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Got that down-in-the-dumps, financial meltdown malaise?  Want to take your mind off the economy, learn something new and have some fun?  Well – West coast swing dancing could be just what the doctor ordered.

So what is West Coast swing?  According to Kurt Lichtmann of Cornell University, its origins were with the Lindy Hop, a form which borrowed heavily from the Charleston, and jitterbug (see video below).

The Lindy Hop

Says Lichtmann

It’s distinctive “dancing in a slot” approach derives from San Diego dancehalls as far back as 1938. The kicking jitterbugs would frolic in the center of the floor, with the smooth dancers grooving on the periphery.

Lichtman further notes that West Coast Swing has since been influenced by many dance styles over the decades, including disco, funk, Latin and the Hustle.  The “slot” in West Coast Swing refers to a slotted dance: the follower travels back and forth along a shoulder-width rectangle, called the slot, with respect to the leader. The leader is more stationary but will move in and out of the slot depending on the pattern led.  A general rule is that the leader leaves the slot only to give way for the follower to pass him.  The popularity of West Coast Swing led the California legislature, during the 1987-88 session, to make it the official state dance.

Want to give it a try?  Here are some of the basic moves, courtesy of the Wikipedia:

Open position

  • Underarm pass: A six-count basic where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, passing the leader underarm on the right.
  • Left side pass: A six-count basic where the follower is led to the other end of the slot, passing the leader on the left.
  • Sugar push or Push Break: A six-count basic 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.
  • Tuck turn: This is like a left side pass in six counts, but the leader raises the left arm signaling the follower to turn under the leader’s arm (an outside turn).

Closed position

  • Return to close: In six counts, the follower is led 3/4 of the way around the leader into closed position.
  • Starter step: Two triple steps in closed position to begin the dance, so that the leader and follower can get in sync with each other.
  • Throw out: A six count basic where the follower is led from the closed position to open. Leads: Triple-step left, triple-step right, step forward with left and follow starts to move forward as well, push from frame of follow out down to the end of the slot.
  • Whip The follower starts at one end of the slot and is led around the lead, to the same end of the slot she started. The follower stays in her slot, pivoting, then coming back to where she started. The leader steps in and out of the slot, creating smooth, elastic look.

There are also many advanced moves with exotic names like “sugar tuck”, “cement mixer” and “basket whip.” Below is what West Coast Swing looks like when performed by experts competing at the annual US Open of West Coast Swing, held around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Competition at the US Open of West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing does not entail the drama and intensity of the Tango.  But if you are looking for a fun, exhilarating way to reconnect with your physical self, West Coast Swing might just be for you.  It’s instant relief from preoccupation with the dismal science.