So you wanna learn how to dance West Coast Swing?
In this guide on how to dance West Coast Swing for Beginners, we’ll walk you through our approach on how to learn West Coast Swing step-by-step, giving you a sneak peek at what the dance is all about and a clear path to get started. We know being a beginner isn’t always easy, but we think it should be!
We’ll start you out with the basic steps as we introduce you to the rhythm and timing of West Coast Swing. From there, we’ll edge you closer to hitting the dance floor as we walk you through the 3 fundamental patterns. By the end of it all, you’ll have the confidence you need to get out there on the dance floor and start having some fun.
An Introduction to West Coast Swing Footwork & Timing
There are 2 basic footwork rhythms in West Coast Swing. We’re going to start you off with the most basic footwork rhythm first (the 6 count rhythm), so you can get comfortable with moving your feet to the rhythm, get used to syncopating your feet (ie. the “triple step”) and then use that knowledge in the first 2 basic movements.
Footwork Rhythm #1: 6 Count Rhythm
The first basic rhythm of West Coast Swing is a 6-count rhythm. This footwork rhythm is used in most of your patterns throughout West Coast Swing, and is where we’re going to start.
The 6 count rhythm looks like:
- Walk, Walk, Step 3 Times, Step 3 Times [or]
- Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick-Slow, Quick-Quick-Slow [or]
- 1, 2, 3&4, 5&6
The most important thing to remember is that followers always start by stepping onto their right foot on count 1 (and end on their left foot on count 6), and leaders always start by stepping on their left foot on count 1 (and end on their right foot on count 6).
An Introduction to West Coast Swing Patterns
Whilst there are 14 basic patterns in West Coast Swing, there are only 3 basic movements:
- Passes (6 counts)
- Pushes (6 counts)
- Whips (8 counts)
In this guide, we’re going to be teaching you these 3 basic movements which are the foundation of the dance. As you become more and more proficient with these movements, you can start creating new patterns, by adding rotations (for either the follower or the leader), changing handholds, or changing the length, width or height of each pattern.
For now, let’s get into these basic movements, starting with the Left Side Pass.
Pattern #1: Left Side Pass
The Left Side Pass is the first West Coast Swing movement in our syllabus. It allows you to practice the 6-count rhythm with movement, and also introduces you to the concept of leverage (outward connection).
Having a great Left Side Pass is an absolute MUST if you’re going to be out dancing on the social floor. Why? Because you’re going to be doing a LOT of them. If there is any move you should learn to perfect, it’s this one.
More advanced leaders tend to use the Left Side Pass as the basis for more intricate patterns, whilst still keeping the basic movement in place, allowing followers to create their own style & movement within seemingly complicated patterns.
Pattern #2: Sugar Push
The Sugar Push is the second West Coast Swing movement in our syllabus. It allows you to continue your 6-count rhythm, but it also introduces a new form of connection: compression (inward connection).
Like a Left Side Pass, the Sugar Push is going to be one of your most used patterns in your dancing toolbox. It’s often used as “breathing space” by more advanced leaders, as they move between intricate patterns. But don’t let that fool you, with some simple tweaks, you can turn a Sugar Push into some of the coolest patterns on the floor, and followers, the basic in-and-out rhythm allows you plenty of space to get creative.
Footwork Rhythm #2: 8 Count Rhythm
The second basic rhythm of West Coast Swing is an 8-count rhythm. This footwork rhythm is used in predominantly in Whips or Whip movements (the next pattern you’re going to learn).
The 8 count rhythm looks like:
- Walk, Walk, Step 3 Times, Walk, Walk, Step 3 Times [or]
- Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick-Slow, Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick-Slow [or]
- 1, 2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7&8
The most important thing to remember is that followers always start by stepping onto their right foot on count 1 (and end on their left foot on count 8), and leaders always start by stepping on their left foot on count 1 (and end on their right foot on count 8).
Pattern #3: Basic Whip
The Basic Whip is the third West Coast Swing movement in our syllabus. It introduces the 8-count rhythm into a pattern for the first time, and also gets you into “closed position” with your partner.
The Basic Whip is easily the most challenging of the basic movements – in fact, many more advanced dancers still struggle with the Basic Whip, due to it’s unforgiving nature!
We HIGHLY recommend you taking the time to master the Basic Whip – once you do, an absolutely incredible amount of patterns and stylings are opened up to you.
The Difference Between 6 & 8 Count Rhythms
An excellent rule of thumb for knowing when you should perform the 6 count rhythm, or the 8 count rhythm is based on the followers position on count 4:
- 6 count: The followers 4-count is moving away from the leader (eg. Left Side Pass, or Sugar Push)
- 8 count: The followers 4-count is moving toward the leader (eg. Whip)
Going Beyond the Basics
We highly recommend our West Coast Swing Fundamentals Bootcamp… it’s 3 hours of instruction, completely centered around the basic moves & rhythms – and it’s designed to get you up to speed ASAP!
It’s literally EVERYTHING you need to know to stride out onto the social dance floor and, in the words of Lionel Richie, dance all night long! We’ll be breaking down the patterns from both the leaders & followers perspective, as well as all the tips & techniques that we’ve put together over the last decade to help our students learn fast.
Good luck out there on the dance floor!