To add to Chengdu's small but growing arsenal of international fun is a small gathering of people who meet at Shamrock on Tuesday nights for lessons in West Coast Swing, a style of dance that is slowly gaining popularity in Chengdu.
West Coast Swing is a partner dance that stems from Lindy Hop and was popularized in California in the late 1930s to the early '50s, when an ever-growing ensemble of swing was hitting the streets. It's one of the very few dances that evolves over time such that it is always danced to modern music.
This kind of strut is fun because it is an easy-to-follow, even-easier-to-learn style of jive, where any inexperienced Joe can simply move his feet and feel the rhythm of the music. As with other dance forms, it consists of several steps that are seamlessly strung together to make one long routine. Both style and sequence can be mixed according to each respective dance partner, but what makes this form unique is the way they're put together—transforming from simple backyard boogie to art form.
There are six basic moves that comprise West Coast Swing: the Sugar Push (the basic step), the Underarm Turn, the Side Pass, the Tuck Turn, the Basket, and the Whip. All of these are demonstrated and reviewed in the lessons. In addition to these, there are variations of each move that can be combined or adjusted accordingly to each dancer, giving each couple that extra pizzazz that flares on the dance floor with each step.
One need not be a professional dancer to experience West Coast Swing first-hand; all you need to do is head over to Shamrock Bar on Tuesday nights from 7 to 10, where local dance instructors and English teachers Matt Balcerak and Rachel Marlow (from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas, respectively) teach a free, one-hour course. The class consists of Rachel helping the new and unguided rookies ease into the beginning dance moves, while Matt teaches the experienced learners the new step for the day. The remaining two hours are free-form dance, which encourages individuals to practice each move with a partner of their choosing.
"You can't get better at dancing unless you actually put your feet on the floor," enthusiastically recommends Matt.
There are many reasons this American couple wants to teach the residents of this city a new art form. Their ultimate goal is to popularize WCS swing for a new generation of people in Chengdu and to have it expand to other locales and taught in other cities. But they have another reason as well: starting a Flash Mob. A flash mob is a surprise dance on the street where seemingly average citizens perform rehearsed dance moves for an unexpected crowd. It begins small, perhaps one or two couples at a time, and expands to include every couple who want to join in, all dancing the same routine. Don't be surprised next time you're at Chunxi Lu and a rush of people suddenly break out dance moves next to you, swinging to the tune of Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love." It's all part of the plan.
Whether you're an experienced showman, an amateur rookie, or just a little curious, WCS has something for you. It's suited to all styles of music, from blues (Sam Moore's "If I Had No Loot"), to classic rock (the Rolling Stones' "Miss You"), to sexy jazz (Gare Du Nord's "Marvin & Miles"). The only thing left to do is to go and actually give it a shot. In a city where what's new constantly turns into yesterday's news, it's refreshing to have opportunities to try it.
And honestly, who couldn't use a little new?
West Coast Swing free dance lessons, Tuesday evenings, 7 to 10 p.m., at the Shamrock.
This article by David Soria was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 55 ("big love"). Photo courtesy of David Soria