History of Swing Dance
The term "swing dance" commonly refers to a group of dances that developed concurrently with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, 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 vernacular African 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 developed countries throughout the world. Lindy Hop is often the most popular, though each city and country varies preferences 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, Shag, Balboa and Blues. 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 acrobatic rock and roll in Europe add these dances to their local swing dance cultures. In Singapore and other scenes, Latin dances such as salsa and Tango are often taught and danced within the "Swing scene", and for many scenes tap dancing and a range of other jazz dances are considered key, as are hip hop and other contemporary African American street dances. The variations continue, dictated by local dance community interests.
Many swing dancers today argue that it is important to dance many styles of partner dance to improve technique, but also to reflect the historical relationship between these dances in the swing era of the 1920s and 1930s. In the Savoy Ballroom, for example, bands would often play waltzes, Latin songs and so on, as well as swinging jazz. Dancers were often familiar with a wide range of popular and traditional dances.
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 break away 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, 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 beats per minute), though many like to Balboa to slower tempos.
Collegiate Shag was danced in the early thirties to dance 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 "side-by-side" Charleston position. The steps are: 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 dancers in 1938
Jitterbug is often associated with one form of swing dance, but is 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.
Lindy Hop continued into the 1940s and 1950s and is featured in many movies of the era featuring Whitey's Lindy Hoppers with Frankie Manning, Dean Collins (whose style would lead to the creation of West Coast Swing), and Hal Takier and the Ray Rand Dancers.
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 to East 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.
Eastern Swing is an evolution of Fox Trot and the precursor to the more modern East Coast Swing.
East Coast Swing is a simpler 6-count variation. It is also known as Single-Time Swing, Triple-Step Swing, 6-Count Swing, or Rock-a-billy. East Coast Swing has very simple structure and footwork along with basic moves and styling. It is popular for its simple nature, and it is often danced to slow, medium, or fast tempo jazz, blues, or rock and roll.
Imperial Swing is a cross between East Coast and West coast 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".
Carolina Shag originated 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.
Washington Hand Dancing originated in the Washington, D.C., Area in the mid-1950s as D.C.s own version of swing dancing. From its very beginning, D.C. Hand-dance was referred to and called D.C. Hand-Dance/Hand-Dancing, D.C. Swing, D.C. Style (swing) and fast dance (meaning D.C. Hand-Dance). This is the first time a version of swing dance was termed hand-dance/hand-dancing. D.C. 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 footwork consists of smooth and continuous floor contact, sliding and gliding-type steps (versus hopping and jumping-type steps), and there are no aerials.
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.
Push and Whip are Texas forms of swing dance developed in the 1940's and 1950's. 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 a variation on Whip/Push that is danced to slow blues music, typically 60bpm or less.
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.
Skip Jive A British variant, popular in the 1950s and 1960s danced to trad jazz.
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 developing in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
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 it swings. Despite these discussions, many of the older lindy hoppers are also keen rock and roll dancers, with rock and roll characterised by an older dancer (30s and older) than Lindy Hop (25 and under).
Acrobatic Rock and 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 more a performance dance and sport than a social dance.
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 constitutes the simplest form of couples dance style gauged to provide a social atmosphere rather than technical aptitude.
Blues Dance today is an informal type of dance with no fixed patterns and a heavy focus on connection, sensuality and improvisation, often with strong body contact. Although usually done to blues music, it can be done to any slow tempo 4/4 music, including rock ballads and "club" music. "Blues dancing" is popular in many swing dance communities.
Traditionally, distinctions are made between "Ballroom Swing" and "Jazz Dance Swing" styles. East Coast Swing is a standardized dance in "American Style" Ballroom dancing, while Jive is a standardized dance in "International Style"; however both of these falls under the "Ballroom Swing" umbrella.
Jazz Dance forms (evolved in dancehalls) vs. ballroom forms (created for ballroom competition format) are different in appearance. Jazz Dance forms include Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Charleston.
Types of Competition
Dance competitions specify which forms are to be judged, and are generally available in four different formats:
1) Strictly: One couple competing together in various heats, to randomly selected music, where no pre-choreographed steps are allowed.
2) Jack and Jill: Where leads and follows are randomly matched for the competition. In initial rounds leads and follows usually compete individually, but in final rounds, scoring depends on the ability of the partner you draw and your ability to work with that partner.
3) Showcase: One couple competing together for a single song which has been previously choreographed.
4) Classic: Similar to Showcase but with restrictions on lifts, drops, moves where one partner supports the weight of the other partner, and moves where the partners are not in physical contact.
Judging for competition is based on the three "T's" as well as showmanship (unless the contest in question designates the audience as the deciding factor).
The three "T's" consist of:
1) Timing - Related to tempo & rhythm of the music.
2) Teamwork - How well a lead and follow dance together and lead/follow dance variations.
3) Technique - How clean and precise the cooperative dancing is executed.
Showmanship consists of presentation, creativity, costumes, and difficulty.
Additionally a "Team Formation" division may also be specified at a competition. Under this category a minimum of 3 to 5 couples (depending on indivdual competition rules) perform a prechoreographed routine to a song of their choosing, where the group dances in syncronation and into different formations. This division is also judged using the three "T's" and showmanship; however this criteria now applies to the team as a whole.
Social swing Dancing
Many, if not most, of the swing dances listed above are popular as social dances, with vibrant local communities that hold dances with DJs and live bands that play music most appropriate for the preferred dance style. There are frequently active local clubs and associations, classes with independent or studio-/school-affiliated teachers and workshops with visiting or local teachers. Most of these dance styles as with many other styles also feature special events such as camps or exchanges.
The historical development of particular swing dance styles was often in response to trends in popular music. Charleston, for example, was - and is - usually danced to 2/4 ragtime music, Lindy Hop was danced to swing music, which is a kind of swinging jazz. West Coast Swing a modern evolution of Lindy Hop is usually danced to Pop, R&B, Blues, or Funk. Country & Western Swing, and Push/Whip are usually danced to country and western music. Hip hop lindy is danced to hip hop music, and blues dancing either to historical blues music forms, or to slower music from a range of genres (though most frequently to jazz or blues). There are local variations on these associations in each scene, often informed by the local DJ's, dance teachers and bands.