WEST COAST SWINGSeduced By West Coast Swing

by I.J. Wanadans

Why did I ever get in the middle of this West Coast Swing dance thing? I’m a tennis player. I spent 35 years either smashing foes or teaching others how to smash foes. So what the heck am I doing with this constant impulse of "I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance!"

Dance for me is a natural evolution of my internal process. Tennis competition used to serve as an outlet for my frustration, aggression, and anger&ldots;a level playing field where who you knew, how wealthy you were, how big you were, and other advantages the real world afforded you have no meaning. "Mano a Mano," you and me alone, with one man standing at the end. It served its purpose in my life. But now that whole violent process which seemed so rewarding no longer serves a purpose because I’m gradually removing the struggle from my life.

I don’t struggle with friends, lovers, money, or any other part of my life. Although I must admit sometimes it’s a real struggle to master not struggling. The point is that when there is less struggle Unity becomes more apparent. Dancing became a new outlet for my new consciousness. It is an "Art of Unison." The whole time I’m dancing, whether it’s with a better, lesser, or equal partner, I’m exercising my skill at merging with that person. It always feels AWESOME! Coaching at Wimbledon was thrilling and self-satisfying, but it doesn't match the feeling of flying perfectly with a regular dance partner, that first dance with someone who feels your every lead, or the thrill of leading a beginner flawlessly through a complete song!

As a tennis teaching pro, I’m around lots of women all day long. I’ve always felt that I was receiving plenty of female energy. But we rarely touched. Dance allows me to touch and be touched in a non-sexual (although sometimes very sensual), non-threatening way. Sometimes you never realize how thirsty you are until you’ve had your thirst slaked. This touch is very human, very necessary. To decide whether I should walk on the tennis court and squash another male ego, or walk on a dance floor and merge with a woman, is not a great dilemma for me!

Okay. So I’m learning how to dance and I’m having a blast. Naturally, I approach the discipline like a typical athlete and I know I’m only going to be as good as the amount of practice time I’m putting in. And by the way, I know for a fact that a little practice on the dance floor yields much more skill than the same amount of time practicing sports. Although dance does involve an external music source, it is certainly constant and predictable. In sports you need to match your physical moves to an external round sphere and a target area, both of which are erratic and unpredictable. Also, in dance when you screw -up it’s funny. When you "nail it" it’s better than an ace! In sports when you screw up it’s racket smashing, helmet tossing, bat breaking time.

So, on a dare, I fly to Memphis for the "Bob on Beale Street" and I immediately figure I’ve died and gone to heaven. Four days of non-stop dancing! I got an equivalent of three months practice in four days. I met so many people and got my brain filled with what great dancing looks like. People danced with me who were so much better than I was I could hardly breathe. But how else do you get better?

I'm feeling like a little puppy hardly able to contain myself and didn't care in the least when a few big dogs came along and kicked me out of the way. I was dancing, dancing, dancing. My legs ached, my brain was on overdrive, I slept like a log, and most of the time I forgot about eating. But I was dancing...touching and being touched. I’m meeting and being met.

I’ve come now to understand why West Coast Swing has been described as the "Dancer’s Dance." It’s the dance of preference for many who know all forms and styles of Swing dancing. It’s the one "partner dance" that affords ample opportunity to the female to express herself independently of the male yet still remain connected and responsive.

West Coast Swing can be sexy and slithery. It can be energetic or peaceful. It can be focussed at the feet with syncopations, focussed at the body with spins, lunges, hesitations, and stops, or all of it can be blended and mixed. Dancing the dance is always a fresh experience. Learning the dance in an infinite journey.

Closed position, open position, tunnels, lifts...West Coast Swing has it all. This is a lead/follow dance that constantly challenges the dancer’s limitations. For all of these reasons the great female dancers are intrigued. They enjoy the freedom, creativity, and independence West Coast Swing offers to them. Where the women are, the men will follow. Easier said than done!

For the man this is a very difficult dance to learn because you just can’t set your motor going and cruise from there. You got the walk-walk, you got the tap-step (sometimes!), you got the triple-step, you got the six counts, the eight counts, the two hand leads, the left hand lead, the right hand lead, the patterns, the variations, and you got a living, breathing, flow of white-hot lava at your fingertips looking at you with great expectation. If that’s not enough dynamics to humble the most outrageous macho-man, I don’t know what is!

There is a huge upside for the men, however. Since the women love the dance so much, and it’s so intimidating and frustrating for the men to learn, this creates a huge demand for male West Coast Swing dancers. A novice male can walk into a venue and dance all night with women who normally might not care to dance with him. But if a guy can lead five consecutive side passes without throwing the woman off-balance, she can "show off" in five different ways. This advanced dancer will practice all night with this guy because the men who are brave enought to learn the dance are so rare that she would rather do her thing with him than not dance at all.

And this brings me to my next subject which happens to be the female learning side to this dance. Personally, I am so overwhelmed with patterns, feet, and lead that I’m happy when a female takes the opportunity to show off. I like the fact that this is a "female spotlighted" dance. I try to keep it simple for myself by limiting my own spins and turns. I’d rather work on providing a stable, secure, and fertile environment for the woman to do her thing. So when a lady looks at me with those eyes that say, "Are those the only Patterns you know," I’m usually wishing that she would unleash a flurry of styling, syncopation’s, or creative playing to ease my own insecurity. I’m already sweating bricks, so to get the feeling that my lead is boring only results in further "dancer’s block."

So ladies, when the guy has embarked upon this incredibly humbling journey of creating a stage for you to show off upon, grab that brass ring! When he is doing side pass after side pass...and endlessly repeating underarm turn after underarm turn...or he’s on his eighth basic in a row trying to figure out which side is which...you could and should be working on your own styling and expression. His lack is your gain.

I often hear clearly the voice of a very fine Instructor from Florida constantly imploring her female students to "challenge yourself" at all times. Seek out and recognize those one or two count windows of opportunity to express yourself. Women can choose to take full advantage of the independence West Coast Swing offers.

There are many ways women can help men through this confidence shattering experience. When a lady comments, "oh, good lead," a man’s spirit soars. It opens us up to accept the words, "OOPS, I didn’t quite feel that one." Most (although not all) men will then inquire as to how we can make it better. Ladies, we’ve already bought into the notion that every mistake is our fault, so be gentle on us.

At first seduced, and now addicted, I never had a chance...I’m in it for life!