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Debbie’s Dance Blog

Let's Talk West Coast Swing

With over 40 years educating in West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Lindy, Latin, Country and Ballroom, I feel like I have learned “a thing or two”. I think the most important “thing” I have learned is… to NEVER stop learning.


I preach to my students to continue to educate themselves and to never feel like they belong to me… They know that I feel strongly about instructors teaching “a way” NOT “the way” to dance. I “talk the talk and walk the walk”, you are guaranteed to find me in ALL levels of workshops at conventions and even here in my local community taking class alongside of my own students because I know I can ALWAYS learn something NEW!

I love teaching West Coast Swing. This dance is the chameleon of partner dances. What it was when I started in 1980 to what it is today and what it will be tomorrow and beyond is…. Different! I don’t believe that West Coast Swing should be put in a box. In order to live, West Coast Swing has got to be able to change.

What I do believe West Coast Swing should contain, and the FIRST thing I teach, are the basic rhythms, Single (Step 1 Hold 2), Double (Step 1, Step 2) and Triple (Step 1, Step &, Step 2), these basic rhythms and their variations have been taught as a part of West Coast Swing since the beginning and I feel they should remain within the dance.

Just for reference, when I started West Coast Swing the Followers did a “run, run, run” in passes on 3&4, all forward. On a “Left” side pass we tucked our arm across our belly and on a “Right” side pass our right arm went across our neck before we did the quick turn and anchor in place. A “Sugar Push” was called that because the first two steps forward were “Sugar Steps” (think swivel, swivel like Lindy) not because the leader brought us in to them for some “Sugar”… Well, maybe some leaders were looking for some "sugar" :-)

 


Due to the fast tempos the mainstay of the original West Coast Swing styling included the “polling” motion (a fast downward lead) on count 4 which created a fast turn around and anchor in place for the follow. It was used to shorten the slot and create the needed leverage and connection to be able to lead into the next pattern at those fast tempos.

 


The first variation that I noticed was introduced by Skippy Blair who also introduced the “rolling count” which matched the syncopated rhythm we were dancing to. That variation had the leaders doing a “coaster” motion on 3&(a)4 in passes that was matched by the follower driving down slot on (a4) but still had the “polling” and anchor in place.


Since I started dancing West Coast Swing it has gone through many different phases, we were sleazy for a while, then we wrapped for a while, then we did way too many syncopations for a while, then we hit to many breaks…and on and on…

 


I found my “Magic” in West Coast Swing in the mid 80’s while teaching visually impaired dancers. I soon found out that what I had been taught to teach Leaders (positive, negative – back, forward) motion was creating problems for the blind followers.

I studied the mechanics of what I had been teaching to try to figure out a way to fix this problem. I decided that it was the forward motion on count 2 and a feeling of “loss of connection” that was causing the blind followers to stop forward progression. By changing the position and motion of the leader on count 2 it created a (positive, positive – back, back) motion that encouraged the follower to continue down slot also providing confidence along with a constant connection. I figured that if it worked better for the visually impaired dancers it would only improve the connection of the sighted followers. Thus the “Diamond Technique” (Debbie’s Diamond) was born….


It took many years to work out the kinks and to create a smooth and consistent body lead. I needed to understand clearly and be able to teach clearly the relationship of body motion along with tempo of rotation, how to smoothly collect arm slack and the idea of “floating the anchor”, but it was a wonderful journey.

At the time I realized by making these changes I had made West Coast Swing look and feel differently than the West Coast Swing I had originally learned, but at the time that I was moving through these changes the music we were dancing to was also changing. I felt that the “Diamond” approach made West Coast Swing fit better to the change in music, it also provided a different but what I thought was fuller and more complete connection for both leaders and followers and it was easier to teach as the leaders now were doing consistent, balanced movement in all three basic 6 count patterns on counts 1 and 2 and a constant “gather & go” on 3&4 and consistent anchor on 5&6.

 



The “Diamond Technique” removed the need for “polling” on count 4 which opened up opportunities for the follower to do footwork in “down slot motion” on counts 3 &(a)4, and to “float” or “find” the end of the slot (connection) on 5&(a)6.


At the time I was considered the “black sheep” of the West Coast Swing family and I took a lot of sh*t, but I did not give up and today 35 years later the “Diamond Technique” styling, also known now by other names, has become a consistent and well-loved variation of West Coast Swing and is being taught around the world.

The absolute beauty of this dance is the way it adapts to the music. For me, West Coast Swing should be the “Visual of the Audio”, the dance should change as the music changes. Through any given night of leading I will be adapting my 1, 2 motion, styling, length of slot and connection to fit the music and my partner.

When I started West Coast Swing in 1980 the music genre was limited and so West Coast Swing stayed the same for a while. Today West Coast Swing DJ’s play many different genres of music so dancers should be learning how to adapt their leading and following to fit the song they are dancing to.

Understanding the elements of music is important especially for dance instructors. I have been in many workshops where an instructor is counting a “Swing Beat, 1&a2” when they are teaching to a straight beat song. A swing song has a “Swing Beat”. Your best chance to find a song with a swing beat is to listen to Blues or Big Band, not every Blues or Big Band song will swing but you will find many that do. On that note… there is some rock and roll and even current top 40 music that has a swing (swung) beat. Learn to hear the difference and your dancing will improve.

Also remember the faster the song the smaller the steps and the shorter the slot. To help “fill out” your faster music learning some of the companion dances like Balboa, Bal-Swing, Charleston, Savoys, St. Louis Shag and Funky Feet will help. When I started dancing West Coast Swing to fully fit in and be able to follow more leaders we were required to learn most if not all of those companion dances. I think it would be great to start offering those Companion Dances at conventions again.

West Coast Swing is a dance that is in constant flux because the music we dance to is forever changing. It is what I love about this dance. The only thing I believe is that the rhythms, Single (Step 1 Hold 2), Double (Step 1, Step 2) and the Triple (Step 1, Step &, Step 2) should remain within the dance.

 


I am excited to be able to share what I love and help dance communities around the world to easily and quickly learn and teach this beautiful way to dance West Coast Swing. PLEASE remember that the “Diamond Technique” is just “one way” to dance West Coast Swing, it is NOT the “right way”.

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