West Coast Swing Dance Weekends

by Andrew Wagner

Joy comes from pushing beyond our comfort zone.

No matter your skill level, you should consider checking out the dance weekends in your area. Let’s take an honest look at what you can expect, and how you can make the most of them.

Already convinced to try an event? Check out our events page to find one.

Social Dancing

If you only ever go to local dance nights, you’re first reaction to social dancing will be amazement. There are many great dancers out there. However, newcomers, don’t flee in panic just yet.

What

Social dancing starts at night and often goes into the early hours of the morning. Even if you don’t attend the rest of the event, you're always welcome to come just to social dancing.

Why

The best reason to go is to dance with, and meet, new people. It’s great to develop comfort at your local dance night, but it’s incredibly fun to discover new dance styles and push your dance skills by leading and following complete strangers.

It’s also a great opportunity to dance with higher-level dancers. Don’t let this intimidate you. These are events designed to foster a better community. Every amazing dancer, started at the bottom. Alternatively, if you hesitate to dance with newcomers, please read my article on fostering a better community.

Tips

You’ll be tempted to dance only with people you recognize. Don’t. You can use them as your home base when you get self-conscious, but don’t stay there all night.

Also, take breaks from dancing and start some conversations.

Workshops

Workshops are different than most of the lessons you find at local dance nights.

What

Usually, there are a series of hour long workshops starting at 10am or 11am. You can come for all of them or just drop in on one or two.

Why

They’re taught by dancers who travel the world and make their living as instructors. Who else better to learn from?

Workshops are also an opportunity to meet new people in a structured environment. You can develop a report so it’s easier to ask them to dance socially.

Tips

First, look at the schedule and plan out which workshops you’ll take. Some events offer different workshops for different skill levels. Pick the interesting ones and those taught by instructors you haven’t learned from before.

It’s also important to go with an open mind. Sometimes you’ll find them silly, but silly can be lots of fun and also bring your dancing to the next level. Don’t assume any lesson is beneath you. You’ll be astounded how often you realize, something you think you’ve mastered, needs a lot more work.

Most importantly, ask questions. Ask the instructors. Ask your partners. Ask yourself. This is how we learn. If you find yourself accepting something blindly, take a step back and figure out why. Instructors may also give contradictory information. This is the nature of an art form. Figure out their underlying reasoning and determine what resonates best with you.

Watch Competitions

Competitions happen throughout all of the events.

What

Competitions fall into three categories: Jack & Jill, Strictly Swing, and Routines.

Jack & Jills are the most popular. People enter as individuals, get randomly assigned to a partner, and dance to random music. It’s essentially judged social dancing. Strictly Swing still has random music but you enter with a partner. Routines are choreographed.

Competitions are also split into various skill levels and types. Pro-ams involve partnering a lower-level competitor with a pro. Jill & Jacks involve switching one’s normal lead and follow role. Many events also offer more creative competitions. Check our their websites for more detail.

Why

Watching competitions can be extremely inspiring and fun; even at lower levels. It’s fun to pick out what is working best in each competitor’s dancing. You should also make a point to cheer on your friends if they’re competing. This is a great way for us to all feel the support of the community.

Tips

Make sure to watch the champion/invitational competitions. These involve the best of the best and are always a blast to watch. However, make a point to watch the lower-levels too. Marvel at how great even novice level dancers can be and how much room we all still have to improve. Also, don’t forget that there’s social dancing between competitions. Take the opportunity to try out something cool you saw someone do (as long as you can do it safely).

Enter Competitions

Competitions aren’t only for watching. Anyone can enter competitions.

What

There’s usually a small entrance fee, but all the same descriptions from the Watch Competitions section still apply.

Why

You should enter competitions for fun. Everyone is on their best behavior and there’s extra energy in the dancing. However, it can also be a useful way to measure your skill progression, or at least your confidence level, and give you something to aim for.

Tips

The first thing you’ll realize is that competing is a lot harder than it looks. Also, dancing is subjective. Be prepared to do worse than you think you deserve. That is why you should enter for fun. Only treat achievements as bonuses. If you find the negatives of rejection weigh heavier than the fun, either try to adjust your attitude or stop competing.

If you‘re just starting out, it can be fun to enter a Pro-Am Jack & Jill where you will be randomly assigned to dance with a pro. Just be warned that the dances can be brief because a lot of people want to dance with pros.

Also a few quick tips on competing: Dress to impress (better than for normal social dancing). More importantly, treat every partner and song as if it is exactly what you wanted, and listen careful to the MC’s instructions.

Private Lessons

The last element of a big dance event is private lessons.

What

Most dance pros make themselves available for private lessons. Check which pros will be there and research how you can get in touch with them and how much they charge.

Why

Private lessons are an amazing way to get detailed help from some of the best in the world. It’s helpful to learn your unknown unknowns, especially if you don’t understand why you aren’t doing better in competitions. Either way, a single private lesson can give you months of things to work on.

Tips

Just like in workshops, take privates with an open and questioning mind. Be respectful, but challenge what they say. It’s a great way to learn, and, if they’re great instructors, they’ll thrive on the back-and-forth.

Ready do go?

Checkout our events page for list of events in the Boulder/Denver area.