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Western Swing — California's official dance

Hollywood adaptation of the East Coast’s Lindy hop

Matt: I just read somewhere that California has an official state dance, the Western Swing. Can this be possible? — M.J., San Diego

In Sacramento, all things are possible. But right at the top, to fend off any potential mail-with-an-attitude, the official state dance of California is the West Coast Swing. Western Swing is something else entirely. Requires cowboy boots and old Bob Willis records, I think.

Whatever else ailed us in 1988, California’s elected reps quickly solved the crisis of our being one of the few danceless states in the Union. Senator Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) sponsored SB2460, proposing West Coast Swing to fill that void. The bill passed 21-9 with a minimum of smart remarks. But in the state assembly, the square-dance lobby bought a few key legislators (lifetime bolo-tie discounts maybe?), who held out for an amendment making square dancing California’s official folk dance. A brief floor revolt by salsa radicals came to nothing. So, wallflowers no longer, Californians’ official dance card overflows.

West Coast Swing is a Hollywood adaptation of the East Coast’s Lindy hop (a.k.a. jive, shag, bop, jitterbug). The story goes that early movie directors, lacking wide-angle lenses, couldn’t film a dance floor full of fast-moving, athletic Lindy hoppers. So choreographers developed a version in which the man remains more or less in one spot and moves his partner back and forth in a linear pattern. It’s less athletic, and the beat’s a little slower than the Lindy, but the footwork and other moves are fancier. For Hollywood’s purposes, this kept everybody in the frame and in focus.

Now that you’ve been alerted to that undercover square-dance lobby, you might keep your eye on them. Consider that fully 25 states claim square dancing as “official,” and you can see the influence they have. They’ve lost only a few skirmishes with polka brigades in the upper Midwest and some well-entrenched doggers in North Carolina. What’s next? Square dancing as the official dance of the United States of America? You’ve been warned.

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Matt: I just read somewhere that California has an official state dance, the Western Swing. Can this be possible? — M.J., San Diego

In Sacramento, all things are possible. But right at the top, to fend off any potential mail-with-an-attitude, the official state dance of California is the West Coast Swing. Western Swing is something else entirely. Requires cowboy boots and old Bob Willis records, I think.

Whatever else ailed us in 1988, California’s elected reps quickly solved the crisis of our being one of the few danceless states in the Union. Senator Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) sponsored SB2460, proposing West Coast Swing to fill that void. The bill passed 21-9 with a minimum of smart remarks. But in the state assembly, the square-dance lobby bought a few key legislators (lifetime bolo-tie discounts maybe?), who held out for an amendment making square dancing California’s official folk dance. A brief floor revolt by salsa radicals came to nothing. So, wallflowers no longer, Californians’ official dance card overflows.

West Coast Swing is a Hollywood adaptation of the East Coast’s Lindy hop (a.k.a. jive, shag, bop, jitterbug). The story goes that early movie directors, lacking wide-angle lenses, couldn’t film a dance floor full of fast-moving, athletic Lindy hoppers. So choreographers developed a version in which the man remains more or less in one spot and moves his partner back and forth in a linear pattern. It’s less athletic, and the beat’s a little slower than the Lindy, but the footwork and other moves are fancier. For Hollywood’s purposes, this kept everybody in the frame and in focus.

Now that you’ve been alerted to that undercover square-dance lobby, you might keep your eye on them. Consider that fully 25 states claim square dancing as “official,” and you can see the influence they have. They’ve lost only a few skirmishes with polka brigades in the upper Midwest and some well-entrenched doggers in North Carolina. What’s next? Square dancing as the official dance of the United States of America? You’ve been warned.

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