Every dance evolves and West Coast Swing is no different. For better or for worse, something (cultural values, music, migration, etc) will affect the look and perhaps the feel of a dance over time. While is is important to preserve the history, fundamentals and ‘essence’ of partner dances, it can also be beneficial to recognize transformation – to know what changes are occurring in better hopes of understanding why they are changing.
I am not going to make a case for whether or not the shifts in West Coast Swing styles are good or evil. I definitely find them interesting. I also believe much has to do with the musical choices of the community (in conjunction with changing opinions of GSDTA/WSDC, culture and the expanding range of abilities dancers are drawing from). Change is inevitable – as a community, we have some control of how those changes take root or are tossed out.
Classic West Coast Swing 1960-1990
This is a good mash-up of early West Coast Swing dancing (some performance and some social). I particularly love the first clip in 1961 where you can see West Coast Swing evolving out of the Lindy Hop or Western Swing.
You might notice the obvious change in clothing choices. The music changes from 60s (late) swing, to 70s Hustles, and 80s Swinging Rock n Roll. The coaster step is replaced with the anchor step (see Skippy Blair’s history for more details on technique changes). Even within these 30 years, West Coast Swing underwent a few considerable transformations.
West Coast Swing in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s
The 1990s is often recognized as a time when the music and styles of West Coast Swing began expanding the vocabulary of the dance. Many dancers brought in influences and techniques from other dances or musical genres. You will still hear soul, rhythm & blues, funk, rock and hustle at West Coast Swing events, but overall, there has been a general move towards pop music, techno and hip hop. Contemporary dancers connect with music they hear most of the day and are able to maintain their West Coast Swing fundamentals. It is a challenge to keep the basic swing/rolling rhythm of the dance when you have a driving beat or lyrical breaks. I commend many of these Contemporary West Coast Swing dancers for swinging in a way which makes sense to them. I also commend their efforts to preserve the basic tenets of West Coast Swing dancing.
US Open 1996 – Kyle Redd & Beata Howe
US Open 2001 – Benji Schwimmer & HeidiGroskreutz
US Open 2011 – Jordan Frisbee & Tatiana Mollmann
What are West Coast Swing DJs Playing Today?
Check out the USA Swing Dance Network’s list of “West Coast” Swing DJs and their favorite music to play at events. There is a range of music West Coast Swing dancers hear at events. Find a new song to practice to or see what DJ’s are playing in another part of the US.