Getting Started

So you've seen West Coast Swing somewhere and it has sparked your interest. How do you get started? By far the best way is to take group classes with a studio that makes it fun right off the bat and rotates partners frequently. But don't feel you need to bring a partner; none of the studios require one. Check out our dance studios page to see who's in your neighbourhood.

Pamela Podmoroff teaching West Coast Swing. Photo by Christine Bacon.

If you're going to take a group class with a partner, don't dance with just them, but rotate along with everyone else. It is great to have a partner to practise with but in a group class, take advantage of dancing with the whole group. If you dance with only your partner, you will learn to compensate for each other's mistakes and you soon won't be able to dance with anyone else. If you rotate, it will be easier and you'll learn to dance much faster.

So what should you wear when you go? Dress casually like you were going out to a club. Dressy jeans and a nice top is the norm. The ladies will want a sweater at first while the air conditioning is winning. Once everyone gets dancing the room will heat up quickly though so wear clothes that will help dissipate the heat.

Shoes are the important part. Ladies should wear something with a wide heel (less than 1.5" high) to help you keep your balance. Guys should wear a smooth soled casual shoe. They should have suede or leather soles so you can spin easily. Also make sure they stay on your feet when you lift your heel off the floor. For your first lessons don't be too critical but make sure they don't have rubber, or grippy, soles like running shoes or you may hurt your knees.

When you get to your first class, you'll be introduced to the basic timing of the dance and learn some foundation patterns, and so the fun begins. Throughout the course, you'll be continually introduced to new concepts and patterns so it really helps to practise. You should expect to practise what you've learned as soon as you get home. The sooner you start practising what you learned, the easier it will be to remember, and the more quickly you will learn to dance. I found it best to spend a few minutes several times a day. I could never find an hour or two to practise when I started, but I could find a few minutes here and there. In every class I teach, the difference between those who do practise, and those that can't seem to find the time is dramatic. You'll have a lot more fun if you practise!

Another way to get started is to take a few private lessons. There are many good teachers in the lower mainland who teach West Coast Swing. This would be the quickest way to learn assuming you can practise enough to keep up with what you're learning. The only downside is you'll be missing out on meeting the many new dance friends you'll get in a group class.

Personally, I found that taking group lessons and supplementing them with the occasional private lesson worked really well for me. In a good group class, the instructor keeps it simple and fun, and keeps you dancing while you learn. In a private lesson, your instructor can focus on the details that will help you improve your technique and make it easier for you to learn those cool new moves. I often followed up on those tantalizing little details I was introduced to in class so I could integrate them into my dance.

I hope I've made it a little easier for you to get started dancing West Coast Swing. To see an example of the evolution of a dancer, click here to learn how I got started. Now take some lessons and let's go dancing.