Swing Discussion Boards > Is West Coast Swing taught backwards?

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by plugger, Jul 5, 2010.

  1. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    You didn't say who the couple was, but Blair and her associates (Golden State Dance Teachers Assoication (GSTDA) went through this proccess.
    Take a look here. http://www.swingworld.com/wcs.htm

    I seem to remember she has written at much greater length on this, but can't remember where off the top of my head.

    Understand that I am merely sharing what I've come across as I research West Coast Swing. While I think there are answers to certain questions, I also think that swing has always been a highly individualistic dance.
    For me the higher energy level that seems to be accepted in WCS, the lack of the "tanda commitment", and the larger CW community, was what tipped me over from AT, which I concentrated on for 9 1/2 years.
  2. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    I ignored this for a while but to clarify.

    I still know people who WCS and/or teach.
    I also know dancers who have tried or won't try,
    not because of the difficulty as some are Lindyers,
    but because of the dumbing down,
    the loss of character/essence and,
    to put it bluntly, the posers and the scene.

    It's changing (changed) from a social partner dance
    to a dance for show. Unlike tango it has no entraga
    to save it.

    However if I found a regular partner with whom
    I could practise, I'd be tempted to return.
    But then again, could we sort out the music?!

    Thanks for that, I've found his website and will explore.

    Actually maybe not. After all, effectively Lindy went the same way
    evolving through sheer weight of numbers simplifying the steps,
    to match simpler music, into the various other jives. Then along came people
    who realised that swing music and Lindy were special and deserved revival.

    As WCS is morphing into some stretchy, slotted, posy jive danced
    to funky modern music, eventually hopefully there will be enough
    people around to appreciate the character of WCS has been lost
    and will revive "authentic" WCS. Let's wait and see.

    Yes indeed that's how different dance essences appeared.
    But we don't have huge geographically defined dance communities now.

    There's that dreaded word again: competition. Competition is the
    antithesis of social dancing - competitors dance for an audience and
    specifically to catch the eye of the judges. The whole motivation and
    emphasis of the dance is altered. And who judges the judges?

    As you say the driver now for development is not from social dancers
    but competitors turned teachers. Your dance is not in safe hands.
  3. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    A dance is in the hands of the people who can be bothered to do it.
  4. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Agreed. Personally, I'm not a purist; nearly every form of dance starts to incorporate new ideas and influences and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I'll leave it to others to define the "essence" of the dance. But I respect those with different ideas. I should mention I have taken classes/workshops with Robau and with other more traditionally minded WCS folks, and enjoyed it. I think there is something to be learned from everyone.
  5. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Just pointing out that we are talking about a dramatically California dominated dance. Well, I guess there are also a couple Floridians that got confused by what dance they were supposed to love :) Anyway, the whole state of California recreates itself all the time. By the time the slotted anchor made it all the way to England, California was probably already getting bored with drifting anchors. Now, one step anchors are the rage, but somebody is probably working on a zero step anchor. :cool:

    Starlight is one of the studios that dominates how the dance looks. The Interstate near it is in a constant state of being ripped up and put back together as something new. So there is no reason to think the dances will not be as well. There are no 2000 year old Roman roads in California ... most of the time even the 20 year old roads have been totally changed.
  6. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    More of Skippy's writings from her perspective.

    A 1998 summary of "trends" in West Coast Swing listed the following:
    Traditional/Classic with very little extension of the uncoupled arm, the man moving off and on the center of the track for most moves, and a heavy "couple weight"; Modern with more free arm extensions, and emphasis on how many spins, etc, the man can lead. Fast Music The man's "couple hand" is fixed in space on beat 3 in a pass or push.
    Swing dancer:version 1.17: a swing dancer's manual. Craig R. Hutchinson. 1998. Pontiac Swing Dance Club. page 3.5.1-2. ISBN 0-9620617-0-0

    You guys overseas are going through your own evolution.

    Country westerner dancers here who do West Coast Swing don't give a hoot what the pros do once they've learned the dance and can function at the local spots. And I can report that their reaction to a lot of stuff I've learned recently can be summed up by the classic statement, "Studio dancers don't know how to have fun."
    "We" don't care about what the judges think!

    P.S. Based on Hutchinson's description of Traditional/Classic West Coast Swing, I can tell you from personal experience it is alive and well in my neck of the woods.
    P.S.S. I study the documentation of early forms of the dance because it is important for me to separate the wheat from the chaff when people spout "history".
  7. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    I don't suppose it's surprising really when you've taken a dance
    thousands of miles away over land and sea to a place that can only
    have the vaguest idea of life in the West of the USA and that gained
    mainly from Hollywood.

    Now that's my kind of idea of a great social dancer's attitude.
    And they'll do more towards sustaining the dance than any misplaced
    idea of progress and innovation or a favourite over here - fusion.

    Heck, that's the most encouraging thing I've read on this thread.

    Interestingly I always get told by dancers over here that the basics
    are taught thoroughly,and that's what I've experienced. Then they often
    go off into the "but you don't need to triple step routine". Unfortunately
    that's what you see when you come across a group of WCSers,
    though there are exceptions and they would be the ones I'd note.

    The leading couple over here took a competition routine to the US,
    got placed and yet, having seen it, there isn't a triple step to be seen.
    Both of them teach separately teaching a thorough 6 and 8 beat grounding.
    I can confirm it, my first WCS experiences were with one of them.
  8. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    A fair point - but I don't believe that West Coast ever had a golden age of its own.

    Steve may have a different answer here; but video evidence suggests that the dance has been evolving constantly since 1983. I expect that it's been this way all along - after all, if the dance didn't have a core of evolution, we wouldn't have observed the various regional variants, and we'd all still be doing Lindy.

    Put another way - if you wanted to say that we should try to rediscover the dance's roots, and relearn the dance as it was done in [year]... I would have no idea what year that ought to be. As best I can tell, everybody's answer would be right when they personally started being good.

    I won't argue this, but I'll point out something on the side: the dancers are objectively better than they were 10/20/25 years ago. They are faster, more creative, in better balance, more tightly connected to each other and to the music. So something has been going right, too....

    That was old news 10 years ago. The boat has sailed. NASDE results - touring professionals: this sort of thing is only possible when there's money in a big pile, and competitions are what make the money flow.
  9. kayak

    kayak Active Member


    Am I understanding in you comments that you are advocating for a two beat, three step, non-drifting anchor on every pattern? I am curious if you are proposing this anchor for just the ladies or for the guys as well?

    I am asking because whether the guy stays centered just moving the lady past him back and forth or chooses to slide up and down the tracks with her in the slot are two very different ways of dancing. All the basics have the guys as the anchoring pole. However, I spend very little time in the slot these days and just move my body position to match where I need to be to lead her next.

    I would also suggest that the biggest difference is not competition vs social. There is always a huge social element to WCS and even the top pros will dance with me. The biggest difference in the shape the dance takes is the amount of space a couple has. When the floor is jammed tight, there are a lot more "classic" WCS patterns than when a couple has a lot of space to slide around in. If we have an empty bar floor, we take up the space just like if we have an empty studio.
  10. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Both partners anchor is the way I've both been taught and seen it danced.
    I'd no idea what was meant by the coaster step so have looked that up.
    Now I'm curious as to the effect of that as my interpretation of it is that
    it either reduces the elastic tension or at least changes its timing.

    Getting involved in the detail wasn't my intention nor within my knowledge.
    As Steve has rightly pointed out, what is happening here is probably different from
    in its home originating country. However what you write seems to confirm
    a dilution of its essential differentiating elements.

    The term basics is too often interpreted as "oh I'm beyond that now".
    But the basics form the structure and definition of distinctive dances.
  11. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    From what I know and have read, it has a history long before 1983, 1943
    maybe more like but more widely identified from 1953 (ish). But you're
    clearly right as to roots being a regional west (coast) variation of Lindy
    and presumably the local western music.

    Oh the malign influence of commercialism and competition.
  12. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Ah, I had a feeling from your posts that this style is what you are advocating. We can have lots of fun dancing with both anchors entirely inside the slot.

    I can have even more fun moving out of the slot and staying on the rails. This is where the fun of creating connection in WCS is really occurring. As a leader, I can do a lot of moving without messing with elements that make WCS a distinctive dance.
  13. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Unless, of course, the leader doing a lot of moving is messing with elements....
  14. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Swing as a dance was the suject of a book as early as 1937 - "Swing Steps", including Lindy and the Savoy.

    I've found instances where either "smooth lindy" or "smooth swing" were being taught in the early/mid 40s in LA, identified as such in print (vs someone saying or writing it was taught then). This probably in reaction to jitterbug over zealousness (They were great subjects for photographers).

    On line sources start that Haile "published" her syllabus of Western Swing in 1951. I've never been able to confirm that. The text I found is later than 1954 because it lists a song released in that year, but the Bronze level, for example, may have been written earlier.
    Skippy Blair writes that she learned Western Swing in 53 or 54 at Arthur Murray's in Long Beach, but not from Haile. She has stated that she never saw Haile's materials.

    By the early/mid 60s there were a number of texts with Western Swing in them, and West Coast Swing as a synomym for Western Swing was used in 61 by Yerrington and Outlander at Los Angeles State College.

    Did Western Swing - the music - have anything to do with the dance?
    Most authorities will tell you, "no" with no qualifications.

    Just as many upper level dancers, or even "Westies", ignore the Country Western West Coast Swing scene, (ok, many of us aren't all that good) I believe, based on all of my research, that the Western Swing scene in LA most likely had to be part of the beginnings of the dance.

    Most jazz historians ignore "Western Swing", too, consigning it to Country Music.
    Woody Herman wrote a bit dismissively in "The Woodchopper's Ball" about Spade Cooley, who was one of the biggest music and TV personalities in LA in the 40s and early/mid 50s. (Herman actually managed Cooley while he took a break from playing.)

    I think the same dynamic is at work in the dance world.

    Careful when you mention history! Doesn't take much to get me started.
  15. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Steve, have you found any evidence that suggest a period where the dance was more stable than it is today? Did the dance change as much between 1955 and 1965 as it did between 1985 and 1995?
  16. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Good point, I will just stick with the leader moving around is a lot more fun and lets us dance much harder patterns. I better let you historians figure out how we got here. You guys can even pick a new name for the dance if you want :D
  17. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Hey that's a good idea but as it's your dance you get to pick the new name.
    Then can we have our triple stepping, slotted West Coast Swing back?
  18. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    One tiny tiny aspect of the dance (but arguably important!).

    Haile ...

    "Western Swing is danced in a “slot” - the man always throws the girl out into Open position at one end or the other of the slot”
    “Man will always be in “slotted position” with partner, and will never throw her out at any other angle.”
    “...Girl must not be placed in any other off-slot position.”

    The 1961 Yerrington and Outland description of West Coast swing does not use the term “slot”.

    In the 1964 edition of “Ballroom Dance Rhythms” the slot is defined thusly. “A “slot” is two definite directions of dance such as LOD to B LOD and vice versa. If one were to dance along LOD on one break and to Center on another, we would say he is breaking his slot. Therefore, a slot would indicate dancing back and forth on a straight segment of a line. The slot may be changed from any form of closed position.”

    OK to change the direction of the slot?
    No. Never.
    Yes, but only from closed position.

    Keep in mind that this is only what is in written form.

    So, did it change as much????

  19. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    If you get it back, you have to promise us that you will actually go dance any WCS. Soon enough, you will be back converted with a huge smile and ready to help pick the new name.
  20. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    Im pretty sure I know who that was...

    As to the LA scene.. they had an abundance of WC exponents at several of the A/M studios...many of them had been swing dancers before becoming teachers at A/M...

Share This Page