In Part I of our West Coast Swing Basics, we classified WCS patterns into four broad categories: side passes, push breaks, whips, and four-count triple pairs. Why is it useful to classify patterns like this? Well, it turns out that the vast majority of WCS moves are variations on these fundamental patterns. So, if you can understand what category of move you are looking at, you can tell a lot about how it needs to be led/followed, what options exist for styling, and so on.
Let’s take a look at how this can help you understand the dance!
Watch these West Coast Swing Basics
For this exercise, we’re going to watch a video of Ben Morris and Torri Smith, and we’re going to concentrate on the first 15 seconds of the dance. Go ahead and watch it through at least a couple of times:
The Starter Step
Now let’s start breaking it down. The dance starts with a starter step. The core of this pattern is a four-count triple pair, but in this dance it’s stylized. The key that both Ben and Torri recognize is that weight has to be on a new foot every two beats because triples are odd rhythms. As a result, they can choose to syncopate the rhythm as a tap-step (a single) rather than doing the triples. Having established the rhythm, both dancers add some styling: Ben adds knee pops, while Torri moves her tap into an open third in order to create a base for a nice body ripple on the anchor.
Because both dancers recognize this movement as part of the four-count triple pair family, they gain the ability to embellish the movement. On the follower side, Torri knows that she should be ready to anchor during the last triple, so she can set up in open third for her body roll. On the leader side, Ben knows that he can replace the triples with single rhythms and it will be easy for Torri to pick up on the syncopation.
Learn the Starter Step for west coast swing in this free video “All Beginner Patterns” on our video page. (free account required)
Immediately after the starter step, there’s a quick throwout with a fold, followed by a hold before the dancers rotate back to face each other at the end of the anchor. Here’s the first question: what family does this pattern belong to? The bonus question is: what are two things we should expect from this move because of that family?
The answer is that it’s a side pass. That tells us a lot about what to expect: the follower is going to pass the leader on one side, she is going to hit a post at the end of the slot, and will anchor based off of that position, to name just a few things. In this move, Ben uses all of those elements to help create the lead for this move, and Torri uses all of them to guide her following.
First, Ben starts the pattern on the side of the slot; his body is angled rather than square at the end of the starter step, and he uses that angle to open his left side for Torri to pass by. Having established that she’s going down the left side, he dresses up the move by adding a turn, folding Torri into a hammerlock.
Ben uses the posting action of the side pass to accelerate the move. Normally, the post would occur on count 4. However, notice how Ben moves his body away from Torri as she passes. In a normal side pass, the leader would move back on 1, together on 2, and then back into the slot on 4. Here, Ben barely moves back on 1 and actually sneaks away from Torri on 2&. This opposition causes Torri to run into the post sooner, which creates the acceleration.
From Torri’s perspective, she is trying to not anticipate. When she feels Ben open up his left side, she knows that she should start in that direction. Moveover, she goes a bit faster than usual because she feels Ben settle into his right hip more than normal on the anchor, which he uses to create more energy. As a result, Torri already knows that this isn’t going to be a normal side pass. When she runs into the post much sooner than usual, and she feels that the post isn’t drifting, she uses her left leg to stylize the accent.
From there, Torri knows that eventually she will need to square up and anchor. But, she waits until she feels the connection from Ben to unwind her. By waiting, she enables Ben to extend the pattern with his shoulder and knee styling, while she marks time with her hips. By matching the timing of Ben’s rotation back to the slot, she can be prepared to anchor with Ben, and she uses that knowledge to build on her hip action with a hitch on the next 1.
Right Side Pass
The next move is a right side pass variation. Watch the video and see if you can identify what the biggest variation is in this move, as compared to a normal right side pass. The bonus question: how was that variation created?
The answer is that the move extends a couple of beats between the post and the anchor. Again, Ben and Torri can create this because they understand the expectations for a basic right side pass. In a normal side pass, the post establishes an away connection and that connection develops through the anchor until the maximum stretch is reached, in the &a before the next 1. In this move, however, watch what happens after the post is established. Ben comes into his arm, and Torri matches. Because the partners are no longer in an anchor connection, the pattern extends for a couple of beats. Ben does his arm thing to hit the music, while Torri waits for her signal to begin her anchor. When Ben collects his weight on his left leg, in an away position, Torri begins her anchor, again using her hips to shape her anchor.
The next pattern is also a side pass, and it also features an extension before the anchor. Watch the dancers to see if you can spot how Torri knew to hold before anchoring.
Learn the Right Side Pass for west coast swing in this free video “All Beginner Patterns” on our video page. (free account required)
Push Break (sugar push)
This push break variation adds some angles to the dance and creates an opportunity for anchor styling. In a normal push break, the follower stays into the compression until she is sent out. In this case, Ben uses that compression to steer Torri out at an angle. This move works because Torri keeps her compression; if she left before being led, the angle could only be forced through an (uncomfortable) arm lead.
On the anchor, Ben uses the post fundamentals to lead a variation. In a normal push break, the connection develops steadily from the post through the &a1. Here, Ben uses the angle he and Torri are at to hit the point of maximum extension extension earlier and create a double resistance anchor for the follower. Torri uses a ripple to compliment the double resistance motion. Meanwhile, Ben also uses his position on the side of the slot to set up a sweep in front with his right leg, which both brings him back to the slot for the anchor and allows him to start rotating his right side open for the next pattern.
Learn the Push Break (sugar push) for west coast swing in this free video “All Beginner Patterns” on our video page. (free account required)
The point of this exercise is to start seeing patterns as variations on fundamental moves. Once you learn how to isolate the pattern at the core of any movement, you can identify ways to tweak it. On the leader side, this means discovering how to create new moves and variations based off of elements that your follower already knows. For the follower, recognizing the root patterns enables you to style without taking away something that your leader needed for the move to succeed.
These patterns were variations on relatively clear fundamental patterns. The dance can get more complicated, but even then the basic patterns still emerge. The next move in this video, for instance, starts as a side pass. Then, Ben and Torri move around each other before doing another side pass into a pair of rock-and-go side passes. Once you realize that the moves are all side pass variations, you can start to see the key points for the lead-follow connection. This principle remains true even when the dance combines multiple types of patterns into a mega-combo move.
Food for thought
The next time you are out social dancing or watching YouTube videos, try to identify the fundamental patterns that make up the moves you see. Pay attention to what principles of those patterns are in use in order to make the variation work. It might be timing elements, spacing between the partners, or moments of connection. Good luck!
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