West Coast Swing has been California's State Dance since 1988 and its origin can be traced to Lindy Hop, another type of swing dance. It is characterized by a distinctive elastic look that results from its basic extension-compression technique of partner connection, and is danced primarily in a slotted area on the dance floor. The dance allows for both partners to improvise steps while dancing together, putting West Coast Swing in a short list of dances that put a premium on improvisation.
There are many theories on people who influenced the development of West Coast Swing. Some say that Dean Collins was influential when he arrived in CA in 1937 after learning and dancing Savoy style swing in New York City. Others indicate that Arthur Murray taught people the dance he had learned in California, even though he called it Western Swing (a name that is often misleading since West Coast Swing is not specifically done to country music). The term "Western Swing" remained in many ballroom/studio environments through the 1960s. By the 1970s, the dance was being called California Swing and took on the contemporary music of the time; in 1978, the dance was documented as West Coast Swing. After years of teaching under Arthur Murray in the '50s, Skippy Blair became extremely influential in the teaching and development of West Coast Swing. The USA's top performers and competitors study with her to this day.
The style of music most frequently found in West Coast Swing environments have a jazz, blues, soul, R&B or "Beach" roots. In the 1950's, Rock'n'Roll became a popular music genre for West Coast Swing. Today, West Coast Swing is performed to almost any kind of music, from rock to hip-hop, contemporary to acoustic lyrical songs. West Coast swing is sometimes referred to as the dancer's dance or the Cadillac of dance because it allows the lead and follow to respond to the musicality of the music in spontaneous choreography through the connection that is maintained throughout the dance. In recent years, dancers not only respond to the rhythm and style of music but also respond to the lyrics. Occasionally, dancers refer to a lyrical swing style that pays closer attention to the words than the rhythm.