a return to west coast swing dance - What about dance

Finally, after 18 months of being back dancing and saying I would go, I’ve been back to west coast swing.

The last time I danced it (other than a couple of random attempts at a 2 room freestyle) was 6.5 years ago just after the first Midland Swing weekender when I was 7 months pregnant.  Back then Mike Rosa used to teach in Bicester, a great class with friendly regulars, some nice masterclasses and an easy relaxed feel to the couple of freestyles I went to.  Now his classes are too far for me to attend, but Oxford West Coast Swing do weekly classes in Islip.  Only 25 minutes from me, there’s no excuse not to go.

So last week, I finally managed to get to the class.

a return to west coast swing dance - What about dance

Each week the teachers rotate between Cat Wiles, Paul Warden, and Kevin and Aggie.  I’ve done a couple of workshops way back with Cat (probably the first one I ever did as an introduction to wcs), but never with the others.  So I’ve been interested to see how it works with different teachers who’ll all have different styles of teaching and emphasis.

With a smaller class than most modern jive classes, it means there’s better sight of the teacher and demo. And being down on the floor together makes it more intimate and perfect for asking questions.  I wasn’t the only newbie to the class, one guy was totally new, another lady had been a few times.  Most I recognised or knew from modern jive.  It’s easy to follow the steps and direction because leads learn facing one way following Paul, the followers the opposite side of the room following Susie.

One of the things I love about wcs is the technicality of learning.  This puts off lots of people, but as someone trained in classical ballet and music, learning drills and technique appeals. It’s very black or white at a basic moves level, with then the variations and style on top.  I find it easy to learn and follow in class, compared with when I started ceroc and worried about what I was meant to be doing with my feet.  By learning the technique, timing and movement, and getting those basics engrained and into the muscle memory, it means I can then worry about other things like following and listening to the music.

Paul’s a very relaxed teacher.  It’s very easy, encouraging, but particular, explaining the reasoning behind what he’s teaching like his ‘no maybe yes’ explanation of how the follower decides to follow and on what timing.  To someone brand new, it probably takes a while to grasp the concept, but it all made sense with what I’d been taught previously.

What’s also good about wcs is how the majority of the class turn up to the beginner lesson.  In fact they don’t call it beginners, it’s a mixed level class that starts with the basics.  Then is followed by another mixed level class teaching a number of moves.  I’d presume with a larger class with new beginners to dance, maybe there would be a beginner review class.  The new guy to wcs did get some help and more explanations of basic moves while the freestyle afterwards was going on so he wasn’t left to his own devices to struggle.

In the class, it made sense to have everyone joining in – not only does it remind everyone that we were all beginners once, and that we all need to continue learning. But Paul also suggested different levels for more confident dancers. So during the timings and drilling the basic counts in, there was the option to do the opposite role’s footwork to keep everyone being challenged.  I know it would be a good few years before I would want to start leading, if at all, but it’s great that people are encouraged to understand the other person’s role in the partnership.

With modern jive I’ve always gone to freestyles from the start (doing a few years of salsa meant ceroc was straightforward to move into).  But with wcs, even though previously I’ve done nearly a year of lessons, I never really felt good enough to feel comfortable going to a freestyle outside of those run at my venue. Even after the class in a small group where everyone was friendly, I still felt a little out of my depth.

Several people did come over and say I must have done a bit before because I was doing well for someone new. That’s nice to hear, but I rarely struggle with a class – it’s just following what the teacher says and does.  It did give me a bit more confidence to get up and freestyle. Actually it wasn’t too bad.  I danced with a couple of people who were new to me, and coped as well as they did.  Then danced with someone I dance a lot with in jive.

Obviously being used to a partner helps relax into the dance a bit and know that I can generally follow his moves.  It worked in wcs, and hopefully after a few more classes I’ll gain more confidence and enough to try out more during 2 room jive freestyles if I can pick out those who’re west coasters.

I had a great time and was really buzzing afterwards. I was so excited to be back doing a dance that’s going to be a challenge. I feel for my work colleagues because I had to tell them all about it even though they know nothing about dance.  Now all I’ve got to do is make sure I get to classes on a regular basis.  Not always an easy thing to do.

Have you returned to, or started dancing and really got a buzz from it? Do you do west coast swing?

Let me know what you think