Swing Dancing/East Coast Swing/Starting Out
Starting Out East Coast Swing
The Simplest Step
First I'll talk about the lead, then the follow is the mirror.
First, get comfortable counting evenly to six. Once you've got that down, here's how you would move on each count. Before we start, your feet should be no more than shoulder-width apart, and neither in front of or behind each other.
1. Step left. The classic rookie mistake is to step too far. Take the tiniest step you can. Even just play around with shifting your weight left.
3. Step right.
5. Move your left foot to the side and a bit behind your right foot and shift your weight to your left foot.
6. Keep both feet on the floor, but shift your weight from your back left foot to your front right.
You're done with your first swing step! Now, repeat the same sequence again. But in the very first step, when you step left, step slightly forward as well, using that step to get your feet laterally aligned again.
Now, those steps can be replaced later with fancier moves like triple steps, or shuffle steps, or any of that, but if you master this really basic rhythym, you'll be well prepared for that.
Follow Just to clarify for the follows, the footwork is:
Beats 1-2 Right
Beats 3-4 Left
Beat 5 Step back with Right
Beat 6 Shift weight to Left
What to do with your partner
The lead's left hand should hold follow's right hand. Hold in a light grip at waist level. Your left arm should be loose and relaxed.
Lead's right hand is on follow's lower back, or, holding follow's left hand. In general, lead communicates and guides mostly with the left hand.
Practice minimizing the steps and translating them into lighter, shifting-weight motions. Also, with your partner, try rotating around together.
Play around with not even using your left hand, and communicating entirely through shifting your partner's weight in the desired direction using the connection between your right hand and your partners shoulder. During this exercise, remember that weight changes in swing dancing are led from the center of the body. Both leads and follows: avoid moving your feet, knees, hips or shoulders first and following with your body. Instead, shift your weight from your center of balance, or core (which is near the belly button for both men and women). Thinking about weight changes in this way will help your dancing develop a smooth feel, and will strengthen your ability to lead and/or follow.
Now that the basic of swing has been introduced, it would be a good idea to establish some common vocabulary. All of these words are already available in the swing glossary, but these words in particular are ones that you definitely need to learn for swing basics. The approach we will take here is presenting new words to you progressively, a few at a time, in preparation for learning a new move. But for starters, we're going to have to introduce five different terms. These are the fundamentals when speaking swing.
- Swing steps have a slow-slow-quick-quick tempo, like foxtrot. On the left step you wait two counts, on the right step you take two counts, and both the rock step with the left foot and the right replace (where you step in place with the right foot after) take one count. However, when performing swing, it is often easier to use the traditional model of counting steps, which is the established form: one, two, rock step.
- The clock
- When locating your arms as a lead, visualize a clock, with 12'o'clock being holding your hand straight up in front of your partner, 3 at your right, 6 below and in front, and 9 to the left. This visualization is commonly used for communicating correct hand position.
Now we're going to learn some words for turning. Turning is a very dizzying subject, so we'll try to make our definitions as clear as possible, as to reduce confusion.
- To pivot is to turn. When you pivot, you spin on one foot, while the other foot goes around it in a circle. The foot you use as a pivot point is the foot you spin on. If you're using your left foot as a pivot point, your left foot should turn around, but should remain at roughly the same location on the floor. If you're pivoting to your right using your left foot, it means you are turning to your right using your left foot as a pivot point.
- Inside Turn
- A turn towards the center. Generally lead with the lead's left / follow's right hand. This results in the follow turning counter-clockwise.
- Outside Turn
- A turn away from the center. Generally lead with the lead's left / follow's right hand. This results in the follow turning clockwise.
Lead rock steps back, follow takes impulse to move forward. Lead steps out of way with step, and follow proceeds forward until she her arm is fully compressed, and uses the spring effect of the compressed arm to turn herself around, all while maintaining positive connection with the lead until she is fully turned around.
Turns (and many other moves) typically occur during the first and second units, with the rock-steps delineating them.
Left Underarm turn
On "rock" count, lead raises his left arm to 11'o'clock (often the easiest angle) and "spins" the follower clockwise by moving his wrist. Lead raises left arm up, follow turns clockwise (to her right) underneath their arms, using her right foot as a pivot point.
By the time the next measure starts (when you step "one" again), the turn should be just about complete. However, if you maintained hand position over the turn, your hands will be "flipped" and opposite of the traditional position.
To restore the hands to the normal position, you can use an Right underarm turn right after on the next measure. However, if you're not ready, you can always just delay with the basic step. You are not limited to a particular follow-up after a left underarm turn. For example, this turn is a good setup for Charleston.
Remember: It is important to keep your hands loose and not maintain a tight grip in a turn; otherwise you may twist the follower's arm. Your hands may stay connected, but do not hold on too tightly.
Remember that lead steps left, then right, then rock steps.
- lead raises left arm on fourth count. That's the signal to your partner you want to turn.
- keep the left arm high. (In closed position, use your right hand to gently guide your partner under your raised left hand.)
- Rock step: just hang out as she turns.
Remember that follow steps right, then left, then rock steps.
- Step right just like normal. In general, since you're the follow, you wait for a signal from your lead, and react in the second unit (the third or fourth count). Lead should make an obvious archway with your right arm for you to walk through.
- You still step with your left foot, but instead of stepping forward-left, now, step forward right and rotate yourself to your right.
- Rock step: Pivot right on your right foot and put your left foot down behind you. Finish out the turn so you're facing your partner.
1-2 rock open, leads shift hand to follow's left shoulder blade 3&4 compress on lead's left/follow's right, release on 4 5 & 6 spring off of compression into an outside free spin or outside underarm turn
These footwork terms are actually common dance terms. You may know them from somewhere else like Tango or merengue. If you've learned these terms before, don't worry about re-learning them: In swing, 'close' and 'replace' means the same thing it does in other dances.
- To close is to move one foot to the other so that they are right next to each other. For example, if you have your left foot out, and you are asked to close to your right, you keep your right foot where it is, and move your left food towards your right so they are side-by-side. After closing you should be standing over your two feet.
- To replace a foot is to step in place. You pick a foot up and put it back down where it was. For example" if both your feet are side by side, and you're asked to "replace left" or "replace your left," you'd lift your left foot just a couple inches off the ground and put it back down. Like most moves, this usually takes a single count. Sometimes during a replace you don't lift your foot off the ground at all.
To keep swing dancing simple, and to acquaintance them more with the "feel" of the dance, new dancers are encouraged to "stick with the basic." However, once they are able to perform a few moves well, it is fine for them to move on to Triple step.
The Triple Step is interchangable with the Basic. That is, it uses the same 6-count, and can be used in replacement of the basic with barely any negative consequence on one's ability to perform the dance, and vice versa. Note however, that it it usually looks better if the step you're using is the same style as your partner's.
As usual, when you're starting from a normal position, your feet shouldn't be much more than shoulder-width apart, and neither in front of or behind each other.
1-2. Step left with your left foot as you would normally, but with about 1.5 times the speed. Close to your left foot with the same speed. Replace left with the same speed.
3-4. Do step above, but start with your right foot stepping right. Close to your right, and then replace right.
5. As in the basic, step back with your left foot and shift your weight to your left foot.
6. As in the basic, keep both feet on the floor, but shift your weight from your back left foot to your front right.
As you can see, the triple step is a bit more strenuous than the basic. If you're out of shape, you may feel a bit like you're trying to tapdance.
Often, a "triplet" of steps, (such as in counts 1-2) is done unevenly, for example the first is done slowly and the close and replace done after it are really fast. Ideally, each step should take the same amount of time: 2/3rds of a count. If the fraction is too intimidating, just think three steps in two counts.
The most common phrasing for the triple step can be sounded out by saying “One-a-two, Three-a-four.” This helps you keep the beat in your head while remembering to do the triple steps in time.
Follow Once again, to clarify for the follows, the footwork is:
Beats 1-2 Right, close to right, replace right
Beats 3-4 Left, close to left, replace left
Beat 5 Step back with Right
Beat 6 Shift weight to Left
Terminology (hand positioning)
We will now learn some of the variations on hand positioning.
- Open-hand position
- In this position, the lead is only holding the follower's right hand with his left hand.
- Two-hand position
- In this position, the lead and the follower are holding both hands. That is, the lead is, with his left hand, holding the follower's right hand, and with his right hand, holding the follower's left hand.
- Closed position
- This position is very similar to standard waltz or foxtrot position. For those unfamiliar:
- Extend your right hand under the follower's arm and around to her left shoulder blade. Your left hand should be low, with elbow bent at about 90 degrees holding her hand.
- The follower's left hand is put on the lead's right bicep, just below his sholder, her right hand hand should be low, with elbow bent at about 90 degrees holding his hand.
- The movements taken during the basic are actually different in closed position, but we will not cover those right now.