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How to Swing Dance

Updated on June 14, 2015

Learn to Do the Basic Step in Swing

You don’t have to be a hep cat to learn to swing dance. Considering this is the 21st century, you actually don’t even have to know what a hep cat is. In fact, you don’t even need much coordination. The East Coast Swing is an upbeat ballroom dance that’s as easy to learn as it is fun to do.

Born from the Lindy Hop and the Jive, the East Coast Swing is a six-count dance that, like Salsa, has a basic step that can pretty much be done in place. It can be done in single time or triple time and can be danced to a variety of music from nearly any decade (from Elvis Presley to the Beach Boys to Michael Buble).

It’s hard to say whether the single or the triple time version is more popular, but to keep things as simple as possible, let’s stick with single time. Here are the basics of learning the East Coast Swing.


Follower's hand is resting on top of leader's hand.
Follower's hand is resting on top of leader's hand.

The Hold

Again, like Salsa, the East Coast Swing has a more relaxed hold than some of the other ballroom dances like the Foxtrot or Waltz. The leader and follower have a comfortable space between them, with their upper bodies leaning a bit closer than their lower bodies. Here’s a breakdown of the positioning from head to toe.

Leader

Feet: Slightly less than shoulder-width apart, weight on the right foot.

Knees: Slightly bent and relaxed.

Torso: Back straight with chest slightly leaning over the toes.

Left arm: Placed at your left side with a slight bend in the elbow; your hand should be at about waist level.

Left hand: Placed at about waist level with the palm facing up and the fingers pointing slightly inward (toward the right). The fingers of the follower’s right hand should be lightly resting between your fingers and thumb.

Right arm: Extended out front with a slight curve, palm facing you, fingers pointing left.

Right hand: Placed lightly on the follower’s left should blade.

Head: Facing toward your partner’s.


Follower

Feet: Slightly less than shoulder-width apart, weight on the left foot.

Knees: Slightly bent and relaxed.

Torso: Back straight with chest slightly leaning over the toes.

Left arm: Extended out front with a slight curve, palm facing down, fingers pointing diagonally toward the right.

Left hand: Resting on leader’s right shoulder.

Right arm: Placed at your right side with a slight bend in the elbow; your hand should be at about waist level.

Right hand: Placed at about waist level with the palm facing down. Your fingers should be slightly curved over the top of the leader’s.

Head: Facing toward your partner’s.


The Footwork

The basic step in East Coast Swing consists of six counts – two counts for the first step, two counts for the second, and one count each for the third and fourth step. Here’s what I mean.


Leader

Step 1 (counts 1 and 2): Lean your upper body slightly to the left as you raise your left foot just enough to pick it slightly off the ground and then place it back down.

Step 2 (counts 3 and 4): Lean your upper body slightly to the right as you raise your right foot just enough to pick it slightly off the ground and then place it back down.

Steps 3 and 4 – the Rock Step (counts 5 and 6): Pick your left foot up and place it down behind your right foot with your left toes pointing diagonally to the left (your right heel should be about even with your in-step) – this is count five. Immediately raise your right foot just enough to pick it slightly off the ground and then place it back down in the same spot – this is count six.

Essentially, you have two beats to pick your left foot up and put it down, two beats to pick your right foot up and put it down, and two beats to do a rock step, which means you can also “count” this dance as “slow, slow, quick quick.”


Follower

Step 1 (counts 1 and 2): Lean your upper body slightly to the right as you raise your right foot just enough to pick it slightly off the ground and then place it back down.

Step 2 (counts 3 and 4): Lean your upper body slightly to the left as you raise your left foot just enough to pick it slightly off the ground and then place it back down.

Steps 3 and 4 – the Rock Step (counts 5 and 6): Pick your right foot up and place it down behind your left foot with your right toes pointing diagonally to the right (your left heel should be about even with your in-step) – this is count five. Immediately raise your left foot just enough to pick it slightly off the ground and then place it back down in the same spot – this is count six.


Again, just like the leader, you have two beats to pick your right foot up and put it down, two beats to pick your left foot up and put it down, and two beats to do a rock step, which means you can also “count” this dance as “slow, slow, quick quick.”


Leader's basic step in east coast swing

Follower's basic step in east coast swing

A Common Pitfall to Avoid

This can happen with both followers and leaders, although it seems to strike leaders more often. There seems to be a tendency during the Rock Step to simply tap the leading foot (left for leaders, right for followers) behind the other foot instead of actually putting it down, which means the other foot (right for leaders, left for followers) never actually leaves the ground. While this may seem like a quicker way to keep up with the music, it will throw off your timing and your partner’s, and will make it more difficult to execute patterns beyond the basic step. It also looks sloppy, and we all know that dancing is about looking cool on the dance floor.


The Next Step

Throw on some oldies but goodies and go cut a rug!

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    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Giblin,

      I have never danced before, and do not think I will ever take it up. However, interesting read, and useful with all of the steps. Thanks for the share!

    • GiblinGirl profile image
      Author

      GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks. You should definitely give dancing a try though - you might surprise yourself :)

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      You will not believe this.. I used to dance and teach dance lessons and the I taught the swing at Fred Astaire dance studios back in 1975.. I love it.. it is great work out... I love this hub

      I am sharing on facebook

      Debbie

    • GiblinGirl profile image
      Author

      GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks Debbie! I actually taught some basic ballroom at a local studio a few years ago. Swing is definitely one of my favorites. You are right - it certainly is a great workout!

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      This is another well-written and informative hub of yours on how to dance!

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