History of Whip and West Coast Swing

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History of Whip and West Coast Swing

This was excerpted from an article by 
Rick Archer at SSQQ Dance Studio

The Whip is a sexy Swing partner dance that originated right here in the heart of Texas.  Also known as Push in the Dallas area, the Whip is quite similar to the national dance known as the West Coast Swing.  This is no surprise since in a way the Whip and West Coast Swing are long-lost brothers. They were both born in California, but separated at birth.

The Whip traces its roots to a bunch of Texas-born GI's who returned home 

from California after the long fight of World War II.  

The Whip was spawned in the dives, bars, honky-tonks, and western joints that surrounded the Texas oil fields and refineries back in the late 40's and early 50's.

Back in those days you had dark, smoky lounges with plenty of cheap beer. and a rough crowd looking to let off steam after a hard dayís work.  The jukebox played a steady stream of Texas Blues with a raw, angry sound and rhythms best described as Stripper music.

Legend has it the Whip started as a "pickup" dance that fit the suggestive "get down & dirty" lyrics like tight pants clinging to a well-curved woman.  The man would lean against the bar drinking a beer or smoking a cigarette with one hand while a woman would grab his other hand for balance. Inspired by the music, she would start to roll her hips, then glide forward and back to the beat. As she strutted her stuff, the man would act cool and pretend to ignore the performance, but no doubt the corner of his eye tracked her movements like a hawk measuring its prey!

The Texas Whip is basically an offshoot of the legendary 

West Coast Swing. 

Whip, spelled as it is with the word "hip" in it, has always emphasized hip motion as part of its Basic.  West Coast Swing traditionally has favored more emphasis on flashy footwork.  For 50 years, the two dances stayed separate. Modern technology has changed all that. The Internet, the availability of dance videotapes, national dance magazines, and the ease of travel (allowing teachers and students to overcome the handicap of distance) have brought about the change.

Here in the 90's the barriers that separated the two dances for 50 years are fading faster than you can say "Berlin Wall".  West Coast Swing dancers see the awesome hip roll of the Whip and decide on the spot they got to have some of that.  The Whip dancers see those flying, prancing, dancing feet of the WC Swingers and want a piece of that action too. 

Today you don't have to choose. The modern trend is to merge the two dances together and constantly interweave from one style to the other.  The long-lost dances have been reunited.  You can have them both!  

So how did the two dances get split in the first place?

The earliest origins of Whip have been traced to California during World War II. The 40ís marked the height of the Big Band era. Swing Dancing was enormously popular in USO dance halls across the country at this time.

During World War II the population of the state of California nearly doubled with its massive military industry, many military bases, and important Pacific theator seaports like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  Dancing was the best way for boys to meet girls in an age where time was precious.  In California the floors were so crowded that a new style of dancing developed out of necessity.

 To save space couples would pack into tight pockets and dance in the same direction across the room.

As the precursor to what we now call West Coast Swing, a serviceman would hold his ground while his partner would push off from him, shuffle her feet, and then snap back to him like a rubber band.  This was the start of the WC Swing Basic with its famous Coaster Step.  When room permitted, the man and lady would trade places, which gave rise to the Passing Step, the most common step in West Coast Swing.  The limitations of space created this "Slotted Dance" where the man and woman always danced in a straight line (as opposed to Lindy, Swing, and Jitterbug which allowed dancers to face any direction they wish, but took up much more space).

After the war ended, Texans returning from the Pacific brought their California dance home with them and tried it to the slower Blues music.

Almost immediately they noticed the music was only half the speed of the faster Swing music. This changed the feel of the dance completely. Since no one really knew what the footwork was, Texas girls would just grab the guyís hand and move to the music. As the girls played around with the back and forth movement of the California dance, they discovered a provocative hip motion that fit the slow, sensual music maybe too well. This adaptation created yet a new dance with a style all its own. Some called it Push, some called it Whip, and some called it downright nasty.

Whip stayed hidden in the honky-tonks till the late 50ís when the high school and college kids started picking up on it. 

In a twist, the dance now had two styles: the Whip and the Dirty Whip.  One was strictly footwork while the Dirty Whip obviously added the hip motion. Danced here in Houston to black music at places like Jimmy Menudis, the Cinder Club, and pressure cooker clubs along Telephone Road, you also heard of the Push up at North Texas State and the Whip at Garner State Park. The dance was pretty much limited to back and forth strutting and was still simple enough that people could learn it by imitation and observation. 

However by the early 70ís the bump & grind of the Dirty Whip had blended with West Coast Swing-style fancy footwork.  Women could use a social form of the dance with more subdued hip motion for general dancing.  If the song and the man occasioned it, they could add a little spice and make grown men weak with a nasty Bump Step that brought home whatever they had to deliver.

Double Turns and complicated patterns were also being added.  The Whip was developing into a far more interesting and complex dance.  The hip motion was still the signature move of the dance, but now there was even more to learn. At this point, the Whip had become almost impossible to learn just by feel, so whip dancers banded together.  The 70's marked the creation of several Whip clubs here in the Houston area. Their main purpose was to teach the dance and provide their members opportunities to practice. The 70ís were good for Whip due to the terrific soul music of artists like Barry White, the Commodores, and Al Green.  "Love and Happiness", "Heard it Through the Grapevine", "Midnight Hour", "Mustang Sally", and  "Respect" are some of the unforgettable Whip songs from the 60's and 70's.

The Double Turns were a major development.  

Neck wraps, free spins, waist wraps, spin to the Bump...every pattern had some sort of turn in it.  Sometimes you take things for granted, but WC Swing dancers exposed to the Whip for the first time all comment on the staggering array of different turn patterns. Indeed, a woman who did not spin well faced an enormous obstacle.  She either learned how to spin or found another dance.  Not only are Texas women famous for their blue side of town hip motion, but they are given a lot of respect for their turning ability as well. I believe it is survival of the fittest.   Women who never learn to turn usually are forced to pack their bags. The dance just isn't fun if you fear for your life. 

The late 70ís and early 80ís saw Whip go underground as the Disco and Urban Cowboy eras dominated the dance scene. However the second half of the 80ís saw Whip hit its all-time peak in popularity. Many of Houstonís best Western dancers were looking for a new dance challenge at the same time as a series of great Whip music was being recorded.  For example, Marvin Gayeís "Sexual Healing" and Tina Turnerís "Whatís Love Got to Do With It" won back to back songs-of-the-year in 1983-84, setting the stage for artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Billy Ocean to record many marvelous hits perfect for Whip dancing.  Whip classes were full, there were plenty of clubs playing Whip music to practice at, and dance competitions were popular.  "Billie Jean", "Caribbean Queen", and "Lucky Star" were some of the big hits during this Golden Era.

Unfortunately, Whip took a big downturn as the 90's began.

The start of the 90ís saw the powerful "Boot Scoot BoogieĒ Western era begin while at the same time there was a sharp downturn in dance music favorable to dancing the Whip.  Sadly the influence of Rap music and Seattle grunge rock led to a lot of music far removed from the "Whip Sound".

 History shows when the music dries up, so does the dance.  For example, the legendary Lindy Hop vaporized when the Big Band Sound died after WW II and the Latin Hustle went poof when Disco bit the dust.  Not surprisingly, interest in Whip dropped sharply for the first half of the 90ís.   It has recently had a comeback.

A letter from Chuck Williams about the Garner State Park Era of Whip

My name is Chuck Williams, a "displaced Texan (Corpus Christi) who now lives in Omaha Nebraska.  I am one of the true "veterans of Garner State Park" and the Whip (1961 ~ 1966).  There are still a few us around, however, my contact with many of them is very limited since I live so far away.

You can imagine my surprise to learn that the Whip is still alive and well, I thought it died with those of us who stopped going to Garner in the mid and late 60's because we went to college or Viet Nam.

There were several of us who were very serious dancers during those great days, many were from Houston, Baytown, San Antonio, Leaky (I hope I spelled it correctly, been away too long), Uvalde, and Corpus Christi.  Garner Park was our central meeting place.  Most of us did anything (legal) we could to raise money to go to Garner during the summer.  I lost track of how many lawns I mowed.  I would make three, to four trips a summer, each lasting a week or longer.  For the serious dancers like myself, our biggest objective was to learn as many steps as we could, and perfect our dance.  Of course, we managed to find some good looking partners along the way.  An added benefit was the great entertainment that would come to Garner.  B.J. Thomas was a regular, in fact, he wrote a song called "Garner State Park", which stayed on the jukebox for years.  Several others would come up routinely, Gene Thomas, Johnny Winter, Roy Orbison, Jay Frank Wilson, Roy Head, and too many others to mention.  Many times, after the dance, we would all go to this one girls camp site, Carol Zimmermann, to listen to the jam sessions that would take place, between many of the singers mentioned above.  Carol Zimmermann was an outstanding dancer who "lived to whip".  Her mom and dad came to Garner every summer and spend a full month there.  They always had the best campgrounds in the main park close to the pavilion.  In case you don't know, the pavilion was the place where we danced.  Some how, Mr. Zimmermann was able to finagle around the parks policy of only being allowed to keep your campsite for thirty days.  Carols parents were the "parents" of so many kids like myself, who would come to Garner without adult supervision.

During the day, we would meet at the pavilion, and practice, practice, practice.  The "slick slab" was a section of concrete on the pavilion floor that was dominated by those who would practice spinning.  We could perfect our spin there, so that in the evening when the pavilion was crowded with dancers, we had the technique down well enough to spin without the benefit of a slick surface.

I'm not clear what year it was when the style changes to the "push", but it really brought on a lot of controversy.  The traditional style looked more like the swing, but the "push" brought on stiff arms, shorter steps, and SPINNING!  The "rock step" was in and the swing was out.

It was amazing!  There were so many kids learning the whip, it was incredible!  Every night of the week, the pavilion was crowed with kids learning or perfecting this dance.  I forgot the year the park rangers started ending the dances at 11:00 pm and enforcing a park curfew.  But even then, BJ Thomas and the boys would meet at the Zimmermann's to jam... without amplifiers.  And believe it or not, after all those hours of virtually non-stop dancing, we would still practice our steps on the dirt campsite ground while the guys were jamming.  We were OUT OF CONTROL!

There was a section of the pavilion designated for "learners".  Most of the more experienced dancers stayed clear.  God!  We were horrible.... such egos!  As with many dancers we develop subtle hand signals, so our partners would know what step we were going to do next.  The competition became serious, however, we never had a dance contest, as I recall.  The best dancers were just "kind of known".

After one full summers' practice (1962) followed by the countless hours of practice with my partner in Corpus Christi during the preceding school year, she and I returned to Garner (summer of 1963) to finally be "declared" as great dancers.  That year, I met a girl from Baytown, Judy Roush who I nicknamed (Popcorn).  Her family owned and operated a dance studio in Baytown.  Judy was an awesome dancer and could whip like an expert.  Some how, [there is a God in Heaven], Judy and I hit it off, and my life changed.  She taught me so many steps, spins, techniques, it was incredible!  I thought I died and went to "Whip Heaven".  For the next three years, she and I went together [long distance] and each summer would return to Garner.  She always seemed to have learned more new steps than I. (I'm surprised??? ... after all she was a dance instructor at her parents studio).  She also introduced me to some really good male dancers who were willing to share their steps with me.  My talent was spinning, some how I had great technique. 

Now days, I get lost in a circle!

 

This was excerpted from an article by
Rick Archer at SSQQ Dance Studio