, and the settle happens on the upbeat.

Do the same thing going the other direction: shift weight to your right on the preparatory &, step down line with a half rotation on the downbeat, finish the rotation with your right on the &, and settle as you extend the left leg on the upbeat.

During this drill, you can either spot down the line as your travel or you can spot the front wall. I find it easier to generate power by spotting down line and easier to stop by spotting the front wall. Ultimately, which direction you spot is a personal choice.

Practice going back and forth. You should be able to link the spins with no interruption because the settle at the end of each spin preps you to transition and spin in the other direction. If you do this drill continuously, you will have an action on every single & count. Your count will be: &1&settle, &3&settle.

Improve your spins with this drill!

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