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RobinSmithSwing.com

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10 Things Good West Coast Swing Dancers Do Differently

Posted on 16 April, 2016 at 12:47 Comments comments (90)
10 THINGS GOOD WEST COAST SWING DANCERS DO DIFFERENTLY 
Thank you Brian B. from West Coast Swing Online for writing this. Good Stuff ! 

 There are a lot of things that separate good dancers from poor dancers and great dancers from good dancers. Background, physical talents and years in the game are all factors that come into play. As a teacher I live in a world  where I’m consumed by getting the most out of what I have without making excuses. That being said here are 10 things that you can and should be doing if you want to take your West Coast Swing dancing to the next level. 

 1. Commit to getting better Nothing starts without a goal and the commitment to follow through. You have to know where you are going and be willing to stay the course. Committing to getting better is a both a mindset and a process. 

 2. Learn to dance by yourself Too many people in West Coast Swing are limited by ‘needing a partner.’ Hogwash! Learn to dance on your own and practice on your own. All serious dancers do. 

 3. Take music seriously There is no way around this one in the West Coast Swing world. We are so driven by different kinds of music that if you don’t become a bit of a music nerd you are giving away a step to the dancers who do.  

4. Learn to love drills Learning to isolate techniques to drill them is a fast track to better learning. I personally use drills before most lessons and practices and have for almost 10 years now. They are very valuable. 

 5. Develop a relationship with a coach Notice I said relationship? Too many people in WCS run around taking random lessons from random coaches. While each coach has something to offer I think this process is flawed. I don’t have time to fully cover my thoughts on the subject but does Tiger Woods take lesson from different golf coaches ever week? Right! Find a coach that you can develop a long standing relationship with and it will pay off in spades. 

 6. Develop a work ethic You have to develop a consistent approach to practice if you want to gain momentum. Just like going to the gym or eating healthy, it doesn’t really show results if you only do it once in a while. 

 7. Learn to cope with self doubt There are ABSOLUTELY going to be periods of self doubt. Know that they will come and do your best to work through them when they come. 

 8. Take overall physical fitness seriously Sometime it shocks me why people want to move like high level dancers yet they let their basic physical fitness get away from them. Things like Yoga, Pilates are great for dancers. As we get older some form of resistance training is helpful as well. Combine these with a healthy diet and you’ll be in much better shape to take your dancing seriously as well. 

 9. Realize that learning curve is not a straight line Bad dances, bad competitions, bad lessons and crummy days are just a part of doing business. Learn what you can from them and come back smarter the next day. Don’t get discouraged. Learn the lesson and move to be better next time. 

 10. Learn to dance with different partners. One of the best things you can do is to cultivate the ability to dance with a wide range of partners. Not only partners that are brand new but also partners that are far ‘out of your league’ Its good to develope the skill and courage to dance with everyone on the spectrum of abilities. Its the essence of social dance, the essence of West Coast Swing.

The Challenge Of West Coast Swing

Posted on 20 January, 2013 at 20:13 Comments comments (245)
West coast swing is generally regarded as one of the most challenging social dances to learn. The purpose of this post is to explore some of the reasons why WCS can be challenging in order to help dancers understand why learning WCS can be difficult. Obviously, I believe that west coast is well worth the challenge, but it’s also worth acknowledging that this is a demanding dance, and that it’s natural to have moments of frustration.
 
  • Triple steps are hard. Very few social dances use triple steps because they require a strong sense of rhythm to place the & and they demand a high level of control over the body center during the triple.
 
  • Dancing in open position requires a good frame.There are a lot of ways for closed position dancing to compensate for a weak frame. In open position, if you don’t maintain your own frame then you’re lost.
 
  • WCS is not a mirrored dance. Followers can’t just match their leader. West coast demands a higher level of knowledge from the follower than many social dances.
 
  • Anchoring and elasticity are high-level concepts. Not only are these concepts tricky for beginners to master, they are also fundamental to the dance. Elasticity is needed to understand the coaster step in the whip, and staying back on the anchor is WCS 101.
 
  • West coast is inherently off-phrase. Because WCS has six beat patterns, the dance always gets off time from the music. This enables high-level dancers to reattach to the music in cool ways, but it means that beginners can get lost in the beat.
 
  • WCS is a conversation. Dancers are expected to not just perform their role, but to adapt to what their partner does during the dance. This requires both partners to learn lead and follow skills.
 
  • There is a huge range of musical styles and tempos. Extreme slow and fast requires a high level of body control, and expressing different genres requires a broad range of movements. WCS even changes the way that patterns are counted based on the music (straight vs. rolling)!
 
In short, it’s OK to feel like west coast swing is a difficult dance. IT IS ! 
 
The key is to remember that this difficulty is not created just to mess you up—all of these challenges give WCS a huge degree of freedom and flexibility. Putting time into mastering these skills has a huge payoff precisely because developing talent at WCS forces you to learn a lot of solid dancing skills.

What is West Coast Swing ?

Posted on 20 January, 2013 at 20:08 Comments comments (72)
What is West Coast Swing? 
 
West coast swing, or WCS, is a popular form of swing dancing that has spread from the US across the world. Part of the appeal of WCS is that it is an adaptable dance; it can be danced to a variety of musical styles and tempos, from 1940s big band swing and 60s soul to contemporary/top 40, hiphop, and of course the blues. In addition, the dance itself creates room for improvisation and interaction between the partners. Combine these elements with the ethos of a street dance—most west coast dancers resist the urge to formalize the dance into a ballroom-like curriculum—and it’s easy to see why west coast can be so hard to define!Some of the general characteristics of west coast swing, as it is danced socially, include:
 
  • WCS is a lead-follow partner dance that emphasizes the conversation between the partners. The leader is responsible for selecting the patterns of the dance, but is encouraged to create opportunities for the follower to shine within the dance. The follower is responsible for carrying out the intention of the leader, but is encouraged to play and interpret within the leader’s overall structure.
  • WCS is generally danced in a linear slot, with the follower moving to either end of the slot and the leader remaining in the center. Although the slot can rotate or travel on occasion, WCS is not a circular or progressive dance.
 
  • Every pattern in WCS ends in an anchor; the leader and follower are stretched away from each other. This stretch, or elasticity, creates a smooth and relaxed look for the dance. In contrast to other forms of swing, west coast settles into the end of each pattern through the anchor.
 
One of the greatest parts about west coast swing is that the dance is highly personalized. There is no “one way” to dance WCS, and dancers are encouraged to develop their own style within the basic framework of the dance.
 

What is Swing ?

Posted on 31 May, 2012 at 14:43 Comments comments (206)
As defined by the NASDE (National Association of Swing Dance Events)
 
NASDE Statement of Swing to be used to identify the presence of swing in the NASDE competition divisions.
 
Swing is an American Rhythm Dancebased on a foundation of 6-beat and 8-beat patterns that incorporate a wide variety of rhythms built on 2-beat single, delayed, double, triple, and blank rhythm units.
 
The 6-beat patterns include, but are not limited to, passes, underarm turns, push-breaks, open-to-closed, and closed-to-open position patterns.
 
The 8-beat patterns include, but are not limited to, whips, swing-outs, Lindy circles, and Shag pivots.
 
Although they are not part of the foundation of the dance as stated above, 2- beat and 4-beat extension rhythm breaks may be incorporated to extend a pattern, to phrase the music, and/or to accent breaks.
 
FOR A TECHNICAL LOOK AT SWING RHYTHM IN MUSIC CLICK HERE

Perceptions and Expectations

Posted on 2 April, 2012 at 12:10 Comments comments (289)
I am often asked what do I need to do or know to do well  in a Jack and Jill or Strictly Swing ? 
 
Another loaded question !
 
First it depends on the level in which you are trying to compete.
Second is what part of the country or world or where are you going to be dancing or competing.
 
Requirements to do well for each level can change with every different panel of judges and sometimes even with the same panel of judges it can be different from one day to the next.
Each event judge has their own perception and expectation of what makes good west coast swing or dancing in general..
 
 Some judges look at the dancers feet..are they rolling ? Are they connected to the floor in a smooth action or transition from one step to the next. Does the footwork add to the over all look of the dance or does it or the lack of it take away from the quality of the dance ? Is the timing correct ? Are the dancers knees bending and straightening properly for the dance ?
 
Some judges are looking for good body flight and smooth movement in and out of each position the dancer(s) find themselves in throughout their dance. Does it add to the connection and overall look and feel of the dance and the music for the dancer or couple..? Is their elasticity or stretch ? Does the leader allow the folloer to do her part...? Is the follower patient ? Do they take the time to actually feel what the leaders connection is telling them ? or do they over react ? Does the leader over lead.. ?  Are the dancers moving or not moving from the correct part of the body ?
 
Some Judges are looking simply for great posture.. does the dancer look like a dancer..? I have personally observed dancers being dropped several placements simply because the did not possess good posture and poise..even though the dancers in question were more musical and appeared more connected than anyone else on the floor...bad posture and frame killed their chances of placing as well as they could have or evening winning the contest. definitely something to think about.
 
Some judges are looking for good centering and balance.. in short...those judges are looking for control of one's self and awareness of the moment, the music, are they focused on achieving the best dance possible. Such things are usually very obvious to the trained judges eye.
 
Some judges are all about the connection and the music...regardless of what the competing dancers do or do not do...for them it must match or fit the particular music at the time.
 
From my own observations.. the most experienced judges are looking simply  for the best combination of all of the above. the more experienced the judge the easier it is to see who on the floor has or does not have any or all of the above requirements ..
The presence or lack of any of the above mentioned elements can make or break one's ability to do well on any given day..
 
My advice would be for one to stick to what you do well ! Try to be as clean and as precise as possible with what ever you do. If it is a good as you think it is.. you should do well. If it is not..you probably will not do so well.
 
To correct the problem.. simply put in the time and energy required to make it better. Take a lesson or lessons from a reputable instructor in your area that either PRESENTLY competes at a high level and frequently does well OR  JUDGES MULTIPLE LEVELS and events per year. 
 
Doing the same things the same way again and again and expecting a different result is not going to help you ! Their are in most cases numerous ways of doing something correctly. Find the one that works best and looks best on you..
 
As odd as it may seem.. for those who do not compete and have no plans to ever compete..the same skills noted above are also what makes a great social dancer !
 
 

TECHNIQUE - THE KEY ELEMENT

Posted on 21 March, 2012 at 12:51 Comments comments (58)
I am often asked which is the most important for west coast swing or dancing in general.. is it technique, musicality, showmanship, timing or many other related possibilities ? my reply is wow !! that's a loaded question !
Mainly because all the other elements I was asked to compare technique to which are musicality, showmanship and timing..are all comprised of specific techniques of their own which make them useful..
So for me I strongly believe that technique has to be the obvious answer to the question !
The shortest and most precise answer regarding wcs or dancing in general.... is that.... HOW you do anything is more important in most cases than WHAT you do. Even the most flashy tricks and moves simply do not have the same impact if they are excecuted poorly. Enough said !

Conversing THRU Connection

Posted on 16 January, 2012 at 13:21 Comments comments (57)
I speak of these things often in private lessons as well as group classes and workshops. But here it is again summed up clearly in an article by a friend and colleague Mr. Micheal Kiehm. Enjoy and learn ! I am always available for private lessons to help you with this.
 
by Michael Kiehm on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 12:33am
.

This weeks topic is "conversing thru connection"

You need the following traits to be considered an advanced dancer in any style of dance.

Excellent technique (footwork, lead/follow)
Precise timing control
Total Space awareness (between you and you partner, and the physical space you are dancing in)
Superior balance (controlled placement of body over feet)
A high level of knowledge of the particular dance style
Acute sense of musicality and the imagination to be creative.
an adaptable connection (to know how much to use)

One factor that is commonly overlooked, is "Emotion thru connection". This is where you let your partner feel not just "What your doing", but "what or how your feeling" while your leading or following, whichever the case.

It's not uncommon after having an incredibly inspiring dance with someone, that I would ask "what are you thinking about while we are dancing, that makes it so easy for me to be very creative or keenly in touch with you?????". The replies seem to be consistent. The partner usually just says, "I want YOU to feel how much I enjoy the movements I am creating with the music". They would also add, "Because you don't rush me, I feel I have time to be more expressive and creative. So I want you to feel what I feel, so you will continue to dance this way with me"

Besides the obvious physical connections of leverage and compression, emotional connection is right at the top on my list of concepts to improve on!

The next time your on the dance floor, try emoting thru your connection. Hopefully, your partner will be paying attention.

TIMING - TEAMWORK and TECHNIQUE

Posted on 11 December, 2011 at 20:53 Comments comments (264)
TIMING - TEAMWORK and TECHNIQUE
All the recent bantering back and forth on the internet about what is swing, swing content and the lack of or presence of it has given me reason to think about just how misunderstood what we do or are trying to do when we dance west coast swing.I am thinking about the first of the 3 T's (Timing, Teamwork and Technique)which most judges base their decisions on regarding who wins, who places and even those that make semi-finals and finals in Jack and Jills and Strictly swing.
TIMING: First of all...from my own point of view all forms of true swing dancing are mostly comprised of different combinations of DOUBLE, TRIPLE and various DELAYED rhythms. Such rhythms can be carried by or shown through the feet or foot work or through the body.
Within that...to define the actual type of swing somthing to be considered is the pulse of the dance or type of swing one is doing.
EVERY SONG has a specific beat that pulses....EVERY DANCE has a specific beat that pulses.
Often times the pulse of the dance is not the same as the pulse of the music. For example... Most of the MUSIC we dance west coast swing to pulses the DOWN beat or ODD numbers of 1, 3, 5 or 7 in a phrase of 8 beats of music....
The DANCE West Coast Swing naturally pulses the UP beat or EVEN numbers of 2, 4, 6, or 8 in a phrase of 8 beats of music. The correct articulation of the correct beat can improve the dance  you are doing and in some case even define it..... Alot of WCS dancers and even instructors and top level competitors do not exhibit a pulse of any kind in their dance or at least not consistently. The better dancers regardless of the style of west coast swing they are doing always have it.
ROLLING COUNT is also something that should be present if the music consist of swung rhythms. Again...this can be carried or shown through one's foot work or their body movement or both.
From a judges perspective it also is something that is easy to see if one knows what they are looking for.
But for the dancer.. it is something that is felt.. some of us are blessed with the ability to hear it, feel it and easily show it in our dance…but for the rest of us it is something that must be learned. YES.. one can be taught how to feel the music…however it is very often a slow process as it does not come easily for many of us. Pulsing, rolling count and hearing and feeling the music are all critical elements of good WCS or dancing in general and lend greatly to the quality of your dance. Without them.. even the simplest of basic patterns can not possibly be as good as they could be..For you Jack and Jill and Strictly Swing dancers and even those aspiring to simply be the best social dancer you can be….…QUALITY…. NOT…. QUANTITY should be your goal ! 
.

Musicality

Posted on 2 July, 2011 at 21:55 Comments comments (81)
I have had similar conversations in private lessons I was teaching with different students thru the years....Thank you Michael Kiehm for summerizing it so nicely. 
 
"Musicality" by Michael Kiehm (Starlight Dance-San Diego, California)
Everyone wants to considered "musically gifted", but very few can claim ownership of this title.
It's as though every move they make seems choreographed to the song, even if they've never heard the song before!
Well, for those gifted in this concept, you may want to read this as "light reading" and please, please, just appreciate your skill. (also, feel free to add any ideas you may have to help others get better)
For the rest of you, try these tricks to make you more aware of the music and to take your dancing to the next level;
 
   First of all, you need to identify the feel or genre of the music......blues, pop, funk, contemporary, lyrical, disco etc. 
   Then, identify what stands out to you most in the music......the guitar, the piano, the vocal...whatever you can clearly hear with consistency throughout the song.
You may want to separate all the different instruments (write each one down. you will be surprised at how many you hear. remember, vocals are considered instruments as well)
   Now listen to the rhythm of one of those sounds.  Find one with a repetitive rhythm, and match the rhythm with your feet while standing in place.
   You can also divide the movements between your feet and your body (like adding a body wave or using a head turn)
   Now dance a simple pattern, like a sugar push, and change the rhythm of you basic footwork to match the rhythm of your sound.  It may not be a simple 1,2, 3&4, 5&6,    It may be something like  &1, &2, 3 & a 4, &5, &6.   (Remember to try to cue the partner in on your  rhythm change through your connection). The "&" counts can be taps, kicks, hesitations, and even quick steps.
   Going back to the genre detail....if the music is slow & bluesy, keep smooth and release your hips a bit to give it a swinging from step to step feel.   If the music is funky, add body pulses on the down beats (sometimes even on the up beats)  You can still dance smooth through the feet, but you should show the pulse somewhere in your body or through the pattern you are leading.  I think you get the idea!
 
Try using subtle "Hip Hop" movements for the funky music and use classic or even jazz like movements for the smoother style....I like to use lyrical movements for the slow groove songs (my absolute favorite!)
The Stretch concept is great for this.  Some argue "it takes out too many triples, but I believe you can show the triple rhythm with more than your feet sometimes...Hence, body pulsing and tight and loose hand connections for light and shade movements.
 

POSTURE

Posted on 24 June, 2011 at 10:17 Comments comments (56)
Posture, Posture, Posture
   Having a little time today to think about technique and how each thing.. sometimes even the smallest thing  when done consistently can improve your dance tremendously.
   When judging I often see the new dancers strugggling with the same issues I struggled with.. one of the biggest issues is Posture... Stand up people !!
     Whether dancing, running, walking or sitting good posture offers enormous benefits... not just for your dancing but for your health too !!
It increases your balance, control, timing and your ability to easily move from one position to another as well as enhance your ability to connect consistently and effectively with a partner it also helps prevent one from taking steps that are to big..... 
Posture and proper timing are the keys to making easy transitions from one pattern or movement to the next regardless if you are leading or following.. tremendous benefits for both !!
Take a private lesson some time from the most well known instructor you can.. to learn more about it... if you can apply it... your dancing as well as many other things in your life will improve..

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