“Swing dance” is a group of dance that developed concurrently with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s, ’30s ’40s and ’50s, although the earliest of these dance forms predate swing jazz music. The best known of these dances is the Lindy Hop, a popular partner dance that originated in Harlem and is still danced today. While the majority of swing dances began in African American communities as vernacularAfrican American dances, a number of forms (Balboa, for example) developed within Anglo-American or other ethnic group communities.
Swing jazz features the syncopated timing associated with African American and West African music and dance — a combination of crotchets and quavers (quarter notes and eighth notes) that many swing dancers interpret as ‘triple steps’ and ‘steps’ — yet also introduces changes in the way these rhythms were played — a distinct delay or ‘relaxed’ approach to timing.
Today there are swing dance scenes in many countries throughout the world. Lindy Hop is often the most popular, though each city and country prefers various dances in different degrees. Each local swing dance community has a distinct local culture and defines “swing dance” and the “appropriate” music to accompany it in different ways.
Forms of Swing
In many scenes outside the United States the term “Swing dancing” is used to refer generically to one or all of the following swing era dances: Lindy Hop, Charleston (dance), Shag, andBalboa. This group is often extended to include West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Hand Dancing, Jive, Rock and Roll, Modern Jive, and other dances developing in the 1940s and later. A strong tradition of social and competitive boogie woogie and rock’n’roll in Europe add these dances to their local swing dance cultures.
Early forms from the 1930s and 1940s
- Lindy Hop evolved in the late 1920s and early 1930s out of Partnered Charleston. It is characterized by an 8-count circular basic or “swing out” and has an emphasis on improvisation and the ability to easily adapt to include other steps in 8-count and 6-count rhythms. It has been danced to almost every conceivable style of music with blues or jazz rhythm (with the exception of jazz waltzes), as well as non-traditional styles of music such as hip hop.
- Balboa is an 8-count dance that emphasizes a strong partner connection and quick footwork. A product of Southern California’s crowded ballrooms, Balboa (or “Bal”) is primarily danced in close embrace. A library of open figures, called Bal-Swing, evolved from LA Swing, which was another Southern California dance that was a contemporary of Balboa. While most dancers differentiate between pure Balboa and Bal-Swing, both are considered to be part of the dance. Balboa is frequently danced to fast jazz (usually anything from 180 to 320 bpm beats per minute), though many like to Balboa to slower (170-190 bpm) tempos.
- Collegiate Shag typically refers to a kind of double shag that is believed to have originated in New York during the 1930s. To call the dance “collegiate shag” would not have been common during the swing era; the addition of the word “collegiate” was supposedly a marketing ploy to attract college-age dancers to certain studios and dance halls. The name Collegiate Shag later became somewhat standard in the latter part of the 20th century (see swing revival), to help distinguish it from other later contemporary dances that shared the “shag” designation (e.g., the Carolina Shag). Collegiate Shag was accompanied by music that emphasized a 2-beat rhythm and was danced in the varieties of single, double, and triple shag. The variety of names describe the amount of slow (step, hop) steps executed before being followed by a single quick, quick rhythm. The most common form recognized as Collegiate Shag is double-shag rhythm.
- St. Louis Shag done in the “Sang That Rhyme” Charleston position. The steps are: two step, rock step, kick forward, step down, kick forward (other leg), stag, step, stomp (repeat). The “stag” is bringing the leg up with the knee bent. As a variation, when repeating, one can do two forward kicks (or “switch, switch”, referring to switching feet) in place of the rock step.
- Jitterbug is often associated with one form of swing dance, but is not in fact a general term for all swing dances and is more appropriately used to describe a swing dancer rather than a specific swing dance (i.e. a jitterbug can dance Lindy Hop, Shag, or another swing dance). The term was famously associated with swing era dancers by band leader Cab Calloway because, as he put it, “They look like a bunch of jitterbugs out there on the floor” due to their fast, often bouncy movements.
Later forms from the 1940s, 1950s and later
- Lindy Hop continued into the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and is featured in many movies of the era featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers withFrankie Manning, Dean Collins (whose style would lead to the creation of West Coast Swing), and Hal Takier and the Ray Rand Dancers.
- Lindy Charleston is essentially 1930s and ’40s partner Charleston woven in and out of Lindy Hop moves. Lindy Charleston involves a number of positions, including side-by-side, hand-to-hand, and tandem Charleston. In “jockey position”, the closed position is opened out so that both partners may face forward, without breaking apart. In side-by-side Charleston, partners open the closed position entirely, so that their only points of connection are at their touching hips and arm contact, wherein the leader’s right hand and arm touch the follower’s back and the follower’s left hand and arm touch the leader’s shoulder and arm. Both partners then swing their free arms as they would in solo Charleston. In both jockey and side-by-side Charleston, the leader steps back onto his left foot, while the follower steps back onto her right. In tandem Charleston, one partner stands in front of the other (usually the follower, though the arrangement may vary), both face in the same direction to start, and both begin by stepping back onto the left foot. The partner behind holds the front partner’s hands at the latter’s hip height, and their joined arms swing backwards and forwards, as in the basic step.
- Eastern Swing is an evolution of Fox Trot.
- East Coast Swing is a simpler 6-count variation of Lindy Hop that evolved with swing band music of the 1940s and the work of the Arthur Murray dance studios in the 1940s. It is also known as 6-count Swing, Triple-Step Swing, or Single-Time Swing. East Coast Swing has very simple structure and footwork along with basic moves and styling. It is popular for its simple nature and is often danced to slow, medium, or fast tempo jazz, blues, or rock and roll. Occasionally, Rockabilly, aka Rock-a-billy, is mistaken for East Coast Swing, but Rockabilly is more closely related to Western Swing.
- West Coast Swing was developed in the 1950s as a stylistic variation on Lindy Hop. It is a slotted dance which is danced to a wide variety of music including: blues, rock and roll,country western, smooth and cool jazz. It is popular throughout the United States and Canada but is uncommon in Europe and much of Asia. West coast swing communities are growing in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
- Western Swing, also called Country Swing or Country/Western Swing (C/W Swing) is a form with a distinct culture. It resembles East Coast Swing, but adds variations from other country dances. It is danced to country and western music.
- Boogie-woogie developed originally in the 1940s with the rise of boogie woogie music. It is popular today in Europe, and was considered by some to be the European counterpart toEast Coast Swing, a Six count dance standardized for the American ballroom industry. It is danced to rock music of various kinds, blues or boogie woogie music but usually not to jazz. As the dance has developed it has also taken to 8-count variations and swing outs similar to Lindy Hop, while keeping the original boogie woogie footwork.
- Carolina Shag was danced along the strands between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, during the 1940s. It is most often associated with beach music, which refers to songs that are rhythm and blues based and, according to Bo Bryan, a noted shag historian and resident of Beaufort County, is a term that was coined at Carolina Beach, North Carolina.
- Imperial Swing is a cross between East Coast and West Coast Swing as it is done in slot and in the round. It started at the Club Imperial in St Louis. George Edick, who owned the club, let teenagers dance on the lower level and the swing dancers of the time taught them what was learned from their trips to the east coast. As people traveled around they added parts of west coast, bop and Carolina shag to complement the dance and make it distinctive. People can tell the difference between St. Louis dancers and dancers from other parts of the country. “The Imperial” has elements of “East Coast”, “West Coast”, “Carolina Shag”, and “Bop”.
- Jive is a dance of International Style Ballroom dancing. It initially was based on Eastern swing brought to England by Americans Troops in World War II and evolved before becoming the now standardized form of today.
- Skip Jive A British variant, popular in the 1950s and 1960s danced to trad jazz.
- Modern Jive – also known as LeRoc and Ceroc – developed in the 1980s, reputedly from a French form of Jive. Modern Jive is not technically of the Jive family which typically use a 6 count pattern of various combinations of walking and triple steps (Ballroom Jive – back/replace triple-triple; Swing Jive – triple-triple back/replace) etc. It is pared down to a simple box step and concentrating on the simpler forms of couple dance styling gauged to provide a social atmosphere rather than technical aptitude. There are debates about whether it is a form of swing dancing due to lack of syncopations, rhythmic footwork variations, a static partner dynamic, and lack of swinging music, amongst the swing community at large, but they do consider themselves a style of swing.
- Rock and Roll – Developing in the 1950s in response to rock and roll music, rock and roll is very popular in Australia and danced socially as well as competitively and in performances. The style has a long association with Lindy Hop in that country, as many of the earliest lindy hoppers in the early 1990s moved to Lindy Hop from a rock and roll tradition. There are ongoing debates about whether rock and roll constitutes swing dancing, particularly in reference to the music to which it is danced: there is some debate as to whether or not itswings. Despite these discussions, many of the older Lindy Hoppers are also keen rock and roll dancers, with rock and roll characterized by an older dancer (30s and older) than Lindy Hop (25 and under).
- Acrobatic Rock’n’Roll Popular in Europe, acrobatic rock and roll is popularly associated with Russian gymnasts who took up the dance, though it is popular throughout Europe today. It is a performance dance and sport rather than a social dance, though there are people who remove the acrobatic stunts to dance it on a social level.
- Washington Hand Dancing originated in the Washington, DC, Area in the mid-1950s D.C.’s own adaption of the Lindy Hop once the music changed and a new generation of dancers started innovating to Soul Music and R&B. From its very beginning, DC Hand-dance was referred to and called “DC Hand-Dance/Hand-Dancing”, “DC Swing”, “DC Style” (swing) and “fast dance” (meaning DC Hand-Dance). This is the first time a version of “swing” dance was termed “hand-dance/hand-dancing”. DC Hand-Dance is characterized by very smooth footwork and movements, and close-in and intricate hand-turns, danced to a 6-beat, 6- to 8-count dance rhythm. The more modern footwork consists of smooth and continuous floor contact, sliding and gliding-type steps versus hopping and jumping-type steps of the older style which was stylistically still held elements of its Jitterbug/Lindy Hop roots, and there are no aerials.
- Push and Whip are Texas forms of swing dance developed in the 1940s and 1950s. They are slotted swing dances, danced to a wide variety of music including blues, pop, jazz, and rock and roll. Similar to West Coast Swing, they emphasize the closed position, double resistance/rock step, and lead-follow. Slow Whip is a variation on Whip/Push that is danced to slow blues music, typically 60 bpm or less.
- Modern Swing brings a modern update to traditional Lindy Hop from the 1940s and 1950s. Among its influential figures are dancers Yuval Hod and Nathalie Gomez (world champions in several occasions) who are known for incorporating Salsa and ballroom moves into Lindy Hop, using a variety of modern clean “swing outs” and wearing modern outfits in competitions. Despite the popularity of modern swing technique in Lindy Hop circles in the US and worldwide, many dancers in Lindy Hop communities prefer to stick to the old tradition. As opposed to modern swing technique, followers of old-style traditional Lindy Hop prefer not to use moves and technique that cannot be found in movies from the 1950s, 1940s, 1930s and 1920s. Traditional Lindy Hop in its purest form is found in many US locations and Sweeden. Sweedish Lindy Hoppers preserve much of the old-style technique which was passed on to them by Frankie Manning through various visits in the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, old-style Lindy Hop technique is more popular that modern technique in swing communities around the world.