West Coast Swing is an evolving social dance that has gone through many changes throughout its short history, over time incorporating techniques from numerous dance styles. However, there are many guidelines that should be followed to maintain the true character of the dance. A dance's character is typically defined by a basic philosophy, principles of movement, and traditional steps and figures. While these guidelines can be violated, by committing too many violations one risks departing from the defining features of the dance.

Technical Guidelines

Every figure or pattern should end with an anchor step, a critical characteristic feature of WCS. This is used to mark the end of a figure and re-establish connection between the two dancers. The leader should maintain the slot. The leader should use his own weight changes to lead the lady's movement, not the arm or hand alone. The follower should continue to the end of the slot. The follower should assume a triple-step count unless led otherwise. Both closed and open positions are acceptable. A connection should be maintained at all times, using some combination of physical and visual connections. Most steps are danced in 2-beat groups, allowing 6-count and 8-count figures to be extended and shortened as necessary to fit the music. The leader should plan ahead in the dance to allow the follower to experience musical accents.

West Coast Swing is a slotted dance. The slot is an imaginary area, long and thin, eight or nine feet long if danced at a very slow Tempo, but shorter if the music is at a faster tempo. The follower travels back and forth in the slot dancing straight through the lead. The leader consistently moves a minimum amount (at mid-way point) to his sides, barely out of her way. She lightly brushes against him each time she passes him. Brushing seems rare these days though (2009).

Socially, it is considered good etiquette (particularly on a crowded floor) to use a fixed slot, in order to allow dancing without incident. Having danced the slot repeatedly, the couple "has a claim" on the area, and other couples usually cooperate and establish their own slot parallel with the dancers. If the dance floor is not crowded and the couple is afforded more space, such as during a competitive event, the dancers may move the slot around the floor more liberally.

There are urban myths regarding the origin of the slotted style. According to one version, it was an invention of Hollywood film makers who wanted “dancers to stay in the same plane, to avoid going in and out of focus”. Wide angle lenses with adequate depth of field for cinematography had in fact been available since the 1920s. A variation on the "Hollywood film maker" theme is that film makers wanted "to avoid filming the backs" of dancers. A viewing of films featuring the work of Dean Collins in the 1940s, and rock 'n' roll films made in the mid 1950s reveals the fact that dancers turn frequently and inevitably turn their backs to the camera. Although another unslotted swing dance, Balboa, became popular in the same area and under the same conditions, much has been made of "jitterbugging in the aisles" as a source of the slotted style.

Slotted moves were a common part of the step vocabulary of Lindy and/or Jitterbug dancers during the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than the walk, walk of West Coast Swing, however, two sets of triple steps were used when the woman moved down the slot, followed by a rock step rather than the current triple and anchor step.




Moden Dance Steps

Philosophically, Modern West Coast Swing is in large
part defined by an emphasis on Musicality and
Connection. Movement is based on a principle
borrowed from ballroom and Latin dance, in
which the dancer moves their center of gravity
immediately over the foot when a weight transfer
is desired.

Traditional figures include 6-count and
8-count patterns of one of the four basic
varieties: (1) Starter Step, (2) Side Pass, (3)
Push Break / Sugar Push, (4) Whip. Many common
WCS figures are derived from simple variations
of these basic figures.

West Coast swing is also a fundamentally
improvised dance, and thus such defined figures
are simply starting points for the skilled dancer.







Anchor Steps:

Typically the follower walks into new patterns
traveling forward on counts "1" and "2" of each
basic pattern, rather than rocking back.The Anchor
Step is a common ending pattern of many West Coast
Swing figures.

  • Side
  • Back
  • Cross
  • Kick ball change

Sugar Push:

A six-count "move" where the follower, facing the
leader, is led from the end of the slot to a one or
two hand hold, then led back to the same end of the
slot. The seemingly very simple Push Break requires
"compression" or "resistance", to make the pattern.
While the arms remain firm but flexible, there should
be no excessive pushing or pulling in the arms but in
the body. The Sugar Push has been around since 1952.
In some instances this sequence is taught as "The
Six-Count Basic". Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic
  • Right to Right arm Sugar Push
  • Side Sugar (follow on left side)
  • R2R behind head, hand drop

Tuck Turn:

This is like a left side pass in six counts, but
the leader creates a "tuck" action on 2 by turning
the woman towards the man and then reversing her
direction back toward the slot on count 4. Then the
woman turns under the man's left arm on 5&6. The turn
can be either a half turn or a turn and a half. Some
teachers teach that the "tuck" is no longer led because
it is difficult to follow. In theory, the Tuck action
ought to function similarly to the wind-up before
throwing a frisbee. Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic
  • R2R Double turn out

Left Side Pass:

A six-count basic where the follower is led to the
other end of the slot, passing on the leader's right
(right side pass) or additionally under the leader's
arm (underarm pass). Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic (waist or semicircle)
  • L2R over shoulder

Right Side Pass:

A six-count basic where the follower is led to the
other end of the slot, passing on the leader's right.
Count: 1 2 3a4 5a6

  • Basic
  • L2R over shoulder
  • Right Side Pass into Travel Pattern > Step Slide
    or both free turn
  • Right Side Pass Cross Steps

Whip:

An eight-count basic with many variations. In a basic
whip, the follower is led past the leader and then
redirected (or "whipped") back towards the end of slot
from which she (or he if a man is following) started.
The basic footwork for a whip extends the six-count
pattern by inserting a pair of walking steps between
the triple steps. The footwork is therefore
"step step tri-ple-step step step tri-ple-step."
Count: 1 2 3a4 5 6 7a8

  • Basic
  • Turns inside or outside
  • Apache ending with broad stance foot plant
  • Crossbow: R2R open with outside turn
  • R2R Open
  • Side (outside turn option)
  • With Ronde
  • With quarter turns
  • Inside turn, drop left hand

Basket:

An eight-count where the leader holding both hands,
steps to the left of the slot while pulling the follow
forward. Stepping around the follow entering the slot
from the right side while dropping the right hand.

  • Basic
  • He /She Turn
  • Double Turn
  • Cross hand Basket with Lead Turn
  • Pull crossed hands over follow's head, B2B into free turn
  • Lead turn ending
  • Turn > Hammer Lock > Prance

Wrap:

An eight-count where the leader holding both hands pulls
the follow into closed position with follower's back facing
the lead.

  • Basic (Leader changes direction)
  • R2R Wrap into Hammer lock, turn into Prance
  • Front wrap, turn, hip catch, free turn

Leader left step from slot

A six-count or eight-count where the leader is stepping
to the left side of the slot.

  • Waist turn
  • R2R roll across back
  • L2R roll infront of leader with change of hands
  • count Lead outside Turn
  • Shoulder turn

Leader right step from slot

A six-count or eight-count where the leader is stepping
to the right side of the slot.

  • Neck One Arm catch
  • Crossed hands LoR, He/She turn
  • Crossed hands LoR, He/She turn, side by side body roll
  • Crossed hands LoR, He/She turn, Arch Drop (option seat catch)
  • Ribbons R2R crossed right on top, leader change direction (he/she turn ending)
  • R2R cape with 1.5 spin
  • R2R cape with turns
  • Back to Back Foot Sweep
  • Free turn into neck roll
  • Crossed hand bow tie with step out into sweep
  • Crossed RoL Turn with rhonde
  • R2L waist wrap, half turn B2B with turn out sweep
  • L2R turn shoulder catch, walk behind (option send behind, pull back)

Front Prep

A six-count or eight-count where the leader is
stepping back in to the slot.

  • L2R free turn with chest push
  • R2R turn catch on back of neck with double turn out
  • R2L inside turn, she/he turn change direction
    leader, prep into free turn, catch into side sugar,
    leader half turn, hand change, pull follow down slot
  • R2L wrap follow change direction, shoulder push,
    back catch, inside turn, end of whip finsh
  • J-Hook (Sugar push foot work)

Hamer lock:

An eight-count where the follower has one arm behind
the back and the other in front.

  • R2R > HL > foot taps > shoulder Basket (tap roll-out)
  • HL walk, leader changes direction
  • Right step HL with a block
  • HL follow change direction, cross hands, turn with shoulder catch, free spin

It is believed that the origins of the WCS are in Lindy Hop. In a 1947 book, Arthur Murray recognized that, "There are hundreds of regional dances of the Jitterbug type. Each section of the country seems to have a variation of its own."

Dean Collins, who arrived in the Los Angeles area around 1937, was influential in developing the style of swing danced on the West Coast of the United States, as both a performer and teacher. When his wife, Mary Collins, was asked if Dean was responsible for the emergence of the dance, however, she said that Dean insisted there were "only two kinds of swing dance - good and bad".

Laur Haile, Arthur Murray National Dance Director, and an instructor of teachers documented swing dancing as done in the Los Angeles area and used the name "Western Swing". Murray had used the same name, "Western Swing", in the late 1930s for a different dance. Haile included Western Swing in Dance Notebooks she authored for Arthur Murray during the 1950s. Western Swing was also called "Sophisticated Swing" in the 1950s. Dancing to musicians wearing cowboy hats and string ties playing fiddle, steel guitar, etc. Pumpkin Center, Bakersfield, CA 1950s

Western swing, country boogie, and, with a smaller audience, jump blues were popular on the West Coast throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s when they were renamed and marketed as rock 'n' roll in 1954. Dancers danced "a 'swingier' - more smooth and subdued" form of Jitterbug to Western Swing music.

West Coast Swing (still known as Western Swing at that time) is the basis for the dancing in the rehearsal scene in Hot Rod Gang (1958). Music is supplied by rockabilly musician Gene Vincents Dance to the Bop. The song alternates between very slow sections and those with the rapid pace and high energy of rockabilly. Staged by a young Dick Di Augustin, the dancing includes recognizable patterns such as the chicken walk, swing out from closed position, etc., along with the classic womans walk walk triple step triple step at the end of the slot. On the final step of the second triple the women are weighted left with the right heel on the floor and the toes pointed up. Dancers also do classic Lindy flips at the end of the slot, as well as non partner, non West Coast Swing movements.

Murray's taught Western Swing beginning from a closed position and the possibility of dancing single, double, or triple rhythm. After a "Throwout" patterns began with the woman "walking in" and the man doing a "rock step", or step together for counts one and two. Although the dance remained basically the same, the Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSDTA) began teaching from the walk steps, counts 1 and 2. It replaced Laur Haile's Coaster Step with an "Anchor Step" around 1961.

The name "West Coast Swing" was used in a little known hand book for Arthur Murray dance studio teachers in the 1950s, but the Murray studios used the term "Western Swing" on charts. "West Coast swing" as a synonym for "Western swing" appears in a 1961 dance book, and was used in an advertisement by Skippy Blair in 1962.but wasn't incorporated into mainstream swing circles until the late 1960s.

Blair credits Jim Bannister, editor of the Herald American newspaper in Downey, for suggesting the name West Coast Swing When the Golden West Ballroom, in Norwalk, California, changed from Country to Ballroom dancing, the dance most advertised on the Marquee was West Coast Swing.

Western Swing was documented in the 1971 edition of the "Encyclopedia of Social Dance". Patterns began with the woman stepping forward twice, but described the "Coaster Step" with a forward step as the last step of the 2nd triple. The one song that was listed for this dance was "Comin' On" by Bill Black's Combo (1964 Hi #2072). As late as 1978, the term "Western Swing" was common usage among Chain and Independent Studios to describe "slotted swing".

Circa 1978 "California Swing" was yet another name for West Coast Swing, albeit with styling that was "considered more UP, with a more Contemporary flavor." By 1978 GSDTA had "some 200 or more patterns and variations" for West Coast Swing."

In 1988, West Coast Swing was pronounced the Official State Dance of California.
 

All the top swing and C&W dancers always hit the breaks. If you're dancing for fun, hearing and dancing to the music will make it more fun. (It generally gets very appreciative responses from the ladies, too. My impression is that women as a group "hear the music" better than men do, but they're stuck with following whatever the guy is leading. When they get a partner who can hear the phrases and do something appropriate for many of them, they like it a whole lot.) If you want to be competitive, hearing and dancing to the music will, at the very least, give you an edge.

Many ballroom dancers do not keep to musical phrases. Most male ballroom dancers are too busy thinking of steps or dancing around the ones thinking of steps to worry about it. It can be done though - for example, since most non-classical waltz music is very predictable in structure, it is relatively easy to put a routine to that fits the phrasing even with a limited repertoire of steps. Do eight measures of one thing and then start something different - particularly in social Viennese Waltz. One of the most difficult parts to leading is working out how many beats you've got to go before the break you know is coming, thinking of something cool to fill them and still hitting the break. This is not an easy task when you have to dance 10 different dances/musical styles. But with experience, one begins to really dance. The steps become just the alphabet, not the language. Ballroom dancers learn patterns and partnering skills, ballet dancers do barre work, jazz and modern dancers each learn their canon of contortions. But the dancing doesn't reside in the vocabulary. Dancing is all about showing and exploring the music. A good dancer is like a musician doing an improvised solo, sometimes playing the unadorned melody, sometimes playing with contrasting rhythms and highlights, but always in tune with the song as a whole. Otherwise, what's the point? One can interpret the music by choosing figures that fit its phrasing or by reinterpreting figures depending on the music. Dancing done with the music looks better. In a lesson my partner and I had in Tango, Benoit Papineau told me to alter the timing so that *every* sharp body action was on the strong 1 beat. From this I have now learned to change the quality of the action depending on where in the measure I wind up doing the action, thus allowing the timing to be very flexible. He demonstrated a tango amalgamation, quite deliberately missing all the strong beats and emphasizing weak ones: doing all the sharp actions on beat 3 and then again with the actions on beat 1. (You can also show this by just offsetting the group by a bar: that would put strong actions on even bars) Then he did the same group with the phrasing. My partner was dancing with him and thought he had failed to make any point because they felt the same to her - she said that he had done exactly the same thing both times. But what a difference to the observer! The phrased version looked sharper, clearer, and, well, just better. If the music were off, the two executions would have been the same, but with the music on, one looked powerful and in control, the other was much weaker.

A lesson in musical interpretation came to me from the master himself, John Wood. After a few months I found I could apply the principles a little at a time, and it made dancing more fun (and my regular coaches happier). He watched us dance a foxtrot during which we studiously tried to perform every action `correctly.' He said it was on time, but unrhythmical. Then he explained that he interprets each figure according to the music. From the point of view of phrasing, it means that he will do 8 different types of feather step depending on where in the phrase the figure falls. He then proceeded to dance with me starting a basic group at different points in the phrase, and guess what! He really does do figures differently, though often the changes are incredibly subtle. This is one of the reasons why when you watch him and Anne dance, though you may have trouble articulating what they do differently, you can feel somehow touched by their performance and not by that of other couples. John also discussed lots of theories about dancing figures so that they form a rhythmic counterpoint to the music showing me a bunch of closed promenades with very different interpretations. In retrospect, this was one of the most important lessons I have ever had. I started by just trying to remain conscious of odd and even measures while dancing, navigating, and doing all the other things we do. Within a few months, my partner and I actually started to get comments from judges we had never met before on our musicality. I have since observed good dancers more closely, and I see this ability in the greats. The Gleaves, for all their talk about being over the foot on the *and*, etc. exhibit quite a variability in timing throughout the phrase if you watch a tape of their demonstrations closely. Watch Sinkinson and Barry in their exhibition for the 1989 World Championships for a stellar example of this, even dancing groups offset by 2 beats but reinterpreting them so it looks perfect.

Partner dancing, and Swing in particular, has plenty of room for improvisation and expression. In fact, it's the whole point of the dance. All the steps just provide a framework to "hang jewelry on," as Rebecca Shulman puts it. Over time, one does *not* have to concentrate all one's attention on the steps, and can free up the imagination and energy. Once you become an accomplished dancer, when your mind and muscles have learned what, how, and when to do it, you have considerable freedom to express yourself whether you're Leading or Following. It's just as much fun to sit and watch at a Swing dance as it is to be on the floor. Everyone is doing the same thing, yet no one looks like anyone else. Why? Because each dancer is expressing the dance as an individual. When individuals change partners, the way the dance is presented can change so dramatically that you can hardly believe it's the same dancer you saw 3 minutes previously. The variety is limited to the total of dancers, partnerings, music, and magic. The rhythm of most music is NOT 1-2, 3&4, 5&6, or 1-2, 3&4, 5-6, 7&8. Even the "basic" 6 and 8-count patterns of WCS are a syncopation in that they vary rhythmically from the music. Part of the beauty of having the patterns shift position in relation to the phrasing in WCS is that you have the opportunity to accentuate different beats of the music. You have to admit, it would be incredibly boring to watch a routine made up entirely of 8-count patterns. In which case, the "natural" phrasing of WCS (assuming a 32-beat phrase) would be 4 6-counts and 1 8-count. Sure, there are all kinds of variations (2-count pop-outs from hammerlock, etc.), but the predominant count is still 6-count. The fact that the music is 8 counts just means that on one move, you're accentuating "1", the next move "3", the next "5", etc. That's the beauty of the dance as far as I'm concerned.

Barry and Dawn Blorstad teach a class called 'Hitting the Breaks.' According to them, they actually were the first ones to coin this phrase. They discuss both swing and progressive dancing (CW2S). Their video, is very good. Robert Royston and Laureen Baldovi are also teaching a similar class.

In WCS, the more advanced you get, the more the dance becomes like communication and less like physical movement to music. In communication, phrasing affects meaning. If a 6-count move only takes you to count 30 of a 32-beat phrase in a song, advanced dancers (followers or leaders) are usually paying attention to the 2-beat deficit. A 2-beat syncopation by either is then inserted and adds much to the physical expression of the music and the positive interaction of the couple. Breaks are a marvelous vehicle to break out of the mold and be creative. If you dance straight through them, you might as well be dancing to a drum machine!

Dancing to the ups and downs and ins and outs of the music is what it's all about. Dancing is the physical expression of the music that is playing, within the abilities of the dancers at the moment. Phrasing is only one aspect of the way the music feels, but it is one of the most measurable ones.

Some people seem to have a "natural" sense of phrasing. I don't think its really innate, but more an ability to connect with the music at a level that requires no conscious effort. I see a lot of social dancers who are quite good at this, especially in social West Coast Swing. Obviously some have been trained to "hit the breaks" but some of them just seem to be with the music.

I find interpreting the music is easier if I sing along (internally of course). Counting to keep track of where one is in minor and major phrases to far too hard and ignores the individuality of a particular performance (or recording) of a song. I know so many competitors who can't tell you what song played as soon as they come of the floor because they never listened to it --- they just listened to the beat. I find my own dancing is less fun for me and my partner and that the movement looks very sterile if we're just counting.

Hitting the Breaks isn't done by memorizing long sequences of patterns (pre-arranged choreography) to go with particular songs, and it isn't done by memorizing (or writing down) the phrasing in the songs. After a while you should be able to listen to a blues number and, generally within one line of verse and certainly within two, tell you whether it's a 12- or 16-bar blues, and which line of the verse we're on. Listen to a lot of the music when you're *off* of the dance floor and not thinking about dancing, or try singing along with it... Try to be aware of the point/counterpoint, call-and-answer, etc., character, not just of the words of the verses, but also the lines of the melody. Once you feel where you are in the song, that will tell you, at some subconscious level, when the end of the verse will be. And that's all it takes. Let me give you an example of a related ability. Suppose I read to you the second line of a limerick -- almost any limerick. You'd likely know immediately that it was the second line. Why? Well, from the words, it'll be clear that it's neither the beginning nor the end line; the number of syllables will tell you that it isn't the third or fourth; and the inflection with which these things are usually uttered will nail it down. Now, quick: Do you know how many syllables there will be until the end? Not unless you stop and think about it. But if I start telling you the limerick from the beginning, by the time you hear the second line, you'll have in idea of the rate at which I'm speaking; you'll likely have a good instinctive feel for when it will end. In fact I could mumble the rest of it, just saying

da-da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da

and you'd know when the end was imminent, just from the inflection. Note that you don't have to know the limerick in advance to be able to do this. The same sort of thing happens with music. And it similarly happens at a subconscious level. Most popular songs fall into one of about four different structures that are as standardized as are limericks -- the pieces of which are equally recognizable, even upon first hearing... if you know what to listen for.

Mastering this is a highly individual matter. *some* people will take a long time to acquire this skill -- heck, some people take a long time to be able to know what the "beat" is, let alone hear it.

Most "breaks" happen at the ends of verses. If there was a break at the end of the first verse, there will likely be one at the end of all the others, and almost certainly at the end of the last verse. Given that, then you can pull a pattern out of your bag o'tricks that will allow you to hit the break

There are hundreds of swing tunes out there, but most of them are structurally similar with only minor differences. The first thing you have to do is to be AWARE of the music: basic song structure, AABA vs. ABABAB and so on; twelve-bar blues vs. sixteen-bar everything else; etc. (a blues standard will generally have eight beats (two measures) with lyrics followed by eight beats with no lyrics. Repeat three times for a verse in twelve-bar blues.) Listen to a LOT of music and really pay attention. (Playing it is even better, but if you don't already play an instrument you'd be taking quite a detour...) Study musical construction and soon you'll be hearing the breaks. A person who understands music construction and phrasing can hear a break coming, like a guy in a train station can hear a train coming down the tracks. If it's a 32-measure AABA song-form, do something different on the bridge. If it's a 32-measure bebop tune, be aware that there's probably going to be a two measure break at the end of the first head, and be ready for it! If it starts off in a shuffle groove and goes to a four chord at the fifth measure, you're dancing the blues and there may be a break at bar ten. You can't dance to the music till you know these and many similar things about swing music, and get them in your bones. Most "breaks" that you want to hit come at the ends of verses, chorus, or bridge, so you want to be aware of when these things are coming up. This isn't as hard as it may seem, because the phrasing in the lyrics and so on will often tell you. To hear when the breaks are coming, try listening closely to the bass lines. Think of each verse, (or bridge or chorus) in the song as a paragraph and the lines of each as sentences in the paragraph. You can tell, from inflection, etc., both in the words and in the instrumental section, when each "paragraph" is about to end. You can tell this even in a purely instrumental song, even if you come in the middle. The percussion will often build in certain ways leading up to a break. Part of the secret is that most songs are made up of *repeated* structures. Almost everything in American popular music (except 12-bar blues) is written in verses with four lines apiece; once you've heard the first verse, you know how long (in measures) all the rest of the verses will be. (In 12-bar blues, the verses are three lines long, and the second line is often a repeat of the first, though sung with different inflection.) Now, you don't have to count beats or even bars; you need only an approximate feel for how long a verse is, and then you can be aware of the cues (changes in the bass line, changes in the inflection on the vocals, etc.) that will tell you "last line of the verse coming up!" If the first verse is followed by a chorus, the second verse will be also; conversely, if the first verse isn't followed by a chorus, then the second verse will probably be followed by a bridge. And so on. Especially in swing music the breaks often fall into one of two types:

in the first four bars of each chorus (remember that a subsequent chorus can trip you up by not having a break, or having a slightly different one) or,

in the turnaround (in which case there are a few possibilities and unless you know the song, you simply have to perk your ears in the first chorus to see where exactly the break, if any falls.)

Start doing this with songs that you've heard so many times that you've got them memorized. It helps if you can keep track of where you are in the music at the same time as you dance.

Since the 6 beat Swing basic doesn't always line up with the 4 beat/measure music, you need to identify a small number of patterns, already in your repertoire, that fit with various types of transitions in the music - patterns that can be stopped midstream in order to hit a break. Learn these for each basic move and you can hit all the breaks. Start with just one or two and learn to lead them well. The "continuous whip" is a great step to use; when you hear the break coming up, keep pivoting until it happens - 8, 10, 12, 14 beats - whatever is needed - and break out of it into the dynamic "look at us" pose. A bit boring, but functional training wheels. Also try the basket into a hammerlock into basket into a hammerlock until the break arrives trick. Gear your movement to emphasize the downbeats (1,3,5,7). Learn how to stop each basic on the 5 count to hit a break. These, along with the body roll basic that can be done if the break happens on the count of 3, enable you to handle any break. Spinning your partner at climactic points in the music is also dramatic - just be careful not to start the spins too early.

For dances that do not line up with the music, like Country 2-step (a 6 count basic that is not as flexible as swing), try basic pivots during the vocals with a ladies turn at the end of a phrase if it lines up right, and a whip pattern with variations during the instrumental, maybe promenades with variations during the next vocal, and so on.

Now put the knowledge of song structure together with the knowledge of patterns, and....Voila' - you are hitting the breaks! Tom Mattox teaches that there are two basic families of dancing: phrased dances and pattern dances. "Phrased" dances are dances like Waltz and Chacha (1 pattern takes two measures so you are always in phrase with the music) and "Pattern" dances which have basics that don't line up with the music (WCS, Country 2-step have 6 beat basics and are done to 4/4 music). Six-count dances do not divide neatly in the usual 32 beat phrases of pop or country music. Hence, people (Craig Hutchinson in swing, Grant Austin in two-step, and probably many more) have suggested to build up phrases from 4 times a 6-count pattern plus one 8-count pattern. It isn't cheating to identify one or two songs that are played often at the studios, night clubs, whatever, where you dance frequently, and pre-plan some "moves". In fact this is probably a good way to get started. The work you put into hitting the breaks will make you much more aware of the music. Once you've learned how to actually dance to the music it will increase your appreciation of dance a hundredfold. There will be a lot of false stops and starts, but it's definitely worth doing. After you learn to hit the breaks, you will start to appreciate and dance all sorts of musical phrasing. After a while it's as natural as breathing.

After you can hear the breaks, you have to decide what to do with them. One way of playing with it is to do nothing. However, freezing is just the beginning. Anyone can freeze, but the WCS vocabulary is full of lots of wonderful things like syncopations, body waves, dips, and twists that can fill those four or eight beats much more creatively. Freezing on the breaks quickly becomes a clichi', especially in songs that have lots of breaks, regular as clockwork, at the end of each verse and chorus. Too many people have apparently been taught that hitting a "break" *always* means a freeze. Hitting the break should be more correctly termed "acknowledging" the break. A good dance instructor once told me: a novice dancer _stops_ during a break in the music, but an advanced dancer "acknowledges" it. He or she plays the break. One can syncopate, strike a pose, kiss the partner or whatever the music or the mood fits. Just don't stop dead in the break. You want to express the fact that you recognize the break and are expressing yourself to it somehow. Here are some other means of expression:

Emphasize, with a tap, the last beat before the break.

End a dramatic movement, such as a spin, on the last beat before the break. Then use the break to regain composure.

Anticipate the break soon enough to get into a position for something dramatic to do during the break:

a syncopation,

a spin or a continuous series of turns

a lift

a body waves, flash movements, kicks, jumps... Take your hat off or some other type of hand motion. Do something not in the typical for that dance style movement - execute a Latin or Cajun step in WCS for example.

End the movement before or when the break ends.

Use the break to set up a dramatic movement after the break.

In classes on "hitting the breaks" they mostly just teach you things to do on breaks, and maybe choreograph something to fit a certain piece of music. Debbie Elkins was an exception; she taught a string of patterns ending in a break, all of different lengths, so that if you can work out how many beats you have, you can pick the right pattern and use it.

Going a bit further, it's also fun to change the character of the patterns I'm leading to match the mood of the song at the moment. For example, I often find that the beginning of an instrumental "bridge" is a good cue for a complex series of connected patterns. If a solo instrument picking individual notes, one per dance beat, is spotlighted (this often happens for two or sometimes two bars at the end of a bridge), a series of "walking steps" seems to fit. And so on.

Remember, "hitting the breaks" is a long way from "musical interpretation". All the great dancers, swing or otherwise, agree that you need to *become* the music, not just dance to it. A deaf person should be able to look at you and understand the music, though they are not hearing it. In fact, if all you do is patterns, you're not considered a great dancer, no matter how wonderful your posture is, and no matter how complicated your patterns are. To be a great dancer, you have to be able to match your moves to the mood of the music, and above all else, PLAY WITH YOUR PARTNER

Swing music has an 'up' feel to it while blues has a 'down' feel to it. This is probably why swing dance took on an entirely different direction when people started dancing it to blues (WCS). The natural interpretation of swing music is to dance a little jumpily, while blues makes you feel like being a little slinky, with a few hip wiggles and stuff. As far as I know there isn't an exact science to it, but from things I've read there are a number of people out there who believe that different instruments and different rhythmic patterns make you feel like moving different parts of your body in different ways. Before the occurrence of "jump blues", swing music and blues music had an entirely different feel to it. With the popularity of jump blues, which retained enough of the structure of blues to still be called blues, I guess you could argue that people do sometimes like to interpret blues by dancing fast and jumpy. But it is really a different kind of blues.

If there is a conflict where one person is giving emphasis to phrasing and the other is giving emphasis to counting, whoever can adjust, should. Be advised that some leaders actually choreograph more than a couple of beats ahead. What may seem like two beats to you on a minor phrase may have just set off the complete sequence the leader had in mind for hitting the major phrase you were entering.

Hitting the breaks also means not getting in every move/syncopation you know and hitting *every* phrase and break. Dancing in the music also means intentionally "ignoring" the third time you come on the same break and just acknowledging it.

Pulled from http://www.eijkhout.net/lead_follow/hit_the_breaks.html


Phases of breaks

by Kelly Buckwalter 1997

During the last couple of years it seems that "hitting the breaks" has become a major obsession with intermediate level swing dancers. The questions I'm constantly getting from students regarding this topic lead me to believe that most dancers see hitting the breaks as a black or white situation&ldots;either you hit them or you don't. Either you're a good dancer or you're not.

Since life is not so simple, I thought Iid share my experience of learning to hit the breaks. My personal evolution consisted of many phases. Hopefully, you will learn something and feel a little more encouraged with your own progress as a result of this article. At the very least I hope to provide some amusement!

Phase One

I'm a rank beginner. I don't even notice that there are breaks in the music. I'm not even sure which beat to start on.&ldots;

Phase Two

I'm still a beginner. I'm irritated by the musicians for stopping the music because it makes it hard for me to keep track of which count I'm on while I try to execute a push break. (The nerve of those guys!)

Phase Three

I consider myself an intermediate dancer but really I'm still a beginner. I notice that other people are "interrupting" their dancing to pause when the music pauses, and I can't figure out how they know when the pauses are going to happen in time to keep themselves from dancing. I, myself, am at the point where I realize that I just missed a break two beats ago. (If you're not laughing yet, we're all in trouble...)

Phase Four

I think I'm a solid intermediate dancer but I'm really a low intermediate dancer. A musician friend explains breaks to me and how dancers can anticipate their frequency by subtle shifts in the music. I actually start to listen to the music and find that I now realize I'm missing the break as it happens. Go Team! (Such phenomenal improvement is overwhelming...)

Phase Five

I think I'm a high level intermediate dancer but I'm really a low level intermediate dancer. Although I can now anticipate a break just before it hits, I don't have time to react so I still miss it.

Phase Six

I think I'm a high level intermediate dancer but I'm closer to a solid intermediate dancer. I can see a break coming in time to react but I still "miss" it because I don't have a clue what I'm supposed to do about it.

Phase Seven

I think I'm an advanced dancer but I'm really an intermediate level dancer. I can see a break coming about a mile away and although I still don't have a clue what I'm supposed to do about it, I do something anyway that doesn't really work because it has nothing to do with the music and it gets me off time. But since I'm able to get back on time and I think I'm "hitting the break" I think I'm great! (I'm so-ooo good!)

Phase Eight

I think I'm an intermediate level dancer and I am. I can anticipate a break coming and usually I can do something that is somewhat close to what is happening in the music so that I can at least stay on time through the break and not get in my partner's way. (Hallelujah!)

Phase Nine

I think I'm a solid intermediate level dancer and I'm actually closer to advanced. I can feel a break coming a mile away. I can almost always acknowledge a break without feeling like I'm "interrupting" my dancing. I can transition nicely from the break back into the next move.

Phase Ten

I think I'm an advanced dancer and I am. I sometimes choose to ignore a break in the music whenever I feel it's appropriate. (Ever try to hit all the breaks in "I Ain't Drunk, I'm Just Drinkin'?" Da-da-da-thump. Bump, Bump. Da-da-da-thump. Bump, Bump. I don't know about you, but after the twelfth break using that rhythm, I'm about out of material!)

Phase Eleven

I'm an advanced dancer. I discover that there are "mini" breaks, or accents, in the music that are much more subtle than the major ones I've been trying to hit. I spend a lot of my energy listening to the music for those subtle shifts and adapting my dancing to mesh with the music as a whole rather than just focusing on hitting the major breaks.

Phase Twelve

I'm a more advanced dancer so I switch parts to learn to lead. I find that I'm so busy trying to think about what to do next that I find it impossible to listen to that noise in the background (the music). Breaks aren't even an issue yet because I'm still trying to figure out how to lead. Only the best, most assertive followers are able to back lead me into hitting a break. I'm now a rank beginner AGAIN. I go back to Phase One. I Do Not Pass Go. I Do Not Collect $200.

In summary, "Hitting the Breaks" does not make or break you as a dancer. It takes many skills to be a good dancer. Understanding and reflecting the music is important, but so is technique and teamwork and all the other skills that make partner dancing simultaneously incredibly satisfying and incredibly frustrating. If you can see an improvement in any area, no matter how small, celebrate it! Dancers will always set new goals and challenges, but as you achieve success in just one area, your ability to enjoy yourself and others will increase in many areas. Good luck, and don't forget&ldots;you can honor a break without hitting it over the head!

Kelly Buckwalter, from the San Francisco area, is US Open Classic and Jack & Jill Champion. You can purchase her popular and extremely instructive video tapes by calling (707) 544-8184.

Pulled from http://westcoastswingamerica.com/kbbreaks.htm
 

Preface
 This document was created to give dancers a better sense of common dance etiquette. It is our hope that it will serve as a useful list of suggestions from many veteran swing dancers. This document contains advice, not rules.

Encouraging Words for Beginners
 Because there is a wide range of people in the swing scene, skills and experience levels vary greatly. However, everybody starts out as a beginner. If you are a new to dancing, notice that most of the better dancers have been working at it for quite some time. Try not to get discouraged. It may take a few months for you to feel completely comfortable swing dancing. Even then, nobody ever learns everything. In fact, the teachers spend as much time as anybody improving their dancing. Avoid dwelling on what you know or don't know. More importantly, please remember that lacking prior experience does not preclude anybody from enjoying the dance. This is supposed to fun, above all else.

Who to Dance With
 It is beneficial to dance with people of all experience levels. In the context of enhancing your skills, dancing with more experienced dancers often helps you to improve. Similarly, dancing with less experienced dancers is a prime opportunity for you to work on your lead/follow skills. Ideally, you should be able to lead/follow with anyone. In the context of having fun, you can have fun dancing with anybody and everybody. In short, ask everybody you can to dance, there is no point in limiting yourself.

General Tips
•Try to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated.
•Smile.
•Make eye contact, however do not stare down your partner. If this is difficult for you, one trick some people use is looking at their partner's shoulder or their earlobe. This confirms that you are paying attention, yet you are not staring.
•Focus on your partner. Your job is to make the person you are dancing with look good. For leads this means being conscientious of your partner's skill and adjusting your lead to the situation. For follows this means avoiding back-leading or other actions that make the lead feel "unimportant." For both leads and follows, if you stay aware and adaptive of your partner's feelings, you will be a popular dancer.
•Thank your partner after each dance.
•It is polite to clap for live performers when they finish a song and for DJs when they finish their set. If you are not dancing, it is also considered polite to clap after a lengthy solo, however this is not expected of active dancers.
•It is not necessary to apologize to your partner if a particular move is not executed perfectly. The point is not to have a perfect dance, but to have fun. However, if your mistake may have physically hurt your partner, please apologize and make sure they are okay.
•Swing dancing is a social dance, therefore talking while dancing is okay and not considered bad etiquette. Moreover, not talking while dancing is not considered bad etiquette either. Do what makes you feel comfortable.
•Don't be stinky! You will be dancing in close quarters with a lot of new people. You may want to chew gum or bring breath mints (Altoids are popular...and bring enough to share!). Some dancers avoid eating certain foods (garlic or onions, for example) on dance days. You may also wish to wear deodorant or cologne.
•Dancing is good exercise so be prepared to sweat! Many people bring extra shirts to change over the course of an evening. Other tips include bringing a towel or handkerchief to the dances or using baby powder.

Regarding Cliques and "Snobbery"
•Sometimes a perception exists that good dancers only hang out with other good dancers. This is a by-product of the fact that many dancers have been dancing together for a long time and know each other better. For the most part, few people within the scene are intentionally reinforcing this perception. Feel free to break the ice if they don't.

Asking For a Dance
•Notice what the person is doing before you ask them to dance. Be wary of interrupting conversations.
•Ask politely, "Would you like to dance?" Avoid grabbing a partner and pulling them onto the dance floor.
•One dance at a time is the norm within our dance community (in contrast, there are other dance communities where two consecutive songs per partner is the norm). Should you want a consecutive dance with your partner, ask them first. Consider asking them if they want to dance at a later time.
•It is very acceptable for ladies to ask gentlemen to dance. Most gentlemen are flattered by the offer.
•When there is a group of leads or follows, asking one specific person to dance is less awkward than asking the entire group (i.e. "would one of you like to dance").

How To Say "No"
 Ideally, we would all say "yes" to everyone that asked. In cases where you wish to decline a dance, be polite: smile and say "No, thank you." If there is a reason why you can't dance that song, give them a reason. While opinions differ, the authors of this document generally believe that it is not a good idea to just make up a reason not to dance. In other words, try to deal with people honestly and directly. If you would like to dance with the person some other time, offer to dance with them later and make a point to follow up. If you have no desire to dance with this person, simply say "No thank you," with a pleasant, sincere smile. Also, please keep in mind that some people consider it rude to refuse to dance with one person and then dance with another person during the same song. Along this line, there may be valid reasons why somebody will dance with somebody else after turning somebody down (i.e. the song tempo changed, the other person was too forceful, etc...). If this happens to you, realize that it may not necessarily be a personal rejection.

What to Do If They Say "No"
 You can always ask again, but give him or her time and space and ask again later. It is usually a good idea to let several songs pass. Also, do not get discouraged if you are turned down. All dancers get turned down from time to time. There are other people who would very much like to dance with you.

Special Advice for Leads
1.When starting a dance, especially with someone you don't know, take it slow. Everyone dances differently, so take your time and get to know the other person by starting off with less complex moves.
2.Do your best to avoid leading moves that might hurt your partner. Do not push or pull your partner too hard. If she is not following something, try leading other moves. Make sure you pay attention to where your partner is and where she is going. The social dance floor is like the ocean and can be choppy and rough by no fault of your own - make sure she is safe on the sea.
3.Blues dancing and other close dances have recently become popular. The Syndicate does not wish to discourage close dancing, however, as a lead, be aware of whether or not your partner wants to dance close. If she pulls away or appears uncomfortable, give her more space. Just because the blues dancing workshops teach a snug closed dance position does not mean that every follow wants to dance that way. Additionally, not every lady has taken a blues workshop. As a rule of thumb, when dancing blues style with a new partner, ask her she minds dancing close.
4.Dips are acceptable, but only when you are confident that you can execute them without causing your partner discomfort, fear, or pain. Contrary to what you see on the dance floor, it is not a requirement that you close out every song with a dip. Only lead a dip if you feel that you can execute it successfully. This is true for even the most basic dips. If you are going to lead more complex dips, please ask her first. This is especially true if is somebody that you do not dance with regularly. Some follows do not like dips of any sort, either for personal preference reasons or for health reasons (back issues, etc...). If a follow resists at the start of a dip, take that as a sign that she does not like to be dipped.
5.Aerials and drops (Trick Moves) are generally not acceptable on the social dance floor. In fact, many venues ban them outright. They are rarely done at Syndicate dances, with the only exceptions being controlled circumstances such as a jam circles or performances or among partners who have worked on aerials or drops prior. Remember that injuries can happen with even the most basic aerial/drop moves. For those who may unfamiliar with the terms, aerials are moves where the partner's feet leave the floor; drops are moves that cause your partner's head to be below your waist. If you are in the position to lead an aerial or drop, we strongly encourage you to ask for your partner's permission first.
6.If you bump another couple, try to immediately look back and apologize. If another couple bumps you, apologize even if it is their fault. The experienced dancer knows that toes will be stepped on and people will bump into one another. Don't let the occasional accident get you down. If you happen to be dancing near an erratic lead, relocate to another part of the floor.
7.There is a split opinion regarding the practice of walking your partner off the floor. Some people believe that it is a very respectful thing to do. Others feel that is unnecessary and too formal. A good compromise is to understand that the best course of action will vary from situation to situation.

Teaching On The Dance Floor:
 The following section is the most controversial portion of this document. Some people avoid the practice of "teaching on the dance floor" at all costs; others religiously seek out the chance to share their knowledge with new dancers. We would like to present a balanced view on the subject.

Asking for Instruction
 Be careful about asking others for quick lessons on the dance floor. Many people are reluctant to criticize people that they are dancing with, since it could be taken negatively. Additionally, there are teachers who do not like to be asked to teach while they are social dancing. This is not true for all teachers, but it is true for a certain percentage of them.

Volunteering Instruction
 An often followed rule is to only give advice if the other person explicitly asks for it. Sometimes unsolicited advice puts your partner on the defensive. However, if a lead is hurting you, please speak up. In contrast, if the lead is only leading steps ineffectively, without any real harm to you, be more cautious with your commentary. Remember, that leads have a lot to concentrate on when dancing.

Giving Feedback and Constructive Advice
 Before commenting on your partner's dancing; it is a good idea to think about what you can do to improve your dancing. Obviously if someone is doing something dangerous to themselves or to others you should say something, but otherwise it may be more harmonious to withhold comment. Just because you can criticize, does not mean that you should. If you feel compelled to say something, attempt to phrase your comments politely so as not to make the other person uncomfortable. It is nice to offer a compliment prior to offering constructive criticism. It is usually a good idea to assume that half the problem is on your end (your lead skills/your follow skills) and remember that if you are offering advice, be prepare to receive it. One effective phrase used by dancers is, "I don't think the move worked out right, what do you think we can do to make it work better." Use statements that allow for honest feedback on both sides. Don't let the other person think it is entirely their fault.

Handling Unsolicited Advice on the Social Dance Floor
 If your partner offers you advice, you can handle the situation in a variety of ways depending on the situation. First, you can accept the feedback and be open to instruction. By doing so you express that you want to hear their advice and wish to have a dialogue about what is and is not working in regard to the dance. If you do not desire advice or feedback at the time, you can politely say "thanks, but I don't feel like discussing technique right now, I just want to dance." If you don't want the advice, you can say very little and let it go. Whatever you do, avoid blaming each other, which may lead to an uncomfortable and antagonistic situation. Remember, in the social dance world, having fun is more important than being right.

Dealing With Difficult People
 If somebody at a Syndicate event makes you feel uncomfortable, please speak with a Board member. If you don't know a Board member, tell the DJ and he or she will get you in touch with a Board member. We will be glad to deal with them in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.

Closing Thought
 It is wise to be lighthearted enough to just enjoy the dance regardless of whether or not everyone is at their best etiquette.

Pulled from http://www.austinswingsyndicate.org/etiquette.shtml