West Coast Swing Dance Technique

By H. Leon Raper

West Coast Swing is probably the ultimate example in social dance of control and movement of two human bodies to make them function as one.

Basics - What Are Basics?
The human mind has the ability, with proper training, to learn things which can eventually be performed automatically without conscious thinking, when required to do so. When trying to learn advanced material the human mind will be comparing the new material against the basics it has learned. If there is no conflict between the new material and the basics then the new material will be learned without much difficulty. If there is a conflict then there will be a big dog fight between the conscious mind (new material) and the basics, which have become automatic. If there is a conflict then the result will probably be that the dancer(s) may not be able to perform the new material without first going back and going through the laborious process of relearning correct basics. Many dancers will not survive this relearning process and remain forever handicapped in their attempts perform advanced material properly.

Whose Basic Teaching Technique Is Correct? Many dance instructors teach a stylized form of basics which may be perfectly adequate if the dancers never intend to dance at high speeds. However, these stylized basics may become completely inadequate when trying to perform very high speed forms of the dance, resulting in even advanced dancers looking like they are out of control and doing their best just to survive. The form of basics I teach are completely non-stylized and will yield the ultimate in control at extremely high speeds - including graduating to one of the highest speed forms of the dance called Flying Lindy. With the non-stylized form, which I teach, the dancers are not going to look very flashy in the very beginning. However, if the dancers properly develop these non-stylized basics, they will very quickly be able to also incorporate many of the stylized moves into their dancing. To become accomplished in either method requires a very committed effort and practice. I must give credit for much of my expertise to Kenny Wetzel - one of the most knowledgeable instructors in the world in the high speed forms of dancing - and to Skippy Blair for her invention of the Universal Units System which I use on a regular basis.

The Slot
West Coast Swing is danced in a slot. A Slot can be thought of as a "straight narrow Path with a Rail painted on each side of the Path." This Path is the Woman's Line-Of-Dance (LOD). When the man leads a step pattern in which the woman is to pass the man, the woman's LOD is straight through the man. To accomplish this, the man will step onto a Rail on the side of the Path allowing the woman to stay on the path as she passes him, after which the man will return to the center of the Path. Slot control will come with practice if the basics are adhered to. Please do not mistakenly think that a slotted dance has to be danced in the same direction all the time. The slot may change direction as desired, but control of the slot must be developed to become a good dancer.

Don't Watch Your Feet
Don't watch your feet, no matter how much you think it will help. You must learn to convert instructions directly to movement.

Keep your eyes on a level plane, not down or up, and use spoting techniques.

(Published in Flagstaff Swing Dance Club, Inc. Newsletter, November 1993)

(Published in NTA (National Teachers Association) Newsletter, May 1994)