beginner question about sugar push

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Yes, yes, slotmonkey, we are here to dicuss things. So dicusss away.

RickRS, welcome to my world.
I've been perplexed by this for a number of years. We've even had people argue here that there is no push in the Sugar Push. This is not how it was taught originally, as far as I can tell.
Current vocabulary does not seem to include, or at least seems to frown upon the words "Push" and "Pull", and emphasizes "body lead". And, you guys tell me, do teachers still say, "The woman owns the slot?" If she doesn't walk forward assertively, where does the compression come from?
I had never been exposed to the "six count basic" where the woman changes direction pretty much because that's what she does, rather than because of a "Push". Now, I've decided it's part of the problem.
I've even had "heavy couple weight" partners who would not walk in enough to create the compression.
Hutchinson wrote in 1998 that "heavy couple weight" is part of the "Classic" style, while "modern" emphasized spins, etc.
Maybe ask your teachers about this and see what they say. I'm curious about what others of you hear, too.
Sorry Salsa guy - the answer to your post is 'did you learn the rules of grammar and structure of language before you learned to speak fluently'

Did you learn to speak fluently before you learned the grammar - or after.

It's know fact that if you become fluent in 2nd language before the age of 10 or so you will have no difficulty picking up 3 or 4 languages later in life if you have the need.

This is not because people are learning the structure of each individual language, its because they understand how language itself works.

On the dance floor you can spot the people (usually women) who have trained in dance as children almost instantly - in what every dance form you are involved. The balance, the timing, the physical skill is hardwired into their bodies and they pick up any dance very quickly - just like those people who learned a second language early.

The more different dance forms you are involved in, the more general principles become apparent, the easier it is to adapt.
And Rick - are those followers giving zero compression small and light?

Getting the feel of the compression - tension in WCS is crucial to understanding the dance, that's way more important than steps or the timing.

The timing comes from the compression tension accents - not the footwork, which follows the tension - compression.


Staff member
Agree with all your points Albanaich. Indeed, it is because of the the greater mental plasticity that children posses we talk about language acquisition in children vs. language learning in adults... and it is to the (very large) extent that this carries over into dance, that the same acquisition by participation rarely suffices in adults the same way as it does in children. Of course immersion helps, but instruction in the structure, "idioms," and use rules helps immensely for adult learning, and this is as applicable in dance as in language.


Active Member
As a just-above-beginner lead, I'm have a problem with some followers having zero compression in the sugar push. I'm stepping forward on 4, but some followers start backing away before I go forward. I don't think I doing anything wrong, just those dancers aren't "listening" to the connection. With other followers, and with my instructor, I get the proper feel of compression as I cause the change of direction.

Try controlling the amount of compression by adjusting your own amount of absorption. Thus, we as leaders are in charge of adapting on the front side for all the differences that Albaniach mentions. Plus, we can do that by using a body lead and avoiding the push/pull that Steve mentions.

What seems to work well for me is to be thinking and feeling a little ahead of my lead. Since I know I am going to lead a direction change during 3&4, I know my arm will go from casually extended to bent as my body path goes from backward to stationary and then forward. I can control the amount of compression by how much I let my arm bend. Just keeping my arm extended a few extra inches can compensate for the ladies that don't provide as much compression. Also, if the lady is kind of on autopilot, not allowing my arm to automatically go bent gives her extra leverage input not to move backwards yet.
From a very personal point of view, I've learned that learning dance through the traditional approach is very difficult.

Somewhere along the line God gave me good balance and good timing.

Standing on one leg while twisting the other behind in a semi-arabesque position is family mannerism, my father did it, I do it and my son does it. [EDIT: commercial link deactivated as per DF policies - staff]

Everyone (brothers, sisters, sons, daughters) in my family are musicians (though some, like me are less interested than others) so I've come to dance late in life with some significant advantages.

The most difficult thing I've found in dance is learning to ignore everything I'm being taught. Most teachers get it eventually, and stop trying to teach me detail, but its usually a painful process.

Being taught detail, steps and routine is not the same as being taught technique.
The most difficult thing I've found in dance is learning to ignore everything I'm being taught. Most teachers get it eventually, and stop trying to teach me detail, but its usually a painful process.
Details can be good or bad/not important. It depends on what kinf of details, why you dance, and what you dance. Details can be crucial to good technique, knowing where to and what direction to place your foot can really help your technique. And bad technique can get in the way of your ability to communicate.

But other details, like counting, are for learning and not for dancing. When dancing the goal is timing leading and following with the music and the partner. As a leader you don't start leading the end of a pattern on a certain count, you start leading when you feel your partner is in the right position with the right weight distribution.

But this is not easy, everybody needs to learn it, some learns it faster than other. Based on talent, or background in dance and/or music knowledge. And I don't think it is good communication to say a dancer is useless if not mastering this. That will only discourage a lot of people. Also there is so much more to social dancing than this.
In this thread, language has been used as an analogy to dancing. I'd like to point out that when one has a sufficient understanding of a language, he or she may break out of the limitations of grammar to experiment with rhetoric and styling, to better convey a point, a tone, a feeling or atmosphere, etc. I think that this is akin to styling and syncopation in west coast swing dancing, where our form no longer meets our function as far as simple lead/follow is concerned, but we can become so much more musical and so much more expressionate. In artful writing, we appreciate deviations from grammar when we can tell that they are intentionally used, not when they are arbitrary and especially not when they imply the ignorance of the writer. In the same way, I think that it's important for those first studying a lead/follow dance to learn the basics with simplicity, where each step is functional and each movement is part of the lead/follow connection. My previous post was intended to convey to the original poster that she could get fancy later, but that for learning her basic, step-step-triplestep-anchorstep would suffice. This was in response to most of the thread telling her that there was no correct way to do the steps for this move, which--while technically true for a street dance--didn't really tell her anything about what she should start by learning.

I don't think that body connection is anything mystical or esoteric. I don't think that it's something that we can't talk about or thing about or articulate. Any rules that my post implied were meant to be things that followed from having good technique and connection; I don't teach followers to do "steps," though I feel like someone has mistakenly interpreted my post as doing just that. On the contrary, my post was explaining why the steps that most followers use as their basic sugar push are functional, why each step naturally results from having good connection and technique.

At the end of Skippy Blair's paper on the Centering Knob ( she makes a distinction between what is a "Rule" and what is a "Suggestion." I'm not sure which best describes the claims that I make in my previous post, as I'm willing to accept that that in some situation it may be possible for there to be a more natural series of steps for a sugar push than those I listed (though that's a stretch..), but I doubt that the height or weight of ones partner are sufficient variables to create those exceptions. Maybe poor balance, timing, and coordination might be cause for a different basic step, but I don't know many teachers who change the fundamentals of their dance to account for those disabilities without first trying to teach their students how to step, carry themselves, and/or hear a beat.
Thanks for all of the welcomes everybody. :)

And Steve Pastor, I really like your posts a lot. I hadn't heard any of that information about Lauré Haile's "Western Swing" description, and I really like that Skippy quote. I agree with it, I just think it's good to have a "basic" as a foundation, and that that basic should follow from one's connection throughout the movement, which is a much harder concept than footwork.

You mention having read works by some other authors. I've had trouble finding publications about west coast swing, do you have any recommendations for something full of interesting information and/or dance epiphanies? :D

Also, and I suppose this is off-topic in the case of the sugar push, I wonder how "the woman owns the slot" fits with the (controversial, I've heard) 'shared slot' concepts being taught by Skippy, Jordan & Tatiana, etc.
I think the point here is that people seem to approach dance from different directions (and it often shows in their choice of dance)

Most people when they are learning concentrate on steps and then gradually move to getting the steps in time with music, the steps are a way to eventually reach out the music, not an end in themselves - feeling the beat and aligning your body to what is in the music is very difficult.

A distinct minority (mostly with some musical training) know where they should be in relationship to the music - but don't have the physical skill to get there.

A musical dancer will know intuitively that there must be compression - tension in WCS, in the Sugar Push, to accent the music. What they do with their partner to get the compression - tension might be a mystery - but they know where it should be and why it is there.

A non-musical dancer generally doesn't feel the dance as a musical sequence, but they know they should and they think the only way to get there is by some rigid formula of steps and technique.

They have to learn in a way that is the opposite to what is natural for them. The musician has to learn to move his feet before he can start hitting the beat and the music, the non-musician has to focus on steps as a route to getting in tune with the music.

The music tells you where you and partners feet and balance should be for the musican the problem is getting the body to react quickly enough to the music, for the non-musician its about listening to what the music is saying.

When I see long involved questions about what foot should I be on and how do I get my partner to step this way or that or how they should turn I'm concious that the person is not listening to the music. It's the same as asking a guitarist (or a touch typist for that matter) how he moves his fingers to hit the strings of a guitar - you couldn't play the guitar or any musical instrument if you were constantly try to rememember where to put your fingers.

Technique certainly has its place - but it does not take precedence over timing and musicality. I learn technique to hit the music better - not the other way round.


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I would tend to think that it isn't nearly as cut and dried or categorized as that...certainly different folks have greater or lesser capacities to tap into those things which come more naturally or easily to them...but anyone learning how to do something well must practice the more technical aspects of that art in order to acheive better than mediocre outcomes...and that is when, to my mind, they begin to be truly ready to focus on is true that at a certain point one should cease to over analyze precisely when and where one does some technical nuance... but only, in my view, after one has taken the time to be precise and evaluative in the first place....both things are important, and different folks gravitate toward different aspects...for myself the precision part and the controlled deliberation were the parts that needed to be focused upon to craft my dancing into something finer.... the musicality, power, and art that I more naturally bring to dance were there but in a crude, accidental way...for others, the precision comes more naturally and the musicalty and expression has to be harvested with greater difficulty...and that's is part of what makes the journey so rewarding and so specific to each person...which is why I think absolutist statemnts about how it is are rather short-sighted...part of the magic of dance is that it allows one to highlight one's natural skills and to cultivate new ones


Active Member
Also, and I suppose this is off-topic in the case of the sugar push, I wonder how "the woman owns the slot" fits with the (controversial, I've heard) 'shared slot' concepts being taught by Skippy, Jordan & Tatiana, etc.
I took a workshop from them last year. The idea seemed OK for a strictly swing routine, but it seemed like the woman owns the slot idea stuck for social and J&J dancing. For me, the visual other pros have been suggesting about the slot being an hour glass instead of a rectangle made more sense.
We all have our own opinions - but I think people who have any musical training or experience approach dance in a completely different way to those who don't.

That doesn't make learning or improving your dancing any easier (initially its much more difficult) but it becomes easier as you realise that you are trying to understand it differently from everyone else in the class - often including the teacher.

Certainly practice is essential, but someone who has a ear for music, whether naturally or by training has a lot more difficulty than someone who does not.

They are not just trying to learn technique, they are trying to learn technique in time to music - they can't seperate it their head. It makes if very, very difficult to learn rountines and steps because you are always out of time at the beginning - its a horrible feeling.

In WCS they are aware from almost the first class that the lead has to be ahead of the beat and the follow behind it so as to get the compression - tension on the beat. Most of the rest of the class will take months figuring out that the lead and follow in WCS must (its inherent in the slot) be fractionally off beat with their steps.

Non musical leads will lead to late and the followers will come forward too early because they are focused on what there feet should be doing, not the dance itself. the result is the absence of any compression tension. (which is what this thread was originally about).

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I think everyone changes some of what they think about things as time goes on, and they/we get experience with things.

In here 1978 book Skippy wrote that "Rule 8 - HE will vary his FIRST UNIT according to the location of his partner...." "is easy to remember if you think of it this way: NO matter where SHE is...HE is running away. Ha!)
There is an exception for the Sugar Push, apparently.
(Historical note: apparently "they" have been trying to rename the Sugar Push the Push Break since at least 1978, because Skippy writes
"#7. PUSH BREAK (Formerly Sugarpush)"
(You might know that there are other moves called Sugar Push in other kinds of swing.)

Here's a bit from her text -
COUNT 1 2 3 & 4 5 & 6

(The resistance starts on count TWO is strongest on count THREE and changes the gilr's direction on count FOUR.)"

It's too bad that I don't have/haven't seen Lauré's BRONZE text, which is where she covers Sugar Push as number 4 in the syllabus.

the (controversial, I've heard) 'shared slot' concepts being taught by Skippy, Jordan & Tatiana, etc.
Haven't heard this one, but the partners do share the slot except for that one step where the man gets out of the woman's way???

This is how obsessed I am about this, I just rented "Don't Knock the Rock" again, and plan on counting how many times they change the direction of "the slot" in at least one scene. Is it WCS or isn't it? There won't be a definitive answer, but I should be able to put numbers on it.
I think that's pretty obsessed.

WCS didn't make it into mainstream swing circles until the middle 1960s, according to Skippy.
I note that the Silver book was owned by a woman in Maryland, so maybe she taught Western Swing in the East, which, by all accounts would be unusual.

Here's a couple of books:
Social dance : from Dance a while / Jane A. Harris, Anne M. Pittman, Marlys S. Waller. 1998 Allyn & Bacon.
Picture Yourself Dancing. Shawn and Joanna Trautman. Thomson Course Technology PTR. 2006. page 232
They are so recent, though, they are about contemporary WCS, I'd say.
Again, note Hutchinson's comments on classis and contemporary "trends".

There's a book on Social Dance in the United States that was published in New York, and it gets the Dean Collins story partly wrong - he was never on the cover of New Yorker magazine in the 30s. I looked at all the covers, which are available on dvd.
Yikes! I am obsessed!

Steve Pastor

Staff member
sure...and I concur being a singer and playing several instruments, my biggest problem as a follow is being too fast
Usually, it seems to me, people are too fast on the slow songs, and too slow on the fast songs.


Site Moderator
Staff member
you are probably right but not in my case...always too fast...and I think it is b/c i a song leader, if you don't come in early and strong...folks won't join ther you have it...i am always off to the races...regardless of the dance

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Don't know much about cantoring? (if that's a word).
I'm interested in possible "European tradition" equivalents of "call and response", however.
Do the people who join in all sing the same notes?, or are there different parts that different voices sing?
Is your early and strong lead in (my term not yours) just you starting, or do you sing something fairly long to get things going?

PS No, it would be canting, maybe?
Haven't heard this one, but the partners do share the slot except for that one step where the man gets out of the woman's way???
How does the leader get out of the follower's way, is the distinction - ie, does he do so by getting out of the slot?

For a time (which may include the present), Skippy was teaching a style where the partners would pass each other in the slot, using body rotation to create the space required by their proximity. The leader is giving the follower room to get by, but not enough room to get by with her shoulder's squared to her direction of travel.

There are, of course, additional adjustments necessary to make the whole thing self consistent.

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