WCS Tap Step vs. Triple Step

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I seem to remember some of your comments in the "original music WCS was danced to thread".
I can think of a bunch of questions for you. Here's one.
When you look at what was popular in LA at the time Laurie first wrote down
a description of "Western Swing", there is no doubt in my mind that Western Swing as in Bob Wills and Spade Cooley, and Hillbilly Boogie by folks like The Maddox Brothers and Rose was by far the most popular music for dancing.
When I listen to "Hillbilly Boogie" I hear early rock 'n' roll from the country side, ie, what we now call Rockabilly.
Sonny Watson has written to me the Laurie told him in the 80s, that country had nothing to do with it.
I wrote back to Sonny that, in the first place, Western Swing was a lot more jazz, and swing than it was country. It also occured to me, after listening to an interview with the Maddoxs, that there was no "country" music then. That label wasn't put on that music until much later. Did Laurie not want to go into this with Sonny? Was the country music of the 80s so very different than LA in the 40s and early 50s that she didn't want to get into it? Was the divorce between country and LA in the late 1950s after rock 'n' roll became predominate, and the rural folks from Oklahoma and other southwestern sates went city, or became a minority as other people moved to LA states become so final that she didn't want to go back?
It doesn't make sense to me that Arthur Murray studios wer playing blues to teach Western Swing in the early 1950s. Music was pretty much the province of one racial group or another, largely by preference rather than overt racism, in my opinion. The promotion of "rock 'n' roll" changed that later on, of course.
So, can you tell me what kind of music, and maybe some songs that Laurie would have used in the first part of the 50s to teach "Western Swing"? If you have time, it would be most helpful if you could progress through the decade, too. And the 60s, and the 70s for that matter. What music did you use when you taught in the different decades?
Your comments will be most appreciated.
In the mythology of West Coast Swing, many people have written that WCS was a "street dance" that was "tamed" by the franchise studios, but later "broke free" to advance on its own. Or at the very least someone wrote it, and though the miracle of cut and paste, it seems to be all over the internet.
The dance has a history that is almost sixty years long now. I just can't figure out when this stuff happened.
See, so, free spirited, creative individuals vs the deadening effect of the franchise studios that teach ballroom style.
After dancing in country western places, taking jazz, hip hop, and salsa lessons, and then learning Argentine Tango, I tried taking ballroom lessons. I found out that it is way too restrictive for me at this point.
There are some pretty distinctive ballroom things that show at the country western places, too.
Anyhow, I hope you can forgive me for using certain comments as a reason for writing about things that are important to me. This is a discussion thing, after all.
I think it's becoming apparent that different instructors teach different things, no matter where, or what "style" of WCS they teach.
I can understand more your feelings regarding 'ballroom' studios. However, not all 'ballroom' studios' are like that. The studio I attend is not a franchise and I feel it fosters a fairly creative atmosphere.

I am very curious now about the history of WCS. Odd that it is no more documented than what you have found. I'll be watching this thread to see if more info comes to light...


Well-Known Member

You are correct on your assumption about the Hill billy type of music in use for teaching, although , again ,there were other contempories that were in use .

The one that always springs to mind is Bill Black .
His influences, to my mind, were somewhere between r and r and blues. His sound was unique, but , to my mind one of the best .
I also remember a song that was very popular at the time , Green Onions . Will have to get together with one of my contemporaries, and give you some more defifinitive titles.

As a point of interest , when I moved to the e.c in the mid 60s , one seldom saw w.c. swing taught in any school. In fact, the teachers were not even trained in that style .

As far as Laure is concerned, the " step " list that she devised, has been revised , like many dances are, due to changes in style and music . Having said that, the core movement---walk , walk , tap step, triple step , still is in evidence in many schools ( cant speak for all ).

Point--- did she adapt this from the " freeform " , that was around at the time ?-- my guess ?, probably. But there again, the modification of " dances " is not unusual. For them to be marketed, they have to be tailored, usually, to suit the capabilities of the clientele . As far as the music she used, pure conjecture on my part, but probably the same that was available to everyone else .

Just an aside to the chain schools developement of trends . Although r and r was most certainly the most dominant style of music , during the 50s, the " street " form that was being taught, was more in keeping with the age demographic in most schools ( 50s and up ) and was a very watered down version .

What I find intriguing about the term " street " dancing , is this.
If it had not been "picked up " , by the chain schools, and developed into an acceptable public format , would it have survived on the level it now enjoys ?-- I seriously doubt it .

Let me cite you some e..g.. The current trend in salsa is a prime e.g. of what people tend to refer quite frequently as "street " form. Truth is , it could not be farther away from its original concept. The reason for its world wide popularity ?-- it evolved from street to
a watered down studio version . But-- thats just about true of all popular dance forms . Without the assistance of dance schols promoting their product, many of todays " dances ", would still be in the backwaters .

We should always bear in mind, its the general public who decide what stays and what goes , ya know, the old supply and demand thing .

Heres the thing---- if you take any dance, and train it to a highly developed level --- guess what happens?-- IT STARTS TO REVERT TO FREE FORM !. The structure that is laid down against free form ideas , allows us to elaborate on that basic concept .

T / A is a good e.g. of a dance that is still evolving and gradually becoming more acceptable to the masses . reason ?-- the music has not really changed, but the way the dance is taught, with the developement of new styles, that are again , more acceptable to the general public .

The outcry from the old schoolers is the same-- too contrived and no freeform . Of course, this is not the case .

Lastly, the thing I -- notice today about peoples preference for music, is the speed -- appreciably faster .
( p.s..-- where do I stand on all this ?-- somewhere in the middle )


Well-Known Member
Steve P.

As an afterthought, no one ever raises the question , of the financial impact that the developement of genres brings about.

It is, by its very nature, far reaching-- from musicians, to authors, producers and teachers etc.

Again, wonder how much talent , would have not been given the recognition it duly deserves , and may have never emerged beyond a secular format .


Well-Known Member

Here,s some to consider --- dates are bit hazy, but close--dont know how many you will recognise .-----

50s / 60s .
Katie Webster -- Black satin ( also done by Bill Black )fantastic

Kenny Neal---- Early one mornin

Robert Lucas-- Built for comfort

Smokin Joe Kubek--- Natural born lover

Johnny Adams ----- Imitation of love

B.B. King---- Rock me baby

Bee Gees---- Jive Talk

Wilson Pickett-- Mustang Sally

B.B.King / E. Clapton--- Riding with the King

Aver. White band---- Cut the Cake

M . Jackson----- Way you make me feel

The early songs seem to have a more bluesey feel about them , and have that " lazy " feel , that really speaks to w.c. ( I have all of these tracks )

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I think you may have been the first one to mention Bill Black. Then I read that he played slap bass with Elvis when Elvis was just getting started. A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of "The Teenage Millionaire" released n 1961, http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0056563/ largely because Bill Black's Combo was listed on the box. Bill had converted to bass guitar by then. I just found more througn Wilkipedia and on to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. http://www.rockabillyhall.com/BillBlack1.html
The two songs they did in the movie were pretty slow, and very blues like. Note though, that this is 10 years after Laurie started "Western Swing".
Maybe someone would make the argument that even Elvis was "just playing blues" and they were calling it rockabilly, or rock 'n' roll. Listen to Elvis switch from country blues to rockabilly at this url. (I think this is so cool!) http://rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/ss/03/ss3373.mp3
Green Onions is still around and being played by at least one performing duo here in Portland.
I haven't heard of the people you list for 50s and 60s. I'll have some research to do. After that, I got 'em.
The "Blues Revival" didn't happen in the until the 60s, and then it was mostly country blues, or again, blues being played by groups from England.
I know The Commitments version of Mustang Sally is still popular. And I know that Wilson Pickett did it before it was in the film. "Rice's 1965 version made it to #15 on the R&B Charts. Pickett's version made it to #23 in 1966." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustang_Sally_%28song%29 But I didn't know people were doing WCS to it in the 70s. Course that was, again, years after it came out in the 60s.
If you and your cohorts think of any more songs used back when, please share. And Thanks.


Well-Known Member

Hi steve,-- I think many would agree, that Elvis,s range certainly included blues type songs ( I,m not a big fan of his ).

The W. pickett version of l.t.s is my preference from the ones I have heard.

As far as G. onions, I did a formation ( in houston ) with the a /m staff, using it for a Balboa routine in 1962 . The then d.d. filmed it, but I never got a copy !

A lot of the songs I listed, have a bluesy feel . Am going to p.m. you .
This sounds like a description of a delayed double rhythm synchopated footwork, especially if that pair of steps is a "ball change", rather than a full weight transfer onto the left foot during the "and" count.

Mind you, I still haven't guessed what a Teepee Turn is - follower turns right under both hands?
Pattern names are very regional.
DanceElf: the name 'Teepee step' is very localized as far as I know. There are a few instructors in Houston that refer to what you may know as a 'tuck turn' or 'Sugar-tuck turn' as a 'Teepee Step'. Just as you say, the tap step can be a triple. Or as I like to think of it, they've replaced the triple with a tap :D.

I think of tap steps simply as a variation of the basic triple.

I agree also that he seems to be describing delayed double rythym on 1-2, I think KG may have heard it as a 'hitch step'. Unless I just misunderstood, I think he wrote a typo in how he described it.

KG: Yes, I totally agree with you, no beat or step should ever feel 'jarring'.


Active Member
Interesting comments everyone. Looks like there needs to be a history of WCS thread. Every swing/country thread gets morphed in to a study of 1940s and 50s music. Just a few more than a couple decades before my time :D

I like Tangotime's comment that the advanced levels of every dance end up going full circle and becoming free form. It makes sense to me that a dancer needs to completely understand the character and rules of a dance before they are good enough to break all the rules. I'm certainly still in the figuring out the character of each dance phase and trying to do them right. Maybe someday, I can break them ...

I could see the jarring feel if the guy was leading something like a redirect and didn't wait long enough for the lady to get on the correct foot?

It sure is fun when the lady brings enough energy that there can be some bumping. I would say most women I dance with don't commit forward strong enough. Some of the time, that lack of get up and go forward seems to hinder what I can lead.
Almost no one danced partner dances by the end of the 1960s and into the 70s when "touch dancing" came back through disco.
Except those dancers old enough to have started dancing when the only dancing was 'touch dancing'. In the early 90s, before the swing fad hit, I went to a place in Brea, CA that had Swing and Balboa on Sunday afternoons. The clientele was retired people and their parents. I learned a lot watching and dancing with them - and they loved to see 'youngsters' (we were in our 30s) join them.
Tangotime has said, "The early songs seem to have a more bluesey feel about them , and have that " lazy " feel , that really speaks to w.c."

IMO - I think it's this bluesey type of music, that makes me want to dance a tap-step rather than triple step. The tap-step has a more sultry and sexy, feel to it. If the music was more "lively"? the triple-step might fit better.
I guess now it's just repeating what has been said, but both are valid options. The idea is just to give a constant across the class that is being taught so that everyone can be on the same page. Then once you understand the positions and the tempo of the move, you can do whatever footwork you like.
I've been doing a lot of triples while teaching, so my social dancing resembles that. I had a private with Kyle this past weekend and he started trying to break me of it. You'll hear it taught both ways, sometimes as an absolute, but mostly as two choices to play with.


Active Member
Triple step on the sugar push is the basic; a tap is a variation on the basic. While the triple step can be done the majority of the time the tap-step should not be... That's all there is to it.

And yes, when westies see someone tapping on every sugarpush, they strongly suspect that the person doing it is a ballroom dancer:) I am both and when I got into WCS, I had to stop tapping.
Well, it kind of matters what kind of WCS you are referring to. There is nothing wrong with any of them, but there are differences.

If nothing else, you can seperate the dance into at least 3 types. Country (UCWDC) has it's own style (though around 50% of the dancers in the UCWDC have adopted the California Swing Style). Mainstream Ballroom also has its own style. And then there is what some refer to as California WCS (term used to mark differences between it and the other 2 forms). California Style WCS is basically the style started in the 1940s and molded over the last 60+ years by Skippy Blair and Michael Keihm (which most of the dancers not straight from UCWDC or Ballroom came from).

I'm not an expert of Ballroom WCS, other that I know that the Ballroom WCS around here tend to dance with minimal if any compession/extention, have a coaster-step instead of a anchor-step, and do alot of touch-steps, swivels, and roundays(sp?).

The country version (UCWDC) is molded by their competition rules, so they tend to have minimal syncopations and play, but focus on advance moves (alot of spinning) and styling. They regularly use tap steps, but most Country instructors teach the triple-step as the basic and the tap as the styled move.

Between the Cali WCS and Country WCS is a group like Robert Royston, John Lindo, and others who have won big in country events and swing (Cali WCS) events and have a style that teaches somewhere in between the two forms.

California WCS is molded by all the current master dancers (Jordan and Tatiana, Michael and Jennifer, Sarah and Kyle, and many others) and foundationally no longer has tap steps (though as a styled basic, tap steps are acceptable). Cali WCS is focuses much more on music interpretation and lead/follow connection than the other two currently do.

Obviously, though based on 14 years of watching, these simplifications are based soley on my opinions and perspective.

All the above really pertains to competition couples. When it comes to social WCS in a local bar or lounge, all bets are off...do whatever it is that makes you happy.

I personally find that tap steps are a bad habit that are difficult to break. I, myself, had a tap step in my basic for my first 7+ years and it was very difficult to rid myself of it...because of this, I never do tap steps now and I only teach tap steps to students after they have created muscle memory for their triple-steps.

Tap steps can be very useful when playing with older blues music, they tend to capture some of the feel that the triple doesn't, but for most of the other music I find the triple is a much better option.


Active Member
Welcome and Thanks for the great reply. The crew I dance with comes from the CW world and definitely learned from the California roots. I learned the triple step and was just surprised at how serious the tap step instructors were about it being the right way.

The only comps and club comps I have been in seemed to have country and swing combined with the swing falling under the swing dance council rules. Asking a very basic question, what are the differences in the rules between the swing and country groups?

Steve Pastor

Staff member
My favorite part of 4theloveofit's post
"All the above really pertains to competition couples. When it comes to social WCS in a local bar or lounge, all bets are off...do whatever it is that makes you happy."
There are only rules about styling in competitions. (Sorry, can't help myself.)
I find when it comes to dance, the only rules that a majority will agree with are when it comes to competition.

People who dance only as a tool to socialize never have and probably never will care about whether something like a tap step vs triple step is preferable, to them it's all about preference. It is usually once a person makes the decision that they want to excel that they put value into learning to dance in a way that looks and feels better.

So from my perspective, there is definately a group of dancers that just do what comes easiest....whether that means tap-steps, or WCS without compression, or extention, or connection, or even an anchor step. And to them, there is no reason for them to change.

Not sure if I'm just rambling, hopefully to a least some of you, what I said made some sense.

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