December 12, 2011

Never Before Seen Footage...

Ever once in a while I like to post something from my private weekly notes to the public right away. This is one of those days.  People have been asking me for videos like these for so long, it's not even funny. None of them have ever been released on the internet before, so it's time for everyone to enjoy. Hopefully I'll get some more uploaded soon, but for now... enjoy this single article from my Holiday History Note: Best Gift Ever!

"Best Gift EVER!"

Earlier this year I shared a link to a Classic Finals routine from 1998. It was an amazing and memorable routine that's still a favorite of mine, but many people online had never seen it before. They LOVED the dancing, but were shocked to see the couple's placement at the end.... Fourth. People's response? "Who the heck beat THAT?"

Yeah, we had some crazy routines hit the floor during our Rennaissance Era. And most of them aren't online. It's tragic.

Like these, for example. They've never been available online before. Get ready.

Now before you watch, here's a few things to look out for once you get over the initial shock.

1. These routines do an exceptional job of illustrating the unique versatility of WCS.

Every couple dances to a different genre of music. Every couple has their own personality and style. Every couple dances differently. So get ready for a variety of costumes like you've never seen before. I love it. But EVERY couple does real WCS. Every single one. You'll see it.

You'll see how it brings out the creativity and individuality of these incredibly talented dancers. Heck- at least three of the people you're about to see ended up on Broadway soon afterwards. But you'll also see how defined the dance is. It is, in no way, a free form dance. It's very much lead and follow and it requires a ton of training. As one of these dancers once said, "natural talent is only the beginning in this dance... and then the work really begins." And you'll see why in these videos.

2. These routines are all PATTERN based.

I've been hearing grumblings from the Abstract dancers that WCS dancers never "get better" because they just want to learn patterns. Patterns aren't easy. Patterns are hard. Especially these. You'll see that these patterns are based off of basic WCS moves, but I've been lead through a lot of them socially... and that takes SKILL. Serious skill. My husband can't get an Abstract dancer to follow a push-break. I hope you can see how real WCS, though extremely versatile, is a totally different dance than the random "freestyling" that is being done today. And it's certainly not, as I've said before, an "evolved" form of the dance.

3. And finally (just for me) notice the difference in the women.

If you remember, I sent you my Thanksgiving Beauty Note on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I wrote about learning to become Valiant, Vulnerable and Scandalous and about finally getting there.

Do you know what it was like for me, watching these videos the very next night, after more than 10 years?

Can you imagine how stunned I was to realize that, one by one... as these ladies crossed the screen... they were all... ALL... valiant, vulnerable and scandalous???

I'll be honest. I stopped the video tape and had a good cry. (Sorry to the men out there... I AM a girl after all.) It was overwhelming for me to realize that I... I who was so young, wounded and scared back then... I gave up all other forms of dance because I wanted to be these women- I wanted to be valiant, vulnerable and scandalous.. before I had ever even known about the concept.

I wanted their freedom. I wanted their joy. I wanted their skill. And I worked freakin' hard to get it. No wonder so many young women watch my dancing so closely... they see the mystery and the astounding attraction of the dance. Oh! and how truly sad that they cannot find that training (or even men who value that training) in so many areas of our world. But in the end... it was West Coast Swing that allowed women to be these three things more than any other dance. Amazing. I wonder what dance I would've chosen today?

But there is hope. Enjoy these videos everyone. They include five couples in all. Watch Clip 1 first and then Clip 2. YouTube required I split them up. As I said, none of these have been online before... ENJOY!

Watch 'em all? In order? Can you believe some of the placings? Heck, some of them are still controversial today. But dang... it was all amazing WCS... who'd want to be a judge? I hope you're watching these on the biggest screens possible. TV's are the best. You can see so much more.

Now, as with all dances, real WCS attracts a certain kind of person. Most of my readers are going to want to learn this stuff... and NOW! But a few will want their slow grinding, "check out" not "check in" dancing and their boom boom or strum strum music.

And you know what? That's okay. I don't mind if people prefer to do Salsa, or Tango or Zouk or Abstract... just don't call it WCS.

Because if you do... then this dancing you just saw... which is already dying because almost no one... the authorities, the judges, the directors, the DJ's... almost no one is fighting for this dance... this dancing will die forever. It will remain on VHS tapes alone. And our grandkids will ask where it went. And no one will know.

Our "leaders," rule makers, scoregivers... they talk... they talk a lot, but when their signature is required, it's a no go. We saw it at the Open. We'll probably see it again...

But I'm willing to fight for THIS dance.
I think people deserve to be able to learn it if they want to.
I think they should be allowed to dance it if they want to.
I think this dance is worth fighting for.

Don't you?

Truly, Madly, Deeply,
Katherine Krok Eastvold

November 19, 2011

The Judging ©

How to Judge in Today's WCS Climate
The Judging is part of the collection of groundbreaking articles found in Telling the Truth: The Foundational Articles for Today's WCS. It is available in both Kindle and Print on

I am a judge.

And I have sinned.

I was fooled by Abstract Improvisation. A couple of years ago, I left incredibly talented and highly trained and skilled Champion women out of finals.  "They aren't keeping up," I thought. “What’s wrong?”

They were being hit on the head, yanked, dragged, discombobulated and seemed to move slower than their leaders. I looked over at other newer, younger girls, who never batted an eye at their leaders. They just dipped, twirled and whirled with a big smile on their face. They flew around like the end of a lasso with seeming ease.

So I put the new girls in.

I am so sorry. I knew not what I did. I know so much more now.

My eyes were used to judging on those who "gelled" with their partners... those who had "seamless" dances. I didn't realize things had changed so much that is was time to watch for much more than that... no matter what the level.

The reality of what I saw: the clash of two dances. The Champion WCS women were trying to stay on time, trying to follow, trying to stay in a slot.  This spelled disaster with their Abstract men, who needed them to do anything but those three things.

And as a result, the Abstract women, who in reality were up high on their tippy toes, knees bent, tushies out, shoulders riding up to their ears, running around split weight, off time, pigeon toed and so uncontrolled that their man’s poor leads never showed in their bodies... looked unruffled. And thus looked… successful.

How wrong I was. I eliminated the most highly trained and skilled dancers on the floor that day... because they tried to do West Coast Swing.

I judge very differently nowadays.
Times have changed,
and therefore our judging needs to change.

The days of judging on the Three T's are gone. They work great when people are doing Pure WCS, or any other pattern and footwork based dance for that matter. But nowadays when I’m judging a “swing” contest, less than 10% are dancing “swing.” 

At Boogie by the Bay I watched two heats of Novice, with 40 couples in each heat, I saw ONE man lead West Coast Swing consistently. That’s 1 in 80 novice men. I saw a number of followers trying to do swing, but their partners did not take kindly to them, unfortunately. I hope I missed some real WCS men. I really really do. I know Abstract is not so dominant in other areas of the country, but still, I haven’t seen a floor where it isn't present to one degree or another.

So how do I judge now? I watch everyone’s feet. In every division. It reveals everything. And I mean everything. Try it sometime. You’ll be amazed. And then, as I watch the feet, I look for the following things in the following order.


1) Look for anyone dancing real West Coast Swing.

If a leader is leading West Coast Swing, I put him in. If the follower is trying her best to do West Coast Swing, no matter what kind of lead she gets, I put her in.  The couples in finals that actually do West Coast Swing... they are automatically in my top five. Everyone doing West Coast Swing has first priority.  No matter what level.

How do I judge the WCS dancers against each other? It rarely happens anymore on the competitive circuit. I’ve seen in a few times in local clubs though. And when I see 2 or more couples clearly doing WCS, then I used the typical method: The Three T’s: Timing, Technique and Teamwork...

Anyone who judged during our Renaissance Era and earlier will find this easy, almost instinctive. Judging dancers doing the same dance is always easier. One day in the future, if a miracle occurs and there are two or more Pure WCS dances that have those Three T’s, THEN I go into Difficulty, Showmanship, etc.

We judges with training tend to assume dancers have the Three T's, especially in the upper levels, and then judge on difficulty (part of the reason rushed dips and tricks win), but we've forgotten that doing the Three T's right in Pure WCS is MUCH harder than any sloppy trick. Just ask my partner Josh. He has had to put in A LOT of hard work, even today... to dance WCS well when most of his peers are doing Abstract Improvisation.

As such, event directors and dance professionals outside of WCS have begun commenting on how amazing Josh is now dancing. But his “all-star” followers are furious. They can’t dance with him. They don’t know how. And the “all-star” leaders keep asking me what he’s doing differently, because his pictures suddenly look so amazing when theirs don’t. It’s a crazy world out there. It’s time to award real swing above all else, and the Abstract dancers will learn it’s time to catch up.

After placing and ranking all my WCS dancers, I move on to who is actually ON TIME. Not ahead of it, not before it, but ON the beat of the music. I look at the dancer’s feet, and if the leader is actually being purposeful with his feet and the beat of the music, then I put him higher than the men shuffling their feet randomly. Same with the women. If they are keeping their feet in accordance with the music rather than completely ignoring it, then I put them in under the WCS dancers, even if the WCS dancers aren’t as tight with their timing.

Now here's the key. When I say "on-time," I’m referring to the beat of the music, not the lyrics or the melodies. So many teachers are telling students that being “on time” is dancing to the lyrics, the melodies or something other than the BEAT. That’s ridiculous in any lead and follow dance, not just WCS. So I’m looking for a dancers’ relation to the beat, whether it’s an obvious rhythm or not. 

A quick tip is to start counting the music, "& a 1, & a 2, & a 3" BEFORE looking at a dancers’ feet, then keep counting, and THEN look at their feet. Too many judges try to do both at the same time and starting counting to the feet rather than the music. Don’t fall into that trap.

Now, if you see their feet actually wait for the ‘1’ to do a weight change, etc, etc, then I can start to rank them. Abstract dancers look effortless from the waist up because they are hitting breaks in the music ‘upstairs’ while completely ignoring the music's beat with their feet downstairs. Look down, not up, to see the real story, and your judging will become much easier.

Another popular trick is to start the dance on time with their partner… say, for the first 16 beats, and then they go nuts afterwards. This is so confusing for the real WCS dancers. They think they understand what’s going on, and then all of a sudden the dancing goes into random lyrical or club wanderings. I only place those who stay on beat throughout the whole dance, not part of it.

This goes for routines too. Because dancers are getting choreography from more than one source, I watch their routine switch between on beat patterns and then suddenly dance as if there is no beat, and then switch back. It hurts my brain. And leaves the audience stilted and confused. I’m looking for an entire dance to be on beat, not just part.

More and more I’m hearing stories that the trained female dancers left on our competition floors are being told to "dirty up" their dancing and to stop being so "controlled." They are literally being “shamed” into messy dancing.

The other term I’m hearing a lot these days is “great energy.”  “I’m looking for the dancers who have great energy out there,” I’ll hear a judge say. I’ll ask them to point out who they think exhibits great energy, and they will point to the sloppiest, craziest and most flamboyant dancer on the floor. The one that clearly doesn’t know what they are doing, who could care less what their partner is doing and who is clearly unaware of that little thing called training.

“I’m just here to have fun,” these dancers say. Fun? Have fun on the social floor. Not on the competition floor. Not unless your idea of fun is dancing well and with your partner. The very definition of “dance competition” is the idea of who can dance better than anyone else on the floor. It’s not about who can goof off more than anyone on the floor… it’s a DANCE competition, not a fool and flagrant competition. No wonder injuries are knocking out dancers for six months to a year.

Anyone off the street can be fun, wiggle and get wild… but fun can’t be practiced, it can’t be taught in a class and it should never be rewarded in an actual dance competition.

Training and control is essential. You can't be a good leader if you aren't controlled. You can't be a good follower if you aren't controlled. You can't create, can't grow, can't expand without growth of skill... and that all amounts to how much control we have over our bodies. I look for dancers who are purposeful with their movements. If they stand tall with their shoulders down and back, their butt tucked underneath their bodies, dancing over one foot vs. split weight, then I promise you, they'll stand out on the floor.

Forget the dancers they say have “energy,” when in fact it means a little crazed and frantic. This is a dance competition. And a good dancer is nothing without control… so much control that one flick of a finger is more powerful and eye-catching than any booty shake.

Is the man actually looking at his partner and leading her? Is the girl really trying to follow the man?  I hate judging Abstract Improvisation, but there are some who actually lead it and some who actually follow it.  It is so important to start emphasizing lead and follow once more. I watch for body leads instead of arm leads. I'm looking for attentive leaders and attentive followers. And by attentive, I don't mean they are looking each other in the eye... I mean they are looking where they are going, paying attention to each other's centers, trying to be in-sync with their partners.

When I have to scrape the barrel and put people in I really don't want to, I look for those who are at least "trying" to dance with their partner, instead of the ones who are simply performing for themselves out there. I never place those who compete for themselves. Nissies don't make great partners on the floor... a humble spirit is always a plus on the dance floor.

A violation literally holds NO weight in our judging system. It doesn’t change one’s placement, ranking or points. But it does put a target on the judges’ back, or makes the couples and competitors confused. I can’t think of a single reason to violate anyone when it doesn’t do anything at all. I say everything in my scores. 

In 2009 seven out of the ten finalists in the US Open Classic Division were violated for swing content. Seven out of ten! But all the dancers who weren’t violated were placed at the bottom of the scoreboard. How ridiculous is this? It’s a SWING competition! Swing is right their in the event’s name: The US Open SWING Dance Championships. You’d expect the swing routines to be at the top of the scores, not the bottom. But violations give judges an excuse to skip that little piece of logic. So when it comes to violations, don’t worry about them. This judging system makes them irrelevant.

When I see a lot of dipping, dropping and sliding, I've noticed that it's always by Abstract dancers that don’t have any of the skills I just listed. It's time to start seeing these flashy moves as a red flag rather than a sign of success. These slides, slips and tricks have hurt so many women, even the professionals, because they are no longer done with control or technique.

These tricks are never really led, never mind being led on beat.  It's only the girls who are uncontrolled enough to be thrown around that succeed in these moves.  And when pictures are taken, the chaos is revealed. Shoulders high, feet splayed, pigeon toes, crunched necks… not long, lovely or powerful lines. Audiences will cheer when a follower slips and slides randomly on her knees, but our scores are supposed to reflect success, not mess.

Sadly, all of the champion women I judged a few years ago have all left the competition floor. I can’t say that I blame them, but I will never forget that I played a part in that loss. I strongly urge you to start judging as if the Three T’s are automatically in existence. They aren’t. Be aware of the two dances, be aware of the difference between a charming, funny dancer and a good one, and don’t let the scores of other judges affect your own.

Be a good judge, not a good politician.

We have lost almost all of our talent in the upper levels. Let’s not lose the new talent coming into the dance… and let’s let our competitors know that we’re looked for GOOD DANCING again, not BIG DANCING.

This article is copyrighted. Buy The Judging and other groundbreaking articles in Telling the Truth: The Foundational Articles for Today's WCS. It is available in both Kindle and Print on

November 01, 2011

Hard vs. Soft Abstract Improvisation ©

West Coast Swing vs. Abstract Improvisation

Soft vs. Hard Abstract Improvisation is part of the collection of Weekly Notes found in Setting Dancers Free, available on

October 12, 2011

The Time Has Come ©

Learning How To Heal:
There are Two Dances in WCS
I've listened to our heartbeat.

For years now I've listened. I listened to former champions. I listened to fellow champions. I listened to newcomers. I listened to non-competitors. 

I listened to novice, intermediate, advanced and all-star dancers. I listened to judges, to event directors and to studio owners. I listened to DJ's. I listened to photographers. I even listened to hotel staff and to non-dancers staying in the hotels at conventions. 

I listened, and listened, and listened. 

I listened to the audiences and I listened to my students and I listened to the conversations taking place in hallways and dinner buffets and clubs. I listened. And I heard a lot. I heard what was being told, what was being said, what was being danced, what was being judged, what was being seen and what was being thought... 

And I watched too. I watched carefully. I watched the Jack and Jill’s, the social floor, the dancing during the breaks and the dancing during late night. I watched the routines, the workshops and the private lessons. I listened and heard and watched and then listened some more.

And by doing so, I ended up taking the pulse of our West Coast Swing community.

It's not good news. I learned that we are hurting. I learned that we are divided. I learned that we are in crisis. We are confused, damaged and torn. We are sad, angry and lost. I learned that we desperately need to see a doctor. It's time for a diagnosis. We need a prescription. We need to start healing and return to a state of joy, freedom and empowerment on the dance floor.

I can help. After absorbing, analyzing and assimilating all I had heard, seen and felt on the floor, I discovered The Big Picture. I know what's going on. And perhaps more importantly, I know how we got here.

Once I figured it out, I naturally started sharing it with others, as I usually do… in lessons, in discussions, in the hallways of conventions, etc. But this time it was different. People were gathering around to listen in. Many I knew, but many I didn’t. Dancers passing by would hear my comments and would stop. They’d pull up a chair. They’d lean in. And I could see that they wanted more, much more.

At the US Open I gathered my biggest crowd yet. I believe it was Sunday afternoon, and by the time it had grown to cover and block two aisles, I realized it had become nothing more than a Q&A session… and I was able to easily answer ever Q with a very sound and thoroughly explained A.  When it finally broke up for awards, I turned to my husband Nick and said, “I think I’d better start teaching on this stuff.” He agreed.

So I spent December creating my SwingIN!s. A series of new and never-before-seen seminars, demonstrations and activities, I designed my SwingIN!s to give dancers what they so clearly desired: equipment for dancing in today's WCS world. I had no idea just how popular they would become.

My first one was held in January of this year (Past, Present & Future), where I first taught about how we got here. During it, I outlined and explained what I’d discovered about our history: The Gathering of Great Minds, The Renaissance and The Perfect Storm. The response was tremendous. The "ah ha!" moments were overwhelming. I could tell I had started something big.

As news of Past, Present & Future spread, so did the requests for encore seminars. I held numerous sold-out encore presentations of it in studios, living rooms and dance floors across southern California. At each, I reminded everyone that Past, Present & Future was designed to prepare them for “the big” SwingIN! that was coming in April on Easter weekend. I had named it New School vs. Old School, but it was really about much much more. For five hours on that Saturday afternoon, I taught, for the very first time, about my biggest discovery: Abstract Improvisation. It was nothing short of groundbreaking. Revolutionary.

And the attendees knew it.

When it was finally over, the dancers in attendance, that included newcomers, judges, promoters, instructors, competitors and social dancers… stood up, eyes opened, and... danced their pants off that night!

Then they spread the word.

It’s been only a week and my terminology is appearing all over the social networks and my inbox is starting to fill. Unfortunately, the terminology is spreading so quickly, so fast, that I’m watching my work spin wildly out of control… as with all “telephone” whispers, sharing and gossip, my terminology from one single day was being turned into something completely different than what I’d actually taught.

And so I began this article. In order to prevent misunderstandings, incorrect deductions and incorrect terminology, I’m forced to share the most groundbreaking and healing discoveries of my work with you... One day I look forward to sharing my now famous seminars, Past, Present & Future as well as Abstract vs. Swing with you by DVD, but for now, this will have to do. I hope you will enjoy it as much as my attendees have.

The following are the most popular terms in use:


ren•ais•sance  n.
a revival of intellectual or artistic achievement and vigor
West Coast Swing experienced what I call its "Renaissance Era" in the years around 1991-1999. Its waves lapped our shores before 1991 and left amazing treasures after 1999, but in general, our Renaissance occurred in the 90's.

Never was there such a surge of "intellectual and artistic vigor" in our art form. During those years we saw the Great Minds of WCS, Country, Shag, Hand Dancing, Hustle and even Ballroom and Salsa converge, talk, share, teach, challenge and grow the dance. It's the Era that produced tapes which non-dancers in lunchrooms across America (and my inner-city classroom, by the way) were glued to when we played them.

It's the Era when our Great Minds made breakthroughs in dance knowledge, technique and terminology that was and still is unparalleled in any other dance form. It's the Era which allowed, in Southern California alone, 12 studios (not including clubs!) to be dedicated to WCS and its sister dances. Some studios had full WCS classes every night of the week.

It's the Era we lost to the digital age.

It's the Era when we understood how hard WCS was to do, and we attracted dancers who were willing to work that hard to do it. It took five to seven years to learn WCS back then, and it was during the Renaissance that dancers applied for job transfers across multiple states to gain more training in WCS.

It was during the Renaissance that dancers who had reached their peak in other dance forms became attracted to WCS because of its depth, difficulty and challenge. People dancing for two years called themselves beginners. It's the Era when audiences gave standing ovations before a routine was even done, and an Era when routines inspired you to jump out of your seat and move your feet!


aka Renaissance Swing, Traditional WCS, Classic WCS or just...
West Coast Swing

Pure West Coast Swing is the dance I outline in West Coast Swing Essentials. It has well over 35 elements. It takes years to learn. It is a highly connected lead and follow dance. The lead is center to center. Foot positions, body positions, control, and impeccable leading and following... they are of the utmost importance. 

Pure WCS requires Timing, Technique and Teamwork (The Three T’s), all of which are extremely high-end skills and none of which are easy. The body is always over one foot. It is not split weight. There is a leader and there is a follower. The leader is in charge of taking care of and leading his partner.

Pure WCS uses power points, body flight, triples, and subtleties that make you lean in and watch every second the better it is done. Pure WCS can be learned in a studio, has basic patterns and when a Novice learns it, they can dance with a Pure WCS Champion and feel like they've died and gone to heaven.

It's slotted. It has anchors. It's upright, tall and framed, but it is also grounded, into the floor and into the heels. It's easy to see when there's a mistake or a disconnect between the two partners. Pure WCS does not lend to ‘cookie-cutter’ partnerships, where everyone looks exactly like everyone else on the floor. WCS brings out a dancer's individuality, especially in its syncopations and stylings.

It's very easy to tell the difference between a novice, intermediate or advanced Pure WCS dancer. You can watch a floor and very quickly identify each level of dancer. In Pure WCS, the better a dancer becomes, the more they develop their own unique look.

You can see their personality and style while they are doing the same exact basics as the newcomers. Each dancer has their own style, their own strengths, their own creativity, their own syncopations and the magic created when a unique lead draws a unique follow is like no other. There are numerous styles of Pure WCS because of its complicated nature, patterns and difficulty.


Abstract Improvisation is the other dance form we are seeing on the floor today. Because I have not written an article on it before, I will spend some more time outlining it here.

Abstract Improvisation’s roots extend back 10 years ago. The roots grew very slowly in the beginning, but now, especially in the last three years, they've come into full bloom. In some so called “West Coast Swing” communities and clubs, it’s the only dance they know. If asked to do an actual WCS pattern with triples and wraps, they would not be able to do so without great difficulty or without removing all of its footwork and timing.

I derived Abstract Improvisation’s name from a combination of two terms: Abstract Art and Contact Improvisation. If you have not studied Abstract art or danced Contact Improvisation (two studies I would highly recommend), then here are some definitions of the two for you.

Abstract / Abstract Art

-difficult to understand
-a form of art with no rules, definition or boundaries
-a removal from reality
-form and line
-a period of art which followed the Renaissance

Contact Improvisation
-a form of modern dance improvisation
-points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation
-does not have rhythms, a step pattern, or music requirements

Touchdown Dance magazine once wrote the following about Contact Improvisation:  "Contact Improvisation is a means to explore the physical forces imposed on the body by gravity, by the physics of momentum, falling and lifting. It is a complex but very open form with infinite possibilities and is a dance form that is made by the dancer in the moment of dancing." Keep this in mind, as it most definitely relates to Abstract Improvisation.

Abstract Improvisation has only four elements. It relies heavily on Teamwork but not Timing or Technique. It can be learned within a week to a month and does not require classes. It can be learned on the floor or on YouTube. It is highly improvised, "made by the dancer in the moment of dancing," instead of being pattern based.

Dancers who do 'Abstract' look very much alike. It is almost impossible to tell the difference between a novice or advanced Abstract dancer beyond their differences in attitude, confidence and attire. Abstract leaders' feet are almost always wide and flat footed. In pictures their legs look like they are straddling a pony.

"Lines, shape and form" are created by straight, stretched arm leads and follows. Turns are led with rainbow arcs, high above the head, rather than halo turns, which leads to off balance following, which leads to arching backs and sways by the followers. The shoulders ride very high and the elbows are turned outside of the body, rather than tucked in towards the floor. The leads are less about leading her body, but more like "suggestions for direction." These “leads” are all in the arms leads, not body or center leads.

The footwork is not the focus in Abstract. The upper body (waist, head, arms) is where the action occurs. Your eyes are drawn towards the upper body area where spins are arching, hair is flying and arms look like they are holding giant beach balls. If you count to the music, and then look at the feet, you will find no relation. The feet are shuffling to catch the body, not drive the center. You will also notice how often single footed spins fall or gyrate off balance and the move is exited in an archway as a cover up.

Abstract isn't danced over the heel, but over the ball or flat foot. The feet are rarely turned out. Feet are used for catching falls, for straddling, for hitting lyrics and melodies, for sliding... not for holding a rhythm pattern, moving the body or leading. As a result, Abstract Improv can be danced over any kind of music- a waltz, a samba, a nightclub two step or a hustle. This is part of the reason that when a hustle or nightclub two step is played, dancers are still dancing what they call 'swing' on the floor, but only Abstract Improvisation works over any song.

Abstract Improv requires four elements: strong knees, a flexible spine, quick reflexes and total confidence. This is why young and untrained dancers excel at Abstract Improv. Their muscles don't injure as easily and they don't have years of training telling them to keep rhythms, posture, to lead correctly or to connect fully. Abstract Improv instruction often uses the following terms: momentum, shape, channeling, improvisational, new school, flow, 3-D, free-styling, contemporary, etc. Common Abstract phrases include "the anchor is obsolete," "stretch out as far as you can go," "no leading, only suggesting," "there are no rules," "disconnect," “eliminate your triples,” “split your weight across both feet,” "dance behind the beat," etc.

When danced on beat, Abstract Improv is almost all single and double rhythm based and often the leader or follower can be seen standing in straddle position for well over four beats, while their upper half gyrates, sways or 'mimes’ the lyrics.

The man does not post. The slot is often circular and free formed. The leader can move up and down the slot (or lack thereof), “flip-flop” positions with the follower and sometimes the follower is left in the middle while the leader dances around her. Pure WCS couples dancing next to an Abstract Improvisation couple will feel like they are being constantly run over or invaded by the Abstract couple's slot.

In Abstract Improvisation, major phrases are hit by tricks, swoops and falls that are dramatic but most often messy, as are they are done split weight, with loose high shoulders and extended lats.

Abstract Improvisation is not about controlled movement, but large, “sexy,” or “on-the-floor” movements. Abstract dancers often replace the push break with a four beat ‘push and pull,’ and their Underarm Turn most often becomes a two beat "snap" by both partners to opposite ends of the slot.

Because of such quick movements, Abstract Improves seems much more big, bold and energetic than Pure WCS, and so Abstract dancers are put into finals instead of Pure WCS competitors, despite having a complete lack of timing, connection, technique or swing.

Yes, I said swing. Abstract Improvisation looks, feels and reflects many of the attributes of Contact Improvisation, which is a postmodern contemporary dance form, rather than any partner or rhythm based dance with steps, rules, leading and following. Therefore I classify Abstract Improvisation as a rudimentary contemporary dance (not to be confused with contemporary music), or modern dance. It’s very similar to improvisational club dancing at young city nightclubs, but it is not a swing dance.

I've heard many times that Abstract Improvisation is really WCS "evolved." However, the world "evolved" connotes a movement towards a higher level of skill or movement. The fact that Abstract Improvisational dancers cannot do a series of WCS basics with critical timing, posture, centering, skilled leading or following, or any of the other incredibly difficult levels or patterns that Pure WCS demands, debates the idea of any "evolvement."

An elimination of excellent leading (“we don’t do ‘prep prep’ anymore”), following (“don’t wait for me, you should do your own thing now”), of centering, of foot positions, of syncopations, of timing… all of this only indicates a "devolvement" in my opinion, not an "evolvement.” We would be wise to see these claims for what they really are: an excuse to keep students from going to any other instructor, to protect their own "revolutionary" brand, to gloss over training they don't have and to protect a dance that only they understand and therefore only they earn money off of.

Abstract Improvisation is such a far cry from Pure WCS, that the students of this new dance often find any other teacher’s methods a threat. If they are at a convention and attend a Pure WCS instructors workshop, they will sometimes declare that they “only want to learn (fill in the blank: “contemporary,” “new school,” etc, etc.) swing” and will sit the class out. And since Abstract Improvisation doesn’t have any rules, students have walked away from conventions learning eight different ways to “anchor” or “replace their anchor,” six different ways to hear the music, “feel it,” “dance the emotion of it,” “dance the lyrics,” “dance the melodies,” but never dance on beat, which is now, unfortunately, the rarest of finds at most conventions and many dance scenes across the country.

Let me clarify. To “dance on beat” refers to the dancer’s feet dancing to the beat of the music. I often hear students and judges say that Abstract Improvisational dancers “hit every beat” in the music, when in reality, their upper bodies hit all of the breaks. This is actually pretty easy to do. What’s difficult to do is lead and follow with your feet on beat AND hit the breaks. If you look at these “flashy” improvisational dancers’ feet, you will suddenly see how very little skill is actually being executed.

The Time Has Come.

As you've probably figured out by now, I've discovered that we as a community now have two completely separate dances on our hands. I understand that this has been hard to see, especially since a handful of our top pros are able to do both depending on what music they are given, the audience they have, the judges they have, etc.  But they comprise less than 1% of our community. And they’ve been dancing and teaching this new dance for a few years now, and we have been unaware of this shift. We’ve just seen the dancing change, but we didn’t know how or why.

It is time to face reality. There are two dances.
It is time to admit the truth. There are two dances.
It is dangerous to deny it and stay on the path we are on.

And I mean dangerous.

First, it's dangerous physically, emotionally and mentally to our dancers. When a Pure WCS trained follower draws an Abstract Improvisation leader, she gets physically hurt by the clash. She feels totally lost and thinks she’s in over her head. She is yanked off her anchor with no warning because Abstract Improvisation never moves on the same beat or even on a beat. She is put into precarious positions where she's not quite sure what's expected of her and gets hit in the head when trying to go down the slot.

When a Pure WCS trained leader draws an Abstract Improvisation follower, he can't figure out how to lead her, to connect with her, how to even get a push break out of her. She will be extremely light, to the point of complete disconnection or she will be extremely heavy and pull him off his anchor or timing. He will never ever get her on the foot he's trying to get her on, because she is not expecting him to lead her feet into positions.

It's the same the other way around. I'm hearing stories nearly every week about how an Abstract Improvisation leader draws a Pure WCS follower and accuses her of deliberately fighting him or getting in his way, when she is simply assuming he's doing the same dance. My inbox is jammed with horror stories of the meeting of these two dances on the floor. They are stories ranging from physical harm, to emotional harm to mental harm... and dancers are falling out of love with the dance. They just don't understand that there are two completely different dances on the floor today. Which brings me to my second point.

If we don't acknowledge that there are two dances,
the future of the West Coast Swing industry is in jeopardy.

It's already suffering. Highly trained WCS professionals feel pressured to teach poor technique. Novice and intermediate dancers are suddenly instructors. Event directors are hiring unskilled teachers and dancers because they are cheaper and seem to be the "hot ticket" instead of hiring highly trained real WCS instructors. Classes are shrinking across America. Because Abstract Improvisation is just that, improvisational, and requires almost none of the skills and training that Pure WCS does, it doesn't have to be learned in a studio.

That doesn't mean there aren't people teaching Abstract Improvisation. There are. But people hear them say, in their so called “WCS” classes that, "we don't do that anymore, we do this now," and the students feel like they have to start all over in the dance. But the reality is that Abstract Improvisation really doesn't take any training. I'm meeting more and more dancers at conventions who have never taken a single WCS lesson and are having a blast.

In fact, Abstract Improv dancers, for reasons I've briefly touched on, make finals over Pure WCS dancers, which only promotes the idea to onlookers that classes, privates and lessons in general are not needed to be successful in the dance. Why spend money on Pure WCS, which absolutely has to be learned in a lesson setting and takes a long time to master, when you can learn Abstract Improvisation on YouTube for free? If we insist on calling Abstract Improvisation "Swing," then we are contradicting every single real WCS teacher out there and setting up all of their students for confusion, bitterness and failure. We will, ultimately, lose them. And then we will lose our instructors.

And then we will lose the dance.

We need to face facts. We need to remember what ‘normal’ is in the partner dancing communities. In healthier communities, like ballroom, the fact of the matter is that when someone has been learning a ballroom dance for three months and then dances with a ballroom pro, they feel like they are on top of the world and can do no wrong. It's like dancing with a dream. They are then are inspired to keep going, keep learning, keep expanding their knowledge and enjoyment of the dance.

But if a WCS dancer has been taking lessons for three months at a studio or a club and then asks a supposedly higher level dancer (because points tell them they are so, not other dancers) to dance, it will not be a pleasant experience. Those who have racked up points in the past five years are almost all Abstract Improvisational dancers, and they will completely run over this new beginner to our dance. The newcomer will be completely lost and feel defeated, not inspired. They will feel confused and torn. They will stick with lessons for about six months to a year and then they will give up, because they feel like they aren’t getting any better.

In reality, they are learning one dance and yet asking someone who does a completely different dance to help them measure their progress. What a catastrophe for these dancers! It’s heartbreaking, hearing their stories. Because we haven’t admitted this other dance, our newcomers don’t realize it’s another dance that they’re clashing with, never mind a lesser art form. And we should take a stand for them.

It is time, everybody.

People are done. People feel left behind. People feel ugly, misunderstood, confused, angry and they feel scared. We are hemorrhaging veteran dancers at an astronomical rate. We are allowing our most talented individuals to feel "old" and we are attracting a demographic of dancers who would rather not work at their dancing because it's not "fun," and allowing instructors into our community who have absolutely no problem giving watered down shortcuts to technique, slandering our most knowledgeable and respected legends and calling an extremely difficult and praiseworthy dance "out of touch."

Non-dancers have a better eye than we do now. Lunchrooms don't watch our videos after 2002. But they can't get enough of our Renaissance Era. They’ll watch those tapes for hours.

It's time to put an end to the madness. It's time to equip our students, our fellow judges, our newcomers and our fellow dancers with the knowledge to walk into a studio, into a convention, into a workshop and say, "Okay, that's Abstract and that's Pure West Coast." And then they can make informed decisions. Then they can dance with freedom. Then they can understand what they're watching. Then they can understand what's going on…

And then we can heal.


Photo from Australian Blogger
The Time Has Come is part of the bestselling WCS book Telling the Truth: The Foundational Articles for Today's WCS. It is available in both formats on

I adopted this photo for The Time Has Come from a WCS dancer's blog in Australia ( She posted about The Time Has Come  when it was first published and used this picture in her article. It's perfect. You can read her article here. I hope more people pick up their pens and take to increasing their power through the written word like she has!

October 07, 2011

Announcing FREE Weekly Notes!

I’m sitting in my room, wiped out from what was supposed to be a “5 hour drive” that really turned out to be a “what the heck? It took us 8 hours?” kind of drive. The weekend of Boogie by the Bay 2011 is about to commence and I'm accutely aware: the ball is rolling... Abstract and Swing will collide once again... lines will be drawn and lines will be blurred... I can hear it now... 'Competitions and Questions and Music... Oh My!'

...and I realize, as I sit here in the quiet before the storm, just how much I wanted to share with you by now. I have so very much more to say than I did six months ago! I wanted to talk to you about the judging, and I wanted to talk to you about the music and the competitions and the social dancing and the teaching… there’s so much I have to tell you. And I really hoped to have told you by now.

I wanted you to go into this weekend prepared. I wanted you to walk away from this weekend understanding.

And so I ask myself. How do I release this massive body of knowledge upon you?

The one that's tripled (no pun intended!) in size since May? How do I get the dam within me to break? How in the world do I write on just one little topic, when really, it’s a book that lies within me?

Be it writer’s block, be it my jammed packed schedule of SwingIN!s, workshops, lessons and routines, be it injuries, be it anything... One fact still remains:

You aren’t hearing from me.

And there’s A LOT going on.

You should know about it. You deserve to know about it. And I can think of only one way to get it to you sooner rather than later without breaking my brain and body.

So I’m trying something new. As usual, when a major work and article is done, I will post it on my blog as a complete, finished and copyrighted work. Katherine’s Dance Word (my blog) will continue to serve as a FREE and excellent reference site.

But from here on out I will start sending WEEKLY NOTES to my Katherine's Dance Word & SwingIN! email lists. You are the ones who want to hear everything I have to say, even if it isn’t polished, primed and ready for publication. You are the ones who know even an ounce of truth is worth ten pounds of dust. The emails won't be four pages (I hope!) but they won’t be trivial either. You will gain much. Period. In fact, much and most of it will be pure gold. I’ll talk about things learned at the last SwingIN! I’ll talk about things I observed at my last event. I’ll talk about the music and I’ll even (gasp!) talk about the judging.

You will learn a lot. We will stay in touch. Because you are not alone… and I don’t ever want you to forget that. Ever. You are not alone. A revolution has begun. The Time really has Come!

If you are not already on my email list, I ask that you sign up with me today. There is much to be gained, and nothing to be lost… Here's the link:

As always, I encourage you to tell your friends. Every week I hear from at least one new dancer who has just discovered my articles. It's fantastic. But the point is that there are those who searching for answers still... those who haven't heard what's going on. Let them know.

And again, as always, send me your feedback. I do love hearing it. I may not respond right away, or even ever get to, but believe me; your comments make a difference. The main reason I have so much more to share with you than when The Time Has Come was first published is because I’ve had feedback from you. Feedback by email, by text, by private lesson, by conversation and by SwingIN! I love hearing about your experiences and I love hearing your questions. For example, I’ve developed my answers for both music and judging more than any other area… simply because those are the ones asked about or shared about most.

So let’s buckle up, everybody. Let’s enjoy each other’s company. And let’s start to live in this community with hope, honesty and a healthy, joyful removal of fear. Let's.... DANCE!

Best and with love,
Katherine Eastvold

September 19, 2011

An Affair to Remember ©

White Lights, City Nights
I do not live close to New York City.  I live in a land where dancing was once heady, heavy, sexy and close knit. But it’s not anymore. It’s energetic, it’s unique, it’s socially connected… but it’s not the dance Mecca that it once was.  People drive less to dance less. People dance maybe once a week now, and if more, it’s other dances… a salsa night here, a tango night there, a swing night in between.  Gone are the euphorically addicting dances that kept me up nights and left me enamored and spinning with music and movement in my head… so much so that I made myself go to church on Saturday nights before dancing instead of Sunday mornings after dancing. After a night of dancing, Sunday mornings just didn’t work. I just couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t listen… my feet were doing syncopations while the words of the sermon fought with the music and the leads and the dancing in my mind…

Now the word ‘syncopation’ is hardly used. And my dances have been slowly whittled away by poor leads… no, not poor leads… no leads. Or terrifying yanking at any random point. So I stay on the sides and watch the floor, waiting for the miraculous moment when I will see an opportunity for 1. a real swing song and 2. a real swing dancer, to actually become available at that one fine, glorious and golden moment. I don’t care if I dance with a novice. I just want a darn swing dance. I get four a night if I’m incredibly lucky, but honestly, it’s really down to one when I don’t count my husband.

And then someone whispered in my ear: Hudson Swing Affair!  Hudson Swing Affair? The one in New York?  The one with the girls and tuxes and glamour? So I emailed Festa. And he told me the glorious news… no non-swing songs. Pure swing. And no competitions, which means the people there… must be there… for the dancing? only?  Hmmm… sounds a little too good to be true. But it’s Festa. And he’s already too fabulous to be true. So. We prayed. We bought our tickets. We started to prepare as best we could. Gown and suit for the Black and White Ball? Check. Sturdy luggage? Check. Plenty of light clothing? Check. Curiosity in crazy amounts? Double check.

I’m so glad we went.

In fact, it hurt our hearts to leave.  We left family behind. We left our hearts on the dance floor.  Nick took me in his arms on the plane home and started to slow dance with me… suddenly I was back at the Pier Dance, with white lights surrounding me, a fabulous melody playing in my ears and the wind blowing gently through my hair. And I wish it was next year already.

If you ever traveled great distances to an event for the dances you could have, then you will be able to relate.  My dances with Festa, Ramiro and Mark will stay with me forever, just as dances with them, Mark Eckstein, Demetre, Carlito and Mario and more, have stayed in my veins for years. They are the sustenance on which I live. They are the health food I crave. I never even missed the competitions. And I felt like I had a new home, like the Camelback Inn used to be for me. The sights and the heady and the sexy and the power and the strength of swing came crashing back upon me. People watched. People studied. People admired and they respected. They learned and they were inspired and they grew.

I don’t know what the key ingredient is. Is it the lack of competitions? Is it the quality of staff? Is it the music? Is it the location? Is it Festa?

I suspect it’s Festa. Because he maintains all the others. And his fans are loyal. And he treats them like the kings and the queens that they are. He is a lover of beauty. And beauty is everywhere you go at the Hudson Swing Affair.

And despite a bad flight there… a weak arrival at 2 am on Friday… and through a terrific scare with a supposed lost wallet… and needing to switch rooms at 5 am… even so… we ended up having the time of our lives.

My husband wasn’t there when Kenny was around. My husband never went to the Camelback with me. My husband never saw the late night dancing sessions I still dream about… when I could trade off for four hours straight between dancers of such champion skill and control that I still shiver with edification, joy, expansion, growth and… ‘yum’ factors.  Oh, the challenge and the real dancing that occurred then!

And oh the real dances I had at Hudson… with the exception of one single dancer there (from where I live, I guessed and of course, confirmed)… oh the dances I had… they were marvelous! And I’m glad beauty, goodness and swing are not gone forever… they are nestled in the bosom of the starry night that is… and I suspect will always be…

The Hudson Swing Affair.
An Affair to Remember is part of the collection of groundbreaking articles found in Telling the Truth, available in both Kindle and Print on Copyright 2011-2014.