West Coast Swing affords more creative license than perhaps any other structured social dance, which is the main appeal of many of its fans. Many of the elements are simply a placeholder for sexy embellishments and musical expression, and it is a dance where personal style reigns supreme. That being said, West Coast Swing should not be a disjointed free-for-all of wiggling arms and accents on every step.
The problem with embellishing on every beat of the music is twofold:
First, no song calls for such hits and accents. While Alicia Keys can stretch every word of the national anthem into a mind-bending series of extensions, in dance we actually have to work with the song that is playing.
Second, West Coast Swing is a partner dance. It is important to share this dance but with such redundant flamboyant displays of expression we can often end up simply turning our partner into a balancing bar. We also end up robbing that other person of any chance to express themselves.
From a performance standpoint, it is also important to remember, that when you exaggerate everything, you ultimately aren’t exaggerating anything. Perhaps you pulled off a dip exactly on the 1, but the rest of the dance was such a big ol’ mess of crosses, taps, body rolls, hair flips, waving arms, hustle hands, and non-stop booty shaking that the effect is completely lost on both your partner and the audience.
It is my opinion that the more expressive dancers have a great advantage over dancers who are afraid to be themselves on the floor. It is a wonderful quality to really be able to put yourself out there on the dance floor, but it is also important that you are able to engineer the dance to the song and orchestrate it with your partner.
How do you know if your wiggling has gotten out of control?
If your styling has inadvertently caused you to yank, pull, or just baffle your partner, it’s time to reel it in. If you feel like your dance has a lot of taps and crosses and extensions but you admit that you are not exactly sure how contemporary and blues music is structured, it is likely that what is going on with your body doesn’t match the music.
If your motto is, “I just want to have fun and do my own personal interpretation of how the song makes me feel, without learning how to style when it is ‘appropriate’,” that’s great! I suggest you check out any regular old dance club in the country and jump around to your heart’s content.
But this is West Coast Swing.