May 09, 2014

#70: Rocking the Rock Step

Who Killed the Rock Step,
Why, and How to do the Tandem
Instead of standing alone in the face of challenge or temptation, they check to see which way their friends are going. -Charles Stanley

Hm. I hope today's quote really resonates with you. We've been hitting some anniversaries along the way here, and I'm suddenly aware of how and where things are right now.

I really do wonder how much happier we all would have been if those who have been complaining for all of these years about "this isn't swing," "that isn't swing," "the music" "the music" "the music!" had actually followed through with some kind of action. We would've settled for a minute pink-lift, right? SOMEthing, anything, right?

But all of them, when they've had, what? their like, 3 MILLION opportunities to actually act on their complaints? They've followed their "friends" instead, even when they knew
that 'they' weren't real friends at all.

They played dead. Dropped like a donkey and laid there, motionless. They. played. dead

I have a list a mile long now with the names of teachers, promoters and event directors that swore the dance was dying, but who chose to play dead instead. Like, 3 million times now.

You are the brave ones. I love what you're doing! I like what you're saying! Quite inventive you all are too! Things I never would've imagined. Elegant, magnificent, benevolent (and sometimes gorilla) warfare... Good for you. #WCSR indeed.

Now, here's a little treat for your feet! 


Sigh. I know this is going to sound like I'm beating the same drum for a sec, but I ask that you please stay with me here. If you've purchased the upgraded and updated collection of Weekly Notes, good for you. You'll be on the same page with me already on this.

Because in that book, I really expand on the subject of the Rock Step. In Chapter 27: Triple Threat I talk about it at length, so I recommend you grab your copy and catch up first before reading on.  Anyway, in short, I learned a lot while researching WCS's history - talking to people, dancing with people, listening to people, reading about people and, of course, watching a million videos...

...And I discovered something huge. Gigantic. Mindbending! What they had - what made their moves so incredible difficult, intricate, complicated and fast - was something missing from today's dancing. It's even missing from pure WCS dancers! It's just... gone!

And on the 1,000,001 video, it clicked. I got it.
I got it!!!

They were all doing rock steps!

So simple. So small. So fast. So quick and agile that they speed by you like a flash of light! They were here, they were there, they were everywhere and anywhere in all of those routines, those jack & jills, those strictly swings, those routines!!! Whoa. Whoa! "Now THAT'S what they were doing!" I thought. That's it! That's it!

I finally found the puzzle piece that separated today's slow thump thump, boom boom WCS to yesterday's quick quick, snap snap, twirl twirl, swing swing! They were all using rock steps in their patterns. To turn the girls, to reverse their directions, to make a move faster. They were using them everywhere!!!

Emphasis on were.
  • Because (now bear with me here) one single teacher called for the elimination of Rock Steps. 
  • This teacher (Skippy Blair) was and still is on the Board of Directors of the World Swing Dance Council. The WSDC. That's right. I said it. The teacher who called for the elimination of Rock Steps was, at the time, on the WSDC board... and still is.
  • This teacher called for it, you guessed it, at the exact period in history when Points were enforced.

Talk about timing.

If you read Setting Dancers Free, you'll remember that I just said a single teacher said they should be eliminated, and puff! they were gone. It was right at that same pivotal moment when Points were also introduced by the WSDC. Jack & Annie introduced Points, yes. Everyone kept competing, yes. But then they enforced them in 1998. And 90% of the competitors disappeared. And all of the WSDC's favorites (see My Problem with Points), started winning.

No wonder it was so easy for Blair to simply say, "We're cutting out rock steps" and not expect any push back. Everyone who had done them had quit competing. They'd had enough. They left the sport. I remember wondering while writing it, how the rest of the teachers in the USA got behind it when it was a CA teacher's idea - but now I realize the judges were told to look for that, so only those dancers not doing it were placed. Teachers got wise, and felt like they had to teach "to win."

I remember that the push was to cut out the rock step from the Starter Step of WCS. But every time Blair announced something back then, it came down more like an edict than a suggestion or opinion. I don't think anyone thought, "but what about all the rock steps in all of our patterns?" 

I wonder if anyone knew that, by eliminating rock steps, for God knows what reason, they were eliminating nearly every pattern by every dancer in every division of the US Open in its entire history.

And so began the end of WCS.

I believe I should clarify something - Blair originally said, and still does, to the best of my knowledge, "why do a Rock Step when you don't have to?" Like I said, she may have put it that way, but the word didn't spread that way. I remember exactly where I was (Memories, the original), what spot on the floor (forward middle) I was dancing and who (Demetre Souliotes) I was dancing with when I was told: "We don't do that anymore." I'm serious. I was like, "okay" and stopped. 

I didn't ask why or how - I just did it. I didn't care. I wasn't a leader, just a follower, so I didn't realize what I'd be missing. I learned nearly everything I know about WCS on the dance floor, so I didn't have anyone to ask - I just danced what they lead, and that was that.

But now I know. Now I've seen. I get it. I see it. You'll see it too if you watch all of the vintage videos on my YouTube channel. Wow. Just look at what happened:

If you delete a Rock Step?...

You delete a hundred patterns.
No, thousands of patterns.
No, millions of patterns!

For example, this lovely beast:

Traditional Tandem West Coast Swing 
(Bontemple, Shermoen, Sharlott, Shirley) 1987 

I'd forgotten about this fun little trade-off wheel people used to dance - in jams, shows and showcases. I loved it, and after a few moments of finding and watching this video... it all came back to me! I loved watching this danced... right up until, yup. You got it. Points. The end of the Renaissance of Swing.

Some call this partner pattern Four Play (a bit of a pun), or Traditional Tandem, etc etc. I don't care. 

I just think you should learn it.
In fact, I think you should learn it NOW!

I mean, the people in this video are all in the Hall of Fame. They were are influential and they were all highly successful on the social floor and the competition floor. These are REAL WCS Champions!!!

And won't you look at that! They had fun doing this little wheel, and guess what! It's ALL real WCS!!!

In the introduction to my first book, I list the Basic Steps of WCS. One of them was the Tuck-Out... and oh! hey!!! Look! That's what they are doing. The Tuck was the first thing to go when that someone killed the Rock Step. It looks really fun, right?

Right! Because it's

Okay - so I want you to learn this tandem up above because it will burn pure WCS right into your bones. That's right - the eight count whips, the six count tuck outs, the anchoring, the underarm turns - ALL of it is straight WCS and straight WCS basics!!!

I know you can do. I know you want to do it!

Because the best antidote to non-swing, is the sweet foundations of pure WCS. 

From Weekly Note #70: Rocking the Rock Step. First released August 2013.