West Coast Swing

I recently tried another dance modality, West Coast Swing (WCS). I found it to be a lot of fun, with a very nice community of  people. images

I went to MADJam (mid-atlantic dance jam), a regional WCS 4-day weekend with about 1500 participants, this time in Baltimore (see atlanticdancejam.com or the Facebook event page). They had an extensive lineup of workshops with three simultaneous tracks for levels 1, 2, and 3. I participated in a Newcomer’s program that was new this year and made it very welcoming to join in and begin. The friday workshops included  First Timer’s Orientation, Social Dance Survival, Fun, Easy Moves, and Pass Fundamentals. They introduced people to the cultural norms of the community, including asking people to dance, and we practiced asking as well as saying “Yes” and saying “No” when asked. They assumed that we already knew the basics of WCS, so I had to fake it when we did exercises that included dancing. I just followed the leaders and it all worked out. In addition to classes, there were competitions of various kinds with lots of encouragement for people to join, exhibitions, and dance evenings for fun. It was a diverse group of friendly people of all ages.

A new acquaintance who had conveyed his enthusiasm about WCS and piqued my curiosity about it came over and taught me the basics in my home dance space. It was very nice to have a good private lesson, and it was a lot of fun.

I then began attending the WCS lessons at the Rendezvous social dance club, which they have every Monday evening. They have a beginner lesson at 7:30, then intermediate at 8:15, then social mixer dance party from 9:00 until 11:30 with a DJ at a cost of $15 per evening. The teacher is Debbie Lynn, and she has been an outstanding teacher. Classes have had about 30-40 people, reasonably balanced between leaders and followers. We change partners very frequently, which in my experience is a really important way to learn couple dancing. They also change partners frequently during the dance evenings, often every dance. People have been very welcoming and I have not had trouble getting partners.

There are additional WCS dances on Fridays at the Hollywood Ballroom, and a group in Frederick, MD on Thursday nights, and probably many others.

Here is a good video of WCS: https://youtu.be/Y3i6kyLLB2g 

I like that the style of WCS is very casual and down-to-earth. Women wear jeans or pants and a top. Unlike ballroom dance it doesn’t have the high-heels-and-sequins style and pretense, nor the business model of soaking the customer for every hour of dance time and instruction. The music is popular and commonly available and the dance works with various speeds and 2/4 music. It is easy to learn and get started, but with many layers of proficiency to get really good at it and keep it interesting.

A fundamental difference between this and Scandinavian and other dancing I do regularly (waltz, contra dance) is that WCS is not a live music activity; music is pre-recorded and played by a DJ (disc jockey). So there is no applause after each dance because there are no musicians to clap for, and no concurrent music instruction at the weekend workshop as we have at other workshops. The sound systems are good, and the DJ’s are excellent at keeping the flow of the dance evening going.

I noticed that I miss the extra dynamic of interacting with musicians as a dancer. It adds such an important dimension to Scandinavian couple dancing. We often say that there are three people in each dance, the two people in the couple and the fiddler. I discussed this during an earlier post as the teachers in the Eric Sahlström Institute year-long course did such an amazing job teaching the musicians and dancers about that interaction (link).

For comparison, here is a Swedish slängpolska example filmed at the ESI with Petra Eriksson dancing with Håkon Vejvi, and Emilia Amper playing nyckelharpa.

I haven’t decided if or how much I will continue learning WCS, but I am happy to have had the introduction and it has been interesting.

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