West Coast Swing originates from the Lindy Hop. It's distinctive "dancing in a slot" approach derives from San Diego dancehalls from 1938. The kicking jitterbugs would frolic in the center of the floor, with the smooth dancers grooving on the periphery.
Modern WCS can be conservatively upright-postured, smooth and warm, or a funky, hot partnered-jazz dance. A bit more self-conscious than the wild abandonment of '40s jitterbug, one of the first generic names for WCS was "Sophisticated Swing." WCS can be quite chaste. However, lots of room for the woman to play and flirt is definitely a common characteristic.
When Jitterbug was banned from virtually every serious dance hall in the late '40s "Sophisticated Swing" began to flourish. The real push behind its development came in the '50s, in the studios of Arthur Murray. This man spent lavishly on Research & Development. He can be credited with the first codificatons of West Coast Swing, and its next name, "Western Swing." The follower's "walk forward" at the beginning of patterns was standardised in his studios.
By the '50s, the Blues had become the standard WCS dance music. However, '50s R&B wasn't like it is today. It's a lot heavier and harder nowadays. Additionally, plenty of WCS dancers still enjoy smooth swing to music that others might use for Fox Trot.
After her years of teaching under Arthur Murray in the '50s, Skippy Blair became the single-most influential individual in the teaching and development of West Coast Swing. That she changed the name from "Western Swing" to its final name of "West Coast Swing" is the least of her achievements. America's top performers and competitors study with her to this day.
In reply to conservatives, the "funk & groove" WCS dancers are certainly closer to the spirit of original swing dance than one might think. Why? Original Lindy Hop is simply this: Partnered-Jazz Dance. Lots of full body exploratory rhythmic movements, waves, twists, etc. All organically created in a partnered context, fueled only by personal and inter-personal interpretations of the music. "Patterns," the European influence, are of minimal importance. "Partnering," also from the European side is of primary importance. Jazz movement, and the valuation of individuality (even outrageous individuality) is the African influence, and of equal primary importance. Hence the term "Partnered Jazz Dance."
West Coast Swing is the state dance of California.