If you’re ready to try swing dancing, you’re in for a treat! And for your first lesson, we’re here to break down the difference between East Coast Swing dance and West Coast Swing dance. Swing dancing began in the 1920s in New York, and continued to gain popularity throughout the 1940s. Since then, it has evolved and adapted, with countless variations that include the Charleston, Lindy Hop, and Balboa. But do you know two of the most well-known spin-offs of the original swing dancing style? In modern-day dancing, The East Coast Swing dance and its counterpart the West Coast Swing dance have claimed their popularity title in many dance lessons across the world!

The Shared History 

Let’s take a look at the fad that started it all before we explore the difference between East Coast Swing dance and West Coast Swing dance. 

Swing developed in America in the 1920s and 1930s, in response to and at the same time as the birth of Jazz music. The new style of dance was created to match the quick pace and bouncy movements of the music itself. 

According to many sources, the Lindy Hop (rumored to be named for pilot Charles Lindbergh’s famous “hop” over the Atlantic Ocean) was the original swing dance, made up of movements that combined African movements and rhythms and the formal counting structure of many European ballroom dances. 

In the century since it first came on the scene, swing dancing has evolved to accompany many genres of music, from Jazz to Rock to Country. Some dance instructors began to simplify the more complex steps of the original swing dances, making them more accessible and easily adaptable. The result was the introduction of East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing.

No matter the style or the specific dance steps, each swing dance shares slight shuffling movement, the rhythm of 4/4 time, basic patterns to follow, and the same basic six-count timing of 1,2,3-and-4, 5-and-6.

A man and woman dance the East Coast Swing Dance

The Steps

The most basic difference between these two styles is in the steps, the building blocks of the dance itself. 

Though they are both the same type of dance, these two have fairly different basic steps. East Coast Swing dance is made up of two triple steps followed by one rock step. The West Coast Swing dance, on the other hand, involves two walking steps and two triple steps. To break that down even further: 

  • A “triple step” is three steps made on two beats of music. When counting out loud, that might sound something like “quick-quick-slow”.
  • A “rock step” is a two-step sequence. Here, you “rock” by placing one foot behind the other and putting your weight on the ball of the back foot, then transferring the weight back to your first foot and bringing the other back to its original position. 
  • Walking step: Two or more steps taken in the same direction.

The West Coast style of Swing is more controlled. Here, partners move back and forth in their “slot” on the dance floor, with one partner spinning as they move up and down the slot, while the other partner moves around them.

The Style 

When it comes to the style of each dance, there are two key components at play: the way you move across the floor, and the energy with which you do it. 

East Coast Swing dance is characterized by large, circular, sweeping movements. It is made up of several turns, but ultimately the movement of the dance is a circular rotation either to the left or to the right. 

That rotation is done with a great deal of energy and bounce, with a flexing of the knees done on the two and four counts of the beat. As dancers become more comfortable, hip action can be added on the triple and rock steps for even more movement. 

The West Coast Swing dance also involves many turns and spins, but the partner’s movement is restricted to a straight line on the dance floor, rather than a circle. It’s this linear movement that lends the dance one of its nicknames: “the slot”. 

That doesn’t mean the dance isn’t just as impressive as its East Coast cousin, though. While the dance emphasizes upper body movement and restricts the bounce that’s synonymous with East Coast Swing, that technique requires dancers to become masters in channeling that same energy into deliberate movements, smooth footwork, and attention to detail.

east coast swing dance

The Sound

When it comes to the sound of East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing, you’ll once again find some big differences. While both are often accompanied by and got their start with big band Jazz movements, they are not restricted to only that genre.

East Coast Swing dance can be done to nearly any style of high-energy music. In addition to Jazz, that might also mean Rock, Disco, Pop, and more. 

West Coast Swing dance is typically done to music with a slightly slower tempo, like Blues. Oftentimes West Coast Swing dance is also paired with more modern genres as well, like Hip-Hop or R&B.

The Setting 

Don’t get us wrong, we’re all for breaking out your favorite swing dance moves, whether it’s East or West Coast, whenever and wherever you’d like. However, there are definitely times and places where each of these styles fits best.

The East Coast Swing dance style is more likely to be seen at events where the energy is high. For example, the East Coast Swing style is typically seen at festivals and wedding receptions, where the fun and frantic style livens up any party.

The West Coast Swing dance can be danced on virtually any dance floor you’d like, but it’s most often seen at competitions or in clubs or discos where attendees are sure to be impressed by the skill and intentionality of this dance.

Both the East Cost Swing dance and West Coast Swing dance are crowd favorites thanks to their fun and creative dance moves. As jazz gave way to rock and roll in the 1950s, the swing dance acclimated to fit the style and energy folks were looking for on the dance floor. For 100 years and counting, swing dancing continues to be popular as it featured many freestyle movements once the foundations of the dance are nailed down. In other words, once you learn the basics of the swing dance, the movement becomes intuitive, and you can freestyle on the dance floor. This makes the swing dance one of the most fun dances to learn!

Should I Learn East Coast Swing Dance or West Coast Swing Dance?

At Carolina Dance, a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Raleigh, we teach both styles of Swing dance to students looking to learn. Because of that, we often hear the same question: Do I have to pick one or the other?

The truth is, with enough time and practice, there’s no reason why you can’t learn and perfect both the East Coast style of swing and the West Coast style of swing! Our dance instructors are skilled in both and are excited to get students on the dance floor. 

If you do want to learn both, your certified dance instructor will work with you to teach the basics. Often, East Coast Swing dance’s simpler count and bouncier movements do make it a bit easier to learn at first, so we may start with that before moving on to the West Coast Swing dance. But ultimately, the choice is up to you! If you want to ease yourself into the swing dance, we suggest you learn the East Cost Swing dance first. But if you’re up for a challenge, already know the East Coast Swing dance, or are a skilled dancer, we invite you to learn the West Coast Swing dance. The truth is, you can’t go wrong with either – or both!

Contact Our Dance Studio in Raleigh to Learn How to Swing Dance!

No matter which style of swing dance you’re looking to learn, our certified dance instructors at Carolina Dance in Raleigh are here to help.

Our state-of-the-art studio and all of our staff offer a welcoming, fun space to perfect your steps, whether you’re brand-new to ballroom or you’re a skilled swing dancer. 

Give us a call at (919) 872-0111 or fill out the form below to get started. We look forward to seeing you on the dance floor soon!

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