Monday, May 28, 2007

Swing it slow

is the whole idea behind West Coast swing, a dance style that has evolved, influenced, and educated us about how to dance ever since its inception in the early 50's. I like to think and sometimes teach that the incubator for this style was the meeting of the minds and bodies of guys and girls at USO's and big band dance halls up and down the west coast during WWII. It was here that swing styles from all over the country began to mix and mesh. Dancers swung hard and fast, and slow and close. They learned that they had to watch each other, copy each other's steps, cover each other's moves. Still, I'd bet the dance had no real name except swing or jitterbug, or sometimes lindy. But in the 50's that changed as people no longer came to the west coast to prepare for war but to vacation or move here to live permanently. It was then that the dance that Arthur Murray was calling Western Swing began to acquire a new name that was more specific to the region where it was danced - the West Coast - and more descriptive of how it was danced, laid back and casual. One distinctive difference that began to develop in these formative years was the use of a slotted floor pattern as opposed to the circling one that characterizes all other swings. Latin Hustle, Lindy, and even Cha Cha may have suggested this option since the syncopations and triple rhythms of those dances were definitely being used in the West Coast. Eventually, and by this I mean some 45 years later, this slot and the way the follower is led to replace the rock step of swing with walking steps forward, means you can recognize the West Coast Swing immediately as what is being danced. Yes, the dance was born, evolved into it's own style and most importantly, has kept growing through all the styles that have tried to effect it. It is its strength and its weakness. West Coast prides itself on being able to absorb other dance styles, dance fads, and dance influences and still, because of its unique floor pattern and obvious foot pattern differences, remain the West Coast. The only place where I see this unique quality being lost is where the tempo of the swing being danced is closer to the BPM of East Coast. At this tempo it is too easy to rock back in the closed position and swing out your partner in a circular pattern lead. And on these dance floors it's quite likely you'll see more than one style swing danced to the same song. You'll see puzzled looks on the face of the followers, and consternation in the grimace of the leader. This is where the dance dies. Unless, the leader recognizes the responsibility that comes from setting up the slot and consistently refusing to use a rock step in any pattern. Until this happens, the dance will continue to confuse its practitioners and frustrate those who really like to dance the slow and sexy West Coast Swing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Another Night

It's late when I get back home. My body is still sticky with sweat, my breath reminiscent of rum and coke, my shoulder just beginning to ache. I keep thinking that if I could somehow just go back and redo, just jump in my time machine and slip back to 1995, I could use what I know to create a whole different ending for this story. But that's just nostalgic whining, right?

Things have changed for me in this dance world. So many opportunities missed that I can't count them. Anyway that's not what I want to write about anyway. All of my recent dance experiences have had the same tone. I feel like there should be more. I should have more students to teach. I should have more comradeship with other teachers. I should be able to connect better with the network of dancers that my world provides. But I can't figure it out. Yet.