Spreading the Joy of West Coast Swing

by Andrew Wagner

West Coast Swing tends to be intimidating to beginners, but very rewarding for those of us who push through it. This raises the question, “How we can we convince more people to push through so we can spread the joy of this dance?”

The most important thing we can do is give a premium experience to newcomers. A couple years ago I was inspired watching new West Coasters dance with our now regular instructor, Viko. Having recently learned to follow, I can speak about dancing with him first-hand. He creates a world for you where it feels like you can do nothing wrong. Beyond that, he inspires a massive amount of fun. He doesn’t take it too seriously, and shows (by example and invitation) how it's ok to be goofy and play within the structure of the dance. Experiencing a dance like this when first trying WCS can make a world of difference.

Clearly, Viko's skill level does not come easily, but I think the most special part is the attitude he brings to the partnership. I’ve seen champion level dancers who don’t seem to create the same effect. It’s about approaching every single dance with a positive attitude and a genuine attempt to inspire the best from your partner.

Too often, I see or hear experienced dancers complain about beginners. Even more so, I see a bad trend of where, and with whom, higher-level dancers choose to dance. I’ve certainly had some incredible dances with people who are much better than me, but I’ve also had some of my best dances with complete novices. It’s hard to find a better feeling than taking someone onto the dance floor and seeing their anxiety drift away as a big grin spreads across their face.

This attitude is also important for follows. It’s harder for them to create that feeling of pure joy for new dancers, but new leads are usually more concerned about not being able to provide a fun experience for their follows. This leaves leads standing in the corner, wanting to dance, but lacking enough confidence to ask. It can be huge to have a follow come up to ask you to dance – life-changing when they’re clearly having fun as well. Follows can achieve this by doing the same as good leads: making it their goal to bring out the best in their partner. Then, they can find joy in seeing their partner's demeanor transform.

Of course dancing exclusively with beginners is not ideal either. I know first-hand that it can be exhausting, at times, to dance with several beginners in a row. I just hope that we can all make an effort to seek out more beginners and strangers, especially the ones lurking in the corner too afraid to dance, to provide them with that premium newcomer experience. I’d also love to see more experienced dancers come to the less popular dance nights. Not necessarily for the lessons, but definitely for the social dancing. A dance community can’t thrive with just one or two dance venues.

I will leave you with one last note. The thing that really made me fall in love with West Coast Swing was watching Jack and Jill competitions on YouTube. Yes, the dancing was amazing, but truth be told, at that point I couldn’t fully appreciate how amazing it really was. The thing that really hooked me was seeing how the pros interacted with one another. They always seemed overjoyed to dance with each other and, even more importantly, they were constantly cheering each other on. It was then that I knew this was a community I wanted to be a part of. Let’s give that same feeling to all of our local dance nights.