Yes! You did it! You booked your very first West Coast Swing Convention! Now you’re excited and wondering what to expect. Fear not!

Hi! I’m Stephanie Pham, and I want to ensure you’re fully prepared, excited, and ready for fun with our “Welcome Wagon” series packed with tips and advice to further help you enjoy your new journey into West Coast Swing conventions. Each week we’ll be giving you helpful insights on topics such as what to expect at Westie weekends, how to find ride shares, hotel rooms, and much more. Since this is the first post, I’ll be giving you a general overview of what you can expect at a WCS event.

What is a ‘WCS event’? Westie events can be a lot of things! The weekend events are tailored by Event Directors to create the experience they wish for their attendees. However, there are three universal components to most convention events: Workshops, Competitions, and Social Dancing.

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Workshops: Most events post a schedule on their website (and many have hard copies at the convention), so that’s a good place to look up when and where each workshop will take place, as well as the topic to be covered and who is teaching. Some conventions hold leveled workshops (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.) that allow the lessons to be tailored to your skill level, while many have workshops that are open to all skill levels. Similar to a group class, you’ll line up by followers and leaders. Sometimes, the followers will outnumber leaders or vice versa. In that instance, the instructors will often have the extra people stand in between couples throughout the ballroom. They will get a partner when the class rotates partners.

In a workshop, the instructors will typically go over a general concept that they’ll illustrate through patterns. You’ll work on that set of patterns with a partner. The instructor will then ask you to ‘rotate’ (either the leaders will rotate or the follows will) which means to change partners in a certain direction.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Someone else may have the same one, but many won’t have the courage to ask. If you want to ask a question, simply raise your hand and wait on the instructor to complete his or her demonstration. Another piece of etiquette advice is to keep conversations amongst your peers to a minimum. Many attendees don’t get the opportunity to learn from these professionals often, so it’s courteous not to distract them from learning. It’s also respectful of the professional instructors to direct questions to them, rather than asking or answering questions amongst your fellow students. Workshop attire can be casual and comfortable – for gentleman: jeans, t-shirt, dance shoes… Ladies: shirt, jeans or leggings, and dance shoes or dance boots.

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Competitions/Comps: It’s your first event, and you might be asking yourself: Should I compete? The answer is yes! I competed my first event and even though I didn’t make if far, I still learned a lot about WCS by putting myself out there and participating in a Jack and Jill. The newcomer division is perfect for jumping in and getting your feet wet.

There are three basic types of comps: Jack and Jills- which you’ve probably seen in a lot of YouTube videos, Strictlies, and routine divisions- Rising Star, Classic, and Showcase. Let’s take a look at Jack and Jills and Strictlies. The difference between the two is that in Jack and Jills you sign up by yourself and are randomly assigned a partner, while in Strictlies you choose your partner ahead of time, sign up as a pair, and dance together throughout the competition. If the event is sanctioned by the World Swing Dance Council, you have an opportunity to earn WSDC points. We’ll get into how that system works in a future post.

For any competition, you may register online (event websites sometimes offer this option) or at the event. Registration fees typically range from $15-$25 per entry. When registering you will receive a rectangular paper with a number on it. This is your bib. Follows should pin this to the top of their pants or the bottom of their shirt and Leaders should pin it to your upper back. How do you dress for competitions? Each event it’s different, so you can look on the event website to see if they have a specific dress code for competitions. Comp attire typically falls somewhere between business casual and a night out. Ladies: Flowy dress blouse/top (it’s popular to have sports bras with sexy strap patterns visible), slacks or leggings, and dance shoes. Note that dresses and skirts should not be worn for a WCS comp. Gentlemen: Dress shirt, slacks, and dress or dance shoes.

Be in the ballroom at least 15 minutes before competition, because they might start staging that early and you don’t want to be late! Staging means they’ll call competitors to a designated staging area and line up leaders and follows by number order. Once it’s time for competition, you’ll be called out onto the ballroom floor. Alternatively, if there is no staging they will just call you directly out onto the floor so make sure to listen for your name! The judges will check your bib number.

If it’s a Jack and Jill, follows (or leaders) will rotate a certain number to be paired with a randomly assigned partner. You’ll usually get three songs total and it’s fairly common that they’ll be some combination of blues, slow song, and fast song. Between songs you will be asked to rotate partners (except in finals) so just follow the emcee’s instructions. It’s common to ask a friend to film you in a comp, but first make sure the event allows personal videos of competition dances. Some do, but many ask their dancers not to film anything beyond preliminary rounds as they may have hired professional videography staff. Always remember to keep an eye out for upcoming semis or finals and make sure you’re prepared and in the ballroom in case you get called up–even if you’re an alternate! When someone isn’t present or can’t make a round, the alternates are called up to compete. Sometimes rosters will be posted before comps listing which heat you will be in or if you made it to the next round of semis/finals, and sometimes you just have to be there and wait to see if you get called back.
Last piece of introductory competition advice is to relax and have fun!

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Social Dancing: Social dancing can be found in between competitive divisions and, of course, in the magical “late night” dancing everyone talks about. Late night! What is that? After the last competitions of the night, the ballroom opens for what the Westie world calls ‘late night.’ It typically ranges from 11 P.M. or midnight till close (usually around 6 or 7 A.M.). At some events dancers will ‘shut down the ballroom’ at 9 or 10 in the morning! Truthfully, this is my favorite part. I love getting to dance with new people of all skill levels. Some things to consider if this is your first time encountering late night. This will not be like your average swing dance club or studio social dancing. Please be polite and mindful of dancing with the same person repeatedly. It’s ok to dance with the same person on different occasions throughout the weekend, but respect the other dancers who want to dance with you or that partner.

Now, social dancing with professional staff could be a topic on its own, so I won’t dive into it too much here. Don’t be afraid to ask the pros to dance, but also be respectful as you would any other dancer, and wait until they’re finished with their conversation or dance to ask them. There’s a chance dancers will say no to a dance for whatever reason and that’s perfectly fine. You also have this right to decline politely (even without giving a reason). A dance weekend can be very taxing when people attend workshops, compete, socialize, and social dance. If someone declines, say thank you and wait until it’s a better time for them to dance.

Whew! I know that was a lot of information, but that’s exactly why we are here. We want to help you have the best experience possible at your first West Coast Swing weekend. Stay tuned for more guides and information introducing you to convention life. Until next time, keep dancing!

One Reply to “The Beginner’s Guide to West Coast Swing Conventions: Welcome Wagon #1”

  1. Whew! You’re right, that was a lot of info so much so that I’d recommend that a person using it as a guide should plan to look back at it to see what they noticed, what helped and what still puzzles them. On another point though, I think there is much more to be said about how and when you can talk to a partner both in class and on the floor. Yes, in class it can be disturbing but so is having your partner “rotate” without having a chance to walk/talk through the pattern. It is a teacher’s job plan for this and let it happen upon occasion. A lot of the fun I have had in a lifetime of dancing is in the dancing conversations. What we have now is an increasingly tender subject that quite often is treated as you say above with the result being the present environment of quick judgments and quite often faulty accusations.

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