What happened to the slot?

So, from everything I’ve been taught, West Coast Swing is a slotted dance.

Yet I feel like these days I’m seeing more and more leaders not really leading the follower down the slot. They either don’t really lead much or they give rotational and lateral leads.

At the same time I’m seeing more and more followers not really going down to the end of the slot. They either don’t go to the end of the slot or they aren’t back-weighted when they get there.

And I’m seeing more and more dancers move the dance all around, and even when they’re just shifting, bending, or scrolling the slot, it happens with such frequency that the dance starts to look less linear and more circular.

In my classes I emphasize the importance of a clear, linear lead for the leaders and of going to the end of the slot and anchoring for the followers. And when I’ve studied with top champions, many have reinforced the importance of defining the slot. So what’s happening? And equally important, what does this mean for the dance?

This could just be a phase, like so many fads in our community that come and go (remember swango?). Or maybe it’s an evolution of the dance, influenced by dancers and music that push the limits and boundaries of what’s possible. (Dances like Carolina Shag and DC Hand Dancing were spot dances that became slotted under the influence of West Coast Swing.) Or maybe I’m just seeing a lot of poor technique and poor mechanics. (Ebonics: a new language or just poor grammar?)

Yes, I’m a technician and a stickler for good mechanics, but I’m not against an evolution of the dance. Heck, West Coast Swing itself is an evolution of Lindy Hop, and it has always been evolving – adapting to new music, new technical knowledge, and new influences. And the definition of West Coast Swing, let alone swing, has always been the subject of debate among purists and progressives alike.

In my view, though, I think it’s important to learn the rules before you bend or break them. And when they are broken, it should then be done with purpose and intent, not because you never learned them in the first place. Besides, I think it’s important to know our history and to understand where we came from so that we can better understand where we’re going (or might possibly go).

For my part, I’m going to keep teaching my students about the importance of the slot and linear mechanics, but I’m also going to pay attention to those who are playing with slot dynamics. And I’m going to keep hoping that people will better define the slot in their dancing before they venture to change it.

Is anyone else noticing this change in the mechanics or shape of the dance? Do you think this is just poor technique or pushing the limits of what West Coast Swing is? And does it matter at all?

Take a little out

Last week’s post explored the concept of pattern extensions as a way of adapting patterns to fit the music. 
Similarly, pattern compaction – the process of linking two patterns by replacing the anchor step with a rock-and-go – can also be used to help fit patterns to the music. For instance, compaction can help get to the end of a pattern to fit the phrase of a song, rather than hitting the phrase change in the middle of a pattern. Compaction can also create a rushed feeling that fits well to the build up of a song before a phrase change or break. 
The trick to successful pattern compaction is creating the spring action of the rock-and-go. Though you remove the anchor step – the triple that ends patterns – there should still be an anchor – the extension that results from changing direction. The leader will still slow down and change the direction of his own body, causing the follower to reach the end of the slot before being redirected down the slot again. The only difference is that in a rock-and-go this now happens in one beat and one step (the first step of the rock-and-go) rather than over two beats and three steps, as in an anchor step. Getting this stretch right is what facilitates a smooth and easy change of direction. 
Too often leaders aren’t clear on the anchor, sometimes even pulling the follower out of her anchor step. In some ways, learning pattern compaction can help leaders improve their anchors by learning the difference between an anchor step and a rock-and-go, while also teaching followers to seek the stretch at the end of the slot. 
Have you learned pattern compaction? How do you use it in your dancing? Has it had any impact on how you execute your anchor steps? Teachers, do you teach pattern compaction? If so, how do you help students to get that spring action on the rock-and-go?