WHAT IS SWING DANCING?

Swing Dancing encompasses a variety of dances that were created from the 1920s - 1950s. The music of each decade is what inspired people to create these different dance styles. Most of these dances began in African American communities, with the exception of styles like the Balboa. These can be danced individually or mixed together, even in the same song! In most cases they are danced with a partner and it is incredibly social and fun!

 

Below you will find a list of the Swing Era Dances that we can offer through the Northwest Swing Dance Co.

JITTERBUG

The Jitterbug is also known to people as "East Coast Swing" or "6-Count" and can be danced to most Big Band, 50s Rock & Roll or really anything that "swings". It is a 6 count pattern that repeats usually starting with a rock step (although ballrooms that teach this pattern will end with the rock step). The 3 different rhythms used for Jitterbug is a single step, kick step, and triple step. These rhythms can be used individually or mixed within the 6 count pattern. Dancers typically begin with this Swing Dance style as it tends to be the easiest to learn.

The origin of the term Jitterbug means different things to different people. Some say it referred to a drunk person having the "jitters" and others think it came from dancers that had exaggerated movements, let loose, and jumped around without any control. The name gained popularity when used by Cab Calloway in the film "Jitterbug Party" as well as the song "Call Of The Jitterbug" in 1935.

The specific 6 count pattern of the Jitterbug/East Coast Swing is said to have come from Arthur Murray, who thought it would be easier for people to learn a simplified 6 count pattern instead of dances like the 8 count Lindy Hop.

 

LINDY HOP

If you are going to call yourself a "Swing Dancer" then you need to learn the Lindy Hop! This dance is what optimizes the Swing Era. It is an 8 count dance that is taught with a pulse, moving down into the floor. It can be danced to any tempo with a (preferably) smooth feel to it. The posture has an African dance look and feel to it. Lindy Hop is usually danced to the music of the 1930s & 1940s or to any music that "swings".

 

Legend has it that the name Lindy Hop came about around 1927 when aviator Charles Lindbergh "hopped" the Atlantic. The famous pilot's name was "Lucky Lindy". When one of the dancers of the Savoy Ballroom, "Shorty" George Snowden was asked what dance he was doing he told reporters it was the Lindy Hop, connecting the headline "Lindy hops the Atlantic" with the new dance craze.

It has African roots and was primarily danced by Black people in Harlem, New York in the late 1920s in ballrooms like the Savoy. The Lindy was so different because it was the first dance that had partners break away from each other while dancing, unlike previous partnered dances like Foxtrot, Waltz and even Charleston. It was a joyous dance that helped people get through things like racism and The Great Depression.

The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem was the most famous home of the Lindy Hop! Chick Webb was the house band with other famous band leaders coming in to play such as Benny Goodman, Buddy Johnson, Lucky Millinder, and Count Basie. The greatest Lindy Hoppers in the world danced there such as Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Shorty George Snowden, and Big Bea. The first Lindy Hop performance troupe came out of the Savoy and called themselves Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. They would appear in many films of the Swing Era which helped to get the Lindy Hop more popularized.

The greatest thing to come out of the Savoy Ballroom was that it was one of the first ballrooms of its time to be racially integrated and had a no discrimination policy. Blacks and whites danced together nightly. Skin color didn't matter...they only cared if you could dance or not!

 

BALBOA / BAL-SWING

Balboa is an 8 count dance which is typically done to faster tempos of 170bpm+ (but really can be danced to any tempo). Because of the "shuffling" footwork done in a small/precise space you are able to dance fast without breaking a sweat! The posture for Balboa is more upright with just a slight bend in the knees. The basic uses steps and holds and utilizes a full body connection. Pure Balboa is when you and your partner stay in closed position and Bal-Swing is when you separate from your partner for moves like Throwouts, Lollies, and Crossovers. Balboa and Bal-Swing is danced to the jazz music of the 1930s & 1940s but anything with a swing beat will work!

The dance was created in Southern California in a city called Newport Beach. The "Balboa" got its name from the Balboa Peninsula at Newport Beach where the dance started. Balboa dancers would gather in the Balboa Pavilion (and later in the Rendezvous Ballroom just a few blocks away). The Rendezvous Ballroom was built in 1928 - it was a two story dance hall covering half a block with a capacity probably in excess of 4000 at its peak. The dance floor was 12,000 square feet and could easily accommodate over 1,500 couples! Because of the lack of space on the dance floor, Pure Balboa was only allowed in the crowded ballrooms.

The original dancers tell stories of how they danced Pure Balboa until they were tired of staying in closed position and went into Bal-Swing, which got them kicked out of the ballroom! They didn't care because they would just hop on the Red Line (train) and do it all over again at various ballrooms up and down the coast.

 

20s CHARLESTON

1920s Charleston is an 8 count dance (done solo or with a partner) with a simple basic of touching and stepping with the feet. It feels best when done to ragtime jazz music in a quick 4/4 time with syncopated rhythms. The dance is very energetic and exuberant, using big kicks and arm movements. Having a hop in your step is important to get the proper look/feel of 20s Charleston. 

Rather than dancing the popular dances of the late 19th century and early 20th century, such as the polka, two-step, or waltz, (like their parents & grandparents did) the younger generation of the Roaring '20s created this new dance craze. The Charleston became popular as a dance after appearing along with the song "The Charleston," by James P. Johnson, in the Broadway musical "Runnin' Wild" in 1923. Some dance historians believe its origins came from Trinidad, Nigeria & Ghana, and first appeared in the U.S. around 1903 in southern communities like Charleston, South Carolina.
 

Partnered 20s Charleston is said to be the what inspired the Lindy Hop. If you watch the film clip "After Seben" dancer Shorty George Snowden and his partner Liza Underdunk breakaway from each other in a Lindy swingout type of shape.

 

LINDY CHARLESTON

Lindy Charleston is an 8 count dance that combines...you guessed it! 1920s Charleston and the Lindy Hop.

 

Using big kicks and hops inspired from 20s Charleston along with the lower posture and pulse of the Lindy Hop, you get Lindy Charleston. It is done mostly with a partner but you will find some solo moves done in popular line dances of the Swing Era (like The Big Apple). Unlike 20s Charleston this version feels much better when done to music that swings! 

There are two common Lindy Charleston positions. The first is a "Side by Side" where the leader and follower are facing the same direction and share a hip connection. The second is called "Tandem Charleston" or some call it "Shadow Charleston" where the follower is directly in front of the leader (or the positions can be switched with some fun moves!) There are tons of variations and stylings you can do with the Lindy Charleston such as hand to hand, chase, and the kickaway. Here's a pro tip for you: If you want to keep your partner happy, avoid doing this dance to slower tempos!

 

COLLEGIATE SHAG

Collegiate Shag is another partnered dance from the Swing Era that is typically done to faster tempos. The posture for Shag is more upright (like Balboa) and uses footwork patterns of steps and hops. There are 3 different rhythms used in Collegiate Shag: Single, Double, and Triple. The rhythm you are dancing has to do with the number of slows (step-hops) that happen in one basic followed by a quick-quick.

Unfortunately, the origins of Shag are not very clear but it is thought to have evolved from the Foxtrot. Dance historians state that it started in the southern U.S. and was known as a "street dance", which basically means it wasn't created in any kind of dance studio. The dance wasn't universally known as Shag, as others also called it the Flea Hop. The "Collegiate" part of the name describes the college age dancers that brought a youthful energy to the dance.

Other Shag dances that became popular in the 1940s and 1950s are Carolina Shag and St. Louis Shag. These other forms of Shag have a very different look and feel from Collegiate.

 

SOLO JAZZ

Solo Jazz can also be referred to as Vernacular or Authentic Jazz. One of the fun things about dancing Solo Jazz is that it can be done to all styles of swing and all tempos. Actually it can probably be danced to any style of music! Although we mainly teach the jazz steps solo, we will also show you how you can incorporate it into your partner dancing.

The origins of jazz dance and its development trace back to traditional African movements. Africans had to find ways to adapt to their new environments and lifestyle, but they also wanted to retain their native traditions. The blending of African body movements, coupled with the European formal dances, produced a new form of dancing to create the Afro-American Vernacular. Authors Marshall & Jean Stearns (who wrote the book Jazz Dance: The Story of the American Vernacular Dance) continually stress two characteristics of jazz dance, that can be traced to the African-American tradition: propulsive rhythms, and improvisation. From this tradition, much later came to the dancing what we see on television, broadway, in night clubs, and ballrooms.

Nowadays most people usually connect Jazz Dancing to Modern Dance and Ballet-based dance forms, which are only loosely (if not at all) connected to jazz music.

 

It’s important for all dancers to learn about authentic jazz dancing.  From this art form we see the tone that was set for many of the social dances that proceed such has popping, locking, hip hop house, b-boy/b-girling, etc.  But now jazz and any other street dance forms seem so far from each other, when in actuality, they have so much in common.  Hopefully we can find a way to bring back the jazz dance that was to be a popular form around the world again.  It makes sense why hip hop pioneers get extremely upset when they see an art form which they played a part in creating, turning into something completely different.
 

The most important part of dancing Authentic Jazz is to find YOUR style. Take inspiration from others but ultimately try not copy exactly. Who knows...maybe the next cool move will be named after you!

(Excerpts from authenticjazzdance and Holla Jazz)

 

BLUES

Like Swing dance, Blues dance originated and evolved from African rhythms and movements. However, Blues dancing was never widely practiced as a "social" or performance dance in the United States outside of the Black communities; so it developed and thrived in juke joints and at Blues house parties and rent parties, giving it a more intimate feel.

 

Because the Blues dances never caught on with White America the way Swing dancing did, it remained strongly entrenched in African principles of movement, not only in the motion of the hips, but in the characteristic creation of, and dancing within, a boundary.

Blues dance is strongly tied to Blues music, and many aspects of Blues dancing (for example, call and response, emotional intensity, and tension and release) are directly related to the music to which it is danced. There are many types of Blues music (rural, urban, electric, delta, modern), and also many types of Blues dance, all with very different nuances and emotions. Within the different types of Blues music (and dances done to it) are varying tempos. 

 

Early Blues dances often contained very simple one-step or two-step patterns. Dances such as the "Slow Drag" and the "Mooche" have been passed down to us relatively unchanged from the original forms. In its modern context, Blues dance incorporates many aspects of these original dances as well as incorporating ideas from modern concepts of partner connection, improvisation, and natural body movement.

Blues is also an emotion that you bring to your dancing. Blues dance, like most Black vernacular dances, enables intense individuality in expressing the music, emphasizing that the music, not the dancer, leads the dance; the dancer is simply the interpreter. Blues dance demonstrates the passion of the entire range of human emotions - from sadness to joy - not just sensuality. If you don't have a visceral reaction to the music, your partner, and the environment, then you are missing the true beauty of Blues dance.

 

Some observers and dancers who have not studied Blues dance other than by simple observation often overlook the nuance of the dances. To their eyes, the sensual appearance of the dances may overshadow their basis and structure. Blues dancing at its best is rooted in subtle physical communication and connection between your partner, yourself, and the music and therefore is almost impossible to learn to execute well simply by watching.

 

Learning to Blues dance enables the dancer to more fully understand dance concepts such as simplicity, clarity, creativity, expression, intensity, and musical and emotional interpretation that are critical to advanced social dancing of any kind.

(Excerpts from Colorado Blues Dance with edits by Damon Stone)

 

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