West Coast Swing is a unique style of swing dancing that has made a significant resurgence within the past few years. It’s a fun, improvisational style of dancing that even allows the lady or follower to “lead” on occasion. It is traditionally danced to slower, blues-style swing music, but many are dancing West Coast Swing to hip hop, R&B and pop music.
History of West Coast Swing:
West Coast Swing is a modern style of swing dancing that developed in the 1940s on the West Coast of California. The West Coast Swing is a “slotted” dance which means the lady or follower travels forward and backward along a straight line on the floor and the leader guides the turns and variations from a single spot on the floor. Some believe that this “slot” was developed in Hollywood because wide angled lenses had not yet been invented. The directors needed to put the dancers in straight lines in order to get them on camera. This “slotted” style became popular and is still danced in this way today.
The origins of West Coast Swing dance lie in Lindy Hop Swing dance. The distinctive “slot” style grew out of the dance hall of San Diego as early as 1938. In 1938, several musicians and bands including Jimmey Dorsey, Count Basie, and Bunny Berrigan recorded the song “Sophisticated Swing.” West Coast Swing was originally called and known as “Sophisticated Swing” before it’s name changed to represent the region of the United States where it was developed.
When the Jitterbug style of Swing dancing was banned from almost all serious dance halls in the late 1940s, “Sophisticated Swing” began to flourish. The Jitterbug was causing too many injuries on the dance floor with the kicks, jumps, and other energetic moves. Sophisticated Swing continued to develop in the 1950s and followers began to walk forward at the beginning of dance patterns instead of the rock step away from their partner. Dance studios started to standardize the steps and patterns of sophisticated swing, calling it “Western Swing.”
Great dancers such as Dean Collins and others influenced the style and evolution of West Coast Swing dancing. Dean Collins came to California in 1936 to get into the movie business. He brought his unique style of dancing, the Savoy style Lindy, and he danced in Hollywood nightclubs for many years. Collins entered swing dancing competitions and when he started winning, many dancers wanted to learn his style. Dean Collins continued to influence swing dancing as he started teaching his dance style in Los Angeles, California and as he appeared in many Hollywood movies in the 1940s and 1950s. Many soldiers of WWII danced this style and brought West Coast Swing all over the world.
West Coast Swing Dance Today:
Today, West Coast Swing has many styles that can vary considerably. The West Coast Swing allows for a lot of fun improvisation and syncopations between partners. Modern West Coast Swing can be danced conservatively and smoothly with an up-right posture or as a wild and funky partner jazz dance. Regardless of style, West Coast Swing has a lead-follow structure with room for the follow to improvise and play “outside of the box.”
West Coast Swing is danced all over the world. The United States has the biggest and most dominant West Coast dance scene with its bigger West Coast Dance centers in California and Texas. In Europe, West Coast Swing is most popular in Russia, France, Hungary, and England. West Coast Swing is also danced in Brazil, Isreal, Australia, Korea, Ploand, Iceland, Sweeden, Romania and beyond.
West Coast Swing is a popular dance in competition. The US Open is considered the “flagship international swing convention” where the best of the best compete for the US Open Champion title. The US Opens are held in Burbank, California and have been offering swing competitions to dancers for over thirty years. The competitions are sectioned off into categories of varying swing dance styles and level of dance achievement. Competitive dancing is much more structured and strict than freestyle social West Coast Swing.
West Coast Swing dancing continues to develop today. In the 1970s, the Hustle and Latin styles of dance such as salsa influenced West Coast Swing. The 1980s brought rap and hip-hop to the modern West Coast Swing dance scene. Unlike swing’s ancestor, Savoy style, West Coast Swing today doesn’t have a certain style of dress. Modern West Coast Swing is not dependent on the music genre and can be danced to any music in 4/4 tempo. The basic music for West Coast Swing is generally the Blues, which offers a rhythm with swung eighth notes. Dancers today often enjoy swing dancing to the slower rhythms of Funk, Disco, Jazz, Motown, Techno, Soul, and Pop, in addition to getting down to the upbeat rhythms of Country, Big Band Swing, Oldies, Rock ‘n Roll, Retro and sometimes Latin music.
West Coast Dance is a living dance. It is constantly evolving. West Coast Swing challenges dancers to base the dance on its original form while incorporating different dance styles, improvisations, and movements into the dance.
West Coast Swing Music:
- “Black Velvet” Alannah Myles
- “Mustang Sally” The Commitments
- “Be Bop a Lula” Stay Cats
- “TiK ToK” Ke$ha
- “Smack That” Akon w/Eminem
- “Rude Boy” Rihanna
- “3” Britney Spears
- “Fireflies” Owl City
- “Ridin’ Solo” Jason Derulo
- “Ability to Swing” Patty Austin
- “Ain’t No Sunshine” Lighthouse Family
- “Replay” Iyaz
- “Clumsy” Fergie
- “After Party” Koffee Brown
- “All I Wanna’ Do” Sheryl Crow
- “Party in the USA” Miley Cyrus
- “American Boy” Estelle featuring Kanye West
- “Summer Love” Justin Timberlake
- “Apple Bottom Jeans” Flo Rida
- “Bad” Michael Jackson
- “One Step At a Time” Jordin Sparks
- “Bad Romance” Lady Gaga
- “Beat of Love” En Vogue
- “Beautiful Nightmare” Beyoncé
- “Summer Nights” Rascal Flatts
- “All Summer Long” Kid Rock
- “Betcha’ Say That” Gloria Estefan
- “Billie Jean” Michael Jackson
- “Blurred Lines” Robin Thicke
- “Bubbley Toes” Jack Johnson
- “Boots On” Randy Houser
- “Makes Me Wonder” Maroon 5
- “Break Your Heart” Taio Cruz
- “Call Me Maybe” Carly Rae Jepsen
- “Play Something Country” Brooks & Dunn
- “The Way I Are” Timbaland and Keri Hilson
- “Cowboy Casanova” Carrie Underwood
- “Super Freak” Rick James
- “Walkin’ On The Sun” Smash Mouth
- “Be Bob A Lula” The Stray Cats
- “Best of Me” Huey Lewis & the News
- “Yeah!” Usher
- “Troublemaker” Akon
- “Shut Up and Let Me Go” The Ting-Tings