4.8 On Coaster Steps In WCS

In general a coaster step is one of two common (and good) ways to change direction (the other way is a rock step). For this discussion assume the lady's footwork on counts 5&6 in swing (either east coast or west coast 6 count figures). Both steps (rock step and coaster step) take 2 counts of music (5&6). A rock step is two steps while the coaster step is three steps. As has been pointed out, the coaster step is a "step-together-step" triple (5&6). A forward coaster step would be step forward-together-back. A back coaster step would be back-together-forward.

If the lady is moving backwards and you would like to change her direction - without a stop in momentum - then she can coaster step and be coming forward. This is common in (Yuck!) ballroom styles of west coast swing that have a very continuous look and feel. The lady is moving backward going into the 5&6 and she is moving forward coming out of the 6 - thus the continuous look.

In the true "anchored" west coast swing there are intended breaks in the continuity of the dance. When the movement is continuous, as in a simple 8-count whip pattern (lock, closed, crossed hand or variations) it is likely the lady will do a coaster step on counts 3&4 as she changes direction and the move continues. When the movement pattern "ends" there are at least 2 counts of "anchor" (counts 7&8 in a whip pattern). In some styles (push/whip) there are arbitrarily long patterns of continuous movement that quite often contain coasters steps to change direction - then at the end of the pattern there is an anchor step or "double resistance" that stops the continuity. In a single basic six count pattern, the lady does not coaster step but rather is anchored (in place) on 5&6 and probably "playing" with step patterns (but NOT moving forward until the guy leads her.)

In WCS it is very important for the follower is not to move until the leader indicates. A common problem in West Coast Swing occurs when the follower does a down-the-track back-replace-forward (coaster-step) on 5&6 instead of back-replace-back (anchor-step). If the follower moves forward on the last count, the body-body connection is broken and leading becomes impossible. In some cases this may cause the follower to crash into the leader. Leaders, if someone does this to you, either accept the disconnected lead and try to pick up in the middle of the next pattern, or else maintain your arm where it is supposed to be and the lead reverses from a pull to a push. The lead reversal causes general confusion, but sometimes lets the follower know to stay back. And leaders - don't you step back on your anchor! If the leader steps back on his six (and I have seen this happen) he will be leading the follower forward on six and cause her to coaster.

Reasons most WCS teachers adamantly oppose coaster-steps (where she should be doing an anchor-step):

A WCS coaster can be done without acquiring forward momentum. Grab a doorknob and try it. And when it's done right it looks WONDERFUL. I have been taught the coaster as a basic break-ending on almost every pattern I've learned. I am always in position before I start the coaster (supposed to be anyway). And at the end of the coaster I am always ready to step forward on my right foot, which I also believe to be the same as any other break-ending. What my teacher emphasizes as critically important in the coaster step is that while your feet move back and forth, your body stays exactly where it was when you stepped on 4. This is not an easy thing to do, and it involves lots of hip action. I always know (my partner tells me) when I do it wrong because I pull him (and he doesn't like it!).

Coaster steps can also be done perpendicular to the slot (e.g. turning perpendicular on five, and turning back on or about six). This is just one of many footwork variations that can be done as part of a "turn-away". There is clearly no problem with forward momentum in that case. Discouraging the coaster step simply because it's possible to do it badly is to remove a major element of WCS styling. Why not just teach it properly instead?

At the end of a WCS basic, no coaster step is led. However, the coaster step embedded in a whip is explicitly led. The man wil l make you step back with pressure on the arm, then pull you forward with pressure on the shoulder blade. Since in your head the '12 3&4 56...' count is going on, you will automatically follow a coaster step. Now he may neglect to lead this correctly, and if you are *well-trained* you will step correctly anyway. BUT, if he was a actually leading some esoteric pattern that begins like a whip but does not end like one, you will be doing a coaster step when something else was really being led. If you are *really well-trained* as opposed to just *well-trained* you won't follow a badly-led whip the first time around, because you won't do the coaster step that was not led. But the next time around you will adjust for the bad lead and follow it correctly. So I propose these rules for WCS only:

So many WCS dancers agree a down-the-track coaster on the anchor is bad. But many times it's not her fault. Visualizing this next paragraph is easier if you've read a lot of BC comics :-) Suppose you give her a big lead down the slot and then don't follow her on 4. (Or worse, step away from her on 4.) When she runs out of arm, she snaps around on 5 with the back step, she regains her balance on her R foot on &, and then she ends up coming forward on 6 because her arm won't let her go back. Eureka! The man just led a coaster step. :-) Another way to cause this same affect is to tell a lady to travel down the slot until she "runs out of arm." You could tell her all night long that she's doing coaster steps. But until you tell her to stop running out of arm, she can't help but do a coaster step.

The value of the coaster step in changing directions is really appreciated by those who do high speed forms of swing dance. That is, and still do triples instead of transitioning into Flying Lindy. You will notice if you look that quite a few swing dancers that dance "anchored" west coast swing who hate the idea of coaster steps at the end of patterns actually use coaster steps when they dance to fast songs (when they aren't syncopating). That doesn't mean you have to do coasters when dancing to fast songs but many do use them. A coaster anchor leaves the woman's center point of balance (CPB) shifted slightly forward toward the man which allows her to respond to a feather lead instead of following like a Mack Truck. Yes, many follows can be quite heavy when they are anchoring - especially for faster swings. Shifting the CPB forward does indeed take care of this problem. However, it really precludes the anchored look and feel. I have danced with a few really great follows that can anchor well at any speed and still come out with my lead without being too heavy. Quite a difficult combination! With good connection coasters aren't necessary but might be desirable - again, depends on the look you want.

Since a coaster step is a good way to change direction and keep momentum, it can be used in many dances. Quite often the question is "when I need a direction change and want momentum coming OUT of the change, do I use a coaster or a rock?" That's easy - do you need to change feet or not (difference between step-step and triple step). I use coasters and rocks in every dance I do (East Coast, West Coast, 2Step, Waltz, Polka, Triple Two, Cha Cha, Hustle.....). When I choreograph a dance for competition or shows I use a bit more since I want more direction changes to give different looks to the dance. Both the lady and the man can do rocks and coasters and quite often NOT at the same time. I use rocks and coasters quite a bit to help me lead more with the body. Remember - leading is all about controlling balance and momentum. Thus, any techniques that help with managing and controlling momentum are important.

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