Introduction: Beginning West Coast Swing: How to Dance
West Coast Swing is a partner dance, so before you begin trying out the steps, grab a partner! Put on some shoes that you can slide around the floor in, but that won’t make you fall over if you misstep. In the beginning levels, partner 1 is typically a man and partner 2 is typically a woman. This means that the man leads, and the woman follows. This is not to be sexist; it is merely to have easily established roles. As you move on with West Coast, you may find yourself wanting to change parts—we encourage it! In this set of instructions, however, we will assume the former.
West Coast Swing, sometimes seen as WCS, is known as a slot dance, because it is typically danced in settings similar to that of clubs. This means that you generally stay in your slot, lane, or vertical space on the floor. It is an elongated dance with very little side-to-side movement, so people can avoid hitting each other while they dance. The slot is typically oriented parallel with the grain of the floor, but you really just have to make sure you’re dancing the same directions as the other dancers.
Step 1: Dance in Your Slot
If you were dancing in the first room, your slot would be oriented with the arrows.
If you were dancing in the second room, you'd face the same way as the other couples so no one would run into each other.
Step 2: Sugar Push
The Sugar push is the most basic step of West Coast Swing, and you can consider it the foundation of the other, more difficult, steps. To give you a brief summary of the step, the backbone of the sugar push is step, step, triple-step, triple-step.
Above is an example of what it will look like.
You start this step by facing your partner and holding her right hand in the standard hold: hold your left hand out and open so she can slip hers into it (see second picture). Your first step is a normal step backwards with your left foot followed by a normal step backwards with your right foot.
Next is the triple step, which you can think of as three steps in one. It includes a step back with your left foot, a step in place with your right, and then a step forward with your left. The rhythm of the triple step is faster than the first two steps. If you say “step, step, triple-step, triple-step” out loud as you work through the move, each step you take should correspond with a syllable. Consequently, “triple-step” will be a little faster because triple is one word, and there is no comma to encourage long pausing before the last third of the triple-step.
At this point, your left foot should be in front of you.
For the last triple-step, step forward with your right foot so that it is even with your left, and then take a step in place with your left and right for the “-ple step” portion of the step.
You should be right back to where you started, having only moved forward and backward.
This step will take place in your “lane,” which means that you will stay in a straight line forward and backward for the entire step. The sequence of this step is forward, forward, triple-step, triple-step.”
To start this step, face your partner and hold his left hand in the standard hold. Take a normal step forward with your right foot, then a normal step forward with your left foot.
Next is a triple-step. The triple-step is three smaller steps that happen at a faster pace. Start by stepping forward with your right foot, then stepping in place with your left foot. Step backwards with your right foot for the final part of the triple-step.
Your left foot should now be in front of you, and you will do another triple-step. Step backwards with your left foot for the first part of the triple-step, then bring your right foot next to your left foot as the second part. To finish the triple step, step in place with your left foot. You should be back around where you started.
Step 3: Left Side Pass
This step has a similar rhythm to the Sugar Push, but the placement of the feet is different. The woman passes on the man’s left side.
Whereas in the sugar push your movement was restricted to a lane, in this step you will step out of that lane, and out of your partner’s way, as you lead her past your left side.
Once again, you start by stepping straight back with your left foot.
Next is what is a called a “J-step” that you’ll make with your right foot.This is a curved step that has your right foot ending perpendicular to the way it started and pointing toward your left foot but further back from it. Keeping your foot mostly on the ground, you start moving your foot backward, and then drag it in a gentle curve to its new position. The movement of your foot should look similar to this: this is when you start to get out of your partner’s way.
Remember, the next footsteps are quicker because they correspond with the “triple-step” portion. Your left foot should be brought next to your right foot, the right foot takes a step in place, and then then take a curved step with your left foot (be sure to lift it off the ground) so that it is pointing in the exact opposite direction than it started.
Step your right foot forward so that it is even with your left, and end this move with a triple step in place (left, right, left).
For this move, you hold your partner’s hand to lead her by you.
You will remain in your lane for this entire step, but your partner will step out of his lane to lead you through yours. The sequence of this step is right, left, side-cross-back, triple-step.
Start by taking a normal step forward with your right foot, then a normal step forward with your left foot. Then take a step forward with your right foot but bring it down perpendicular to the direction of your lane, stepping where your partner used to be (before he moved out of the way). Then cross over in front of your right foot with your left foot, bringing it down on the other side, leaving your legs crossed. Step with your right foot, turning so that you are stepping backwards (as compared to your original starting position), still in your lane. You should now be turned to face where you originally started.
Now you do a triple-step. Bring your left foot next to your right foot as the first part of the triple step, then step in place with your right foot, then step in place with your left foot.
Step 4: Sugar Tuck
The sugar tuck is basically the sugar push, but with a spin added for the woman.
The footwork for the Sugar Tuck is the same as the footwork for the Sugar Push, but the hand movements are different.
With your left hand, hold your partner’s right hand for the first two steps, gently pulling her toward you. Between the step back with your right foot and the beginning step of the triple-step, let go of her hand and, keeping your hand close to your body, hold it up at about chest level with your fingers closed.
Keep it like this. During the whole triple-step; she will push off of your hand to give her a boost through her turn.
Finish the footsteps as normal while keeping you hand up and open, so she can slip her hand in just before the second triple is over.
This step also requires you to move along your lane, and it is the same timing as the other steps we’ve done so far but with a spin added to one step: right, left, triple-turn, triple-step.
Start with a normal step forward with your right foot, then a normal step forward with your left foot. To start your triple-turn (a triple-step with the last step being a turn), step forward with your right foot to place it right next to your left foot. Stay on your toes on your right foot.
Your left foot will stay on the ground for the next step, but you will turn it a quarter-turn counter-clockwise, keeping your body in place (this step is like a wind-up for your turn). Your body should still be facing your partner. Spin clockwise on your right foot all the way around; when finished, you should again be facing your partner. Step backward with your left foot so that it is going the same direction as your lane; you should be facing the same direction you were when you started. Step backwards with your right foot, then bring your left foot back to be directly next to it.
Step 5: Whip
The rhythm of the Whip will be different than the others because it has two extra counts; additionally, it has more turning than the other steps, and your arms will come around each other in the typical professional dance style (your left hand holding her hand and your right hand on her lower back/waist).
Start this step by facing your partner, holding her hand in the standard hold. Step back with your left foot, then step forward and across/over your left foot with your right foot, and prepare for the next step, a triple-step.
For the triple-step, bring your left foot up and out; you’ll want to start to turn it, because at the end of this triple-step, you should be facing the opposite direction from when you started. The “-ple” portion of the step is with your right and is another opportunity to keep rotating, and then finish by taking a step with your left (you should have turned 180 degrees at this point and your feet should be pretty even with each other).
The next bit is tricky; You need to get turned back around before the Whip is over, and most of that turn happens here. Take a slightly backwards step with your right foot, and then twist/pivot on the balls of your feet; this should get you most of the way back to the right direction.
At this point, you simply use a triple-step to get facing the right direction with your feet together (The “tri-” portion of the step should be a step back with your right foot, and the “ple-step” should be anchoring).
Your arms should come up around your partner after the first step you take, and they should stay there until the last triple-step, when you take only her hand once again.
This step differs from the others because it is based off of eight counts rather than six counts. You will stay in your lane for this step.
Start by taking a normal step forward with your right foot, then step forward with your left foot, turning it so that it is perpendicular to your lane; turn it sideways/backwards as much as you can. Step backwards with your right foot while pivoting on your left; you should now be facing where you started. Bring your left foot backwards so that it is next to your right foot. You and your partner have now switched positions. Take a step forward with your right foot, placing it between your partner’s feet. The previous three steps (right step back, left step together, right step forward) is called a coaster step, meaning that it happens at a slightly quicker pace.
Next, you and your partner pivot around each other clockwise. You should pivot on your right foot. Bring your left foot down perpendicular to your lane, then step backwards with your right foot so that it is straight in your lane. You should now be facing the same direction that you started from.
To finish, you do a triple step: step backwards with your left foot, then bring your right foot next to your left foot, then step in place with your left foot.
Step 6: Now What?
Practice, practice, practice! You aren't going to become a professional after your first run-through of the steps, and that's okay! No one is. There are many places you can go to learn more steps, but if they’re too far away from you, the best way to learn more is with YouTube videos. You can watch the one above or look for your own. Following is a list of good people to watch, but you can also look up other beginner or intermediate lessons.
People to Watch
Leads: Ben Morris, Jordan Frisbee, Michael Kielbasa
Follows: Tatiana Mollmann, Jennifer DeLuca, Jessica Cox
You can even try practicing to music (Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake and Sugar by Robin Schulz are good places to start).
Most importantly, have fun!