Anchors Away! Don’t be the HEAVY in West Coast Swing

At a recent Sunday dance, a girlfriend came up to me near the end of the dance and asked me for some help. She claimed she was having a lot of trouble with her “anchor step.” It was clear from her face that she was really frustrated. She asked me if I would give her some advice for what to do with her feet. A nice medium tempo song was already playing, so I began to lead her in some very basic figures and honestly, what was happening down below with her feet felt fine.

More importantly, I could feel where she was and she was able to respond to what I led, without anticipating, without pulling or feeling HEAVY. I told her that her anchor step was fine. She wasn’t satisfied with my answer. She insisted on showing me what she was doing with her feet and wanted to know if it was correct. But I didn’t need to see her feet to know that she’d finished into the connection. I could feel the heel of her final step come to the floor and that’s all I really needed in order to know that she was ready to go again. She did have a little funkiness going on with her arm and I recommended she feel into her lat muscle and keep her arm relaxed by her side, something she was able to adjust to right away. Sadly, this follower’s frustration and confusion is an epidemic among West Coast dancers!

anchorThe dreaded anchor step in West Coast is the talk of every private lesson. Ugh! I keep hearing from both leaders and followers how they are still working on “fixing” their anchor step. The most troublesome part about this step is there doesn’t seem to be one source of information that can be considered the “Bible” truth of the matter. Dancers go from one instructor to another trying to figure out what they are doing “wrong” down there. What they usually wind up with is that particular person’s preference. All of the top dancers seem to be doing something different with their feet, so that makes it extra confusing.

If everyone has a different way to accomplish this elusive step, how can an aspiring dancer ever get it right?

The truth is that what everyone is really looking for isn’t an exact placement of feet, it is a feeling in the body –simply put, being finished in the direction either partner is going. Clearly, having our feet under our own body will go a long way in learning to feel this, but once there, attunement is found in the body center, not the feet.

For me, part of the trouble comes in the name of the step itself. As if we would ever actually want to “anchor” our bodies anywhere while dancing. I don’t know about any of you, but the last thing I want to feel like as a dancer is a heavy metal weight! The purpose of an anchor is to prevent movement, to make something stay in place. As a term, I think it instills the wrong idea. I don’t want some nice guy to get a sore back trying to haul me up from the depths of a wooden floor and onto my feet each time he wants me to come toward him. In my opinion, the anchor step was never designed to be a “heavy” moment. The final step of a pattern in West Coast swing is simply that, the moment when the last step has completed and the first of the next movement can begin. It can be light and connected. Our job, as dancers together, is to develop the sensitivity to feel that together, we are done. I have to wonder if the dancers asking followers to be heavier in the last step (an anchor) are just avoiding the work of becoming sensitive to their partner and are instead opting for muscle over finesse?

Personally, as a dancer of many styles, I think the ultimate focus should be on tuning into when our partner has completed their weight transfer at the end of 6, or 8, or whatever the count is when we move the farthest away from each other. This isn’t felt with the hand or the arm; it is in our backs (collectively) and from there straight down through the hips to the heels of the weight bearing foot below. This feeling develops when followers learn patience and continue to stay connected (in a relaxed way) until they feel an invitation from the leader’s body to move forward. When leaders can switch from “over leading” when they send their follower to the end of the slot, to feeling instead, they will be able to detect the moment when the heel of her final step comes to the floor. That, my friends, is the anchor, the point at which each partner makes their last weight transfer and the leader can use that feeling to redirect his follower’s energy forward again. I don’t see why we can’t just call it a “finish step” because that’s what we really mean. Otherwise we just feel heavy – and who wants to be the heavy?

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