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Benefits of West Coast Swinging

It’s super fun! That’s the first thought that comes to my mind.


But there is also the social part, which research proves is a significant need for our mental and physical well-being. Loneliness is all too common. Being near others—even if you don’t dance or are an introvert—is good for you. In fact, there is medical research out there that proves loneliness contributes to severe health issues, and we don't want that.


Then there’s the obvious physical part. Dancing is exercise, but it doesn’t  feel like it because it’s so much fun. I’ve know many of us dance to stay in shape/keep weight down/help diabetes numbers/improve cardio/etc. I’ve overheard many dancers say they’d rather dance than go the gym or get on a treadmill at home. Depending on a variety of factors such as how hard you dance/how much you move your body, you can definitely work up a sweat. This kind of movement can help reduce problems associated with insomnia or other sleep problems.


An additional mental benefit to WCS is that you will be learning something new which is excellent for our brains. There are several West Coast Swing Moves such as the whip, tuck, pass, and push and your mind needs to think about how to make your feet and body listen to what you see and are instructed to do. Dancing, like playing a musical instrument or speaking more than one language, is know to help reduce the risk of Alzheimers and dementia too.


One more benefit is that being social, exercising, and using your brain for something challenging is that all help reduce stress. Stress can kill a person if left unchecked. You need an outlet, and dancing should be one of them!


I get it; I sooooo get it!


Even though I consider myself able to dance in general and am not a shy person, I remember the first time I was invited to a West Coast Swing social event a few years ago like it was yesterday. I was watching lessons and thinking to myself “What the heck are they doing?” the entire time I observed (I was too afraid to take the lessons). The dancers’ footwork and moves were new to me and intimidating, yet I couldn’t look away.


After lessons ended, several men/leads came up to ask the new person to dance, me. Although I was flattered, all I wanted to be was a fly on the wall. I was worried about making a fool of myself and thought if I can't be good, or even ok, I wasn't interested.


Then a man named Paul on arm crutches came up to me and held out his hand. I told him I didn’t know how to West Coast Swing one bit, as in, zero, zip, nada. He smiled and looked down at his one leg and said, “If I can dance, anyone can dance.”


That was all it took.


Please don’t let your fear of embarrassing yourself stop you from exploring something that is so good for you and an instant seretonin spike. I’ve learned that no one is really looking at you anyways. Many of us start reluctant, and it’s said that  people on their death bed don';t regret what they did, they regret what they didn’t do.

Dance Etiquette

I have been to a few dance studios so far, but only one mentioned a few etiquette tips printed on a piece of paper taped to the bathroom wall. I’m sure there are more, but these are a great start, and include others I've since learned:

1. If someone asks you to dance and you say no, you are not allowed to dance with someone else to that same song. This is considered very rude.

2. We usually don’t dance two songs in a row with someone, but there are exceptions. For example, one of my Westie friends has social anxiety and feels comfortable with me, so he sometimes asks for two in a row. Another example is when you or both of you make mistakes in your dance and want a do-over for more instant practice.

3. You should dance with a variety of people, not the same two or three all night. The exception is if you are only staying to social dance for a short while and have certain partners you want to dance with before you leave.

4. A rather touchy topic, but we’re all adults here: For the love of God wear deodorant and make sure you don’t have bad breath. Carry mints or peppermint gum, etc. in your dance bag. (Note: I polled some Westies on this topic and all said bad breath was the worst thing about a partner.) Too much cologne is also not great.

5. Say thank you when you are asked to dance and when the dance is over.

6. Don’t coach your partner on the floor UNLESS he/she asks for constructive critique.

7. Don’t stare into your partner’s eyes for the entire dance; it’s weird.

8. Don’t completely avoid your partner’s eyes though. I know this is hard for some very shy people, but like I teach my students who have to give presentations at the end of the semester, at least occasionally look at peoples' foreheads.

9. Don’t take up a huge amount of space on the dance floor. Try your best to stay in the slot, and if you happen to bump into someone, apologize. It happens.

10. Smile! If you’re all serious and negative trying to get the steps down I guarantee your partner will not have fun and might not rush to dance with you again.

11. Don’t smoosh your body into your partner’s body. I have danced with a couple of leads who do this and not only is it inappropriate, but it’s also so controlling I can hardly move! Relatedly, you are allowed to decline a dance invitation with someone who makes you uncomfortable of course. Be prepared to explain why though, because sometimes they’ll ask. A white lie can do. For example, "I'm sitting this one out." However, it’s also ok to explain diplomatically because sometimes (I tell myself) they don’t realize they’re doing the creepy thing and need to know.


I tell my students that public speaking is the #1 fear in the world to help them realize they are not alone when they don’t want to “go first.” It's often awkward to do so, especially if you're an introvert or have little practice putting yourself out there. Sometimes just hearing that you’re not the only chicken is the first step in the path to overcome shyness.


But even extroverts, such as myself, can occasionally suffer from shyness. I'm outgoing, outspoken, and openminded, but you couldn’t have paid me to ask a lead to dance at a social for quite a while. First, I needed to get over a woman/follow asking a man/lead to dance (not that this is always the way it works;for example, sometimes same genders/identities dance together). Then I needed to get over my fear of rejection.


The thing is, Westies usually won’t ask you to dance unless they think you actually want to, often out of respect but also out of mutual fear being rejected. If it weren’t for my friend Sara suggesting I stand at the edge of the dance floor to signal that I wanted to dance (because I  couldn’t ask anyone yet), my wonderful journey might have taken even longer to start.


Also, when other dancers see you dance, they see that you want to and that will help inspire them to ask you to dance. It's a very cyclical thing that actually makes a lot of sense. Bopping to the music in your chair/at your table is another subtle signal to others that you want to dance.

Appropriate Dress

The most important factor is that you are comfortable. Other than that, Westies wear a wide variety of clothing ranging from athleticwear to unitards. I kid you not and some of them are so cool!


I don’t often see dresses, but I think that’s mainly due to the same reason so many of us wear black. No, we don't represent a cult. Wearing black allows viewers to focus on what you’re doing, not what you’re wearing, which in turn, is considered artistic. (Yes, black is also flattering, but we all know that). Black also helps hide sweat. Wearing a dress covers up a lot of your legs so the audience can’t really tell when you’re doing certain moves, and some moves probably shouldn’t be done while wearing a dress, unless you borrow from the Lindy Hoppers, and wear bloomers under your skirt.


Lots of people wear jeans, leggings, t-shirts or tank tops. I find jeans to be too constrictive and hot and leggings keep my muscles warm. I also prefer cotton tops that have a lower neckline to let my skin breathe. Lots of women, especially the younger ones, tend to wear cropped tops that show their midriff. Some of them wear shorts, especially in the summer.


None of this is a requirement, just suggestions. The main point is to wear something that makes you feel good about yourself. I, for instance, have a small pile of leggings that help hold my tummy in and several long flowy tank tops that look pretty when I spin. I do not wear these clothes for anything else but West Coast Swing, which makes them feel extra special.

Age Differences

I have some friends who’ve said they're too old to learn to dance, or too out of shape, or worry about getting hurt, or fear standing out because of their age, etc. I also have younger friends who are still hung up on that normal “need to fit in stage” so they worry about doing anything that might call attention to themselves. But one of the most wonderful things about West Coast Swing is the beautiful diversity of dancers!


In general, Westies are very welcoming to newcomers and will dance with anyone because they just wanna dance. However, if you’re looking down at your phone the whole time or sitting with your arms folded across your chest or not smiling when someone looks at you, you might have a bit of a slow-go.


I have to be honest here: there are a few Westies that seem to stick to their own kind. For example, a small group of younger people only dance with another small group of younger people off to the side of the dance floor, or only dance with others at their level. I tell myself it happens out of comfort and not out of judgement.


Let me tell you a quick story: a few weeks ago, an older man visited my dance studio, and by older, I would guess he was in his 70s. He was excellent during lessons and very friendly, but when social started, I saw him sitting and not out on the dance floor. When I asked him to dance, he was so happy and said he was hoping I would do so, and we had a fabulous dance! He was at a much higher level than me, danced different patterns than I normally danced, and was a lot of fun. Bonus points all around!


This is not to say that dancing with someone older than you will be a fantastic experience but neither will dancing with someone younger than you. The point is to dance with everyone, and remember everyone has to start somewhere. Just remember to be kind.