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4 Styles of Swing:

The Crossroads of Swing Dancing

by Robert Romero


Swing dancing is most associated with the 1940s, but it has its origins in dances of the 1920s. In the mid-20s, dancers in New York City were incorporating elements from the Charleston and other popular dances into what became the Lindy Hop. This dance was named in 1927 at the Savoy Ballroom to commemorate Lindbergh’s solo cross-Atlantic flight. The Lindy Hop remains associated with the Savoy Ballroom to this day, and is the ancestor of most other forms of swing dance. The Lindy Hop is credited with breaking the race barrier, since the nightly dances at the Savoy attracted the best dancers in New York City, both black and white.

Different sorts of swing dance are distinguished by music and styling, so it can be hard to differentiate them technically. Generally speaking, however, the Lindy Hop has an eight count step, consisting of two single steps followed by a triple step, repeated. This versatile dance also has the ability to incorporate six count patterns. The Lindy Hop is generally danced using a low, loose-legged position, giving the dancers a low center of gravity. It can also include kicks and the wilder elements of the Charleston. One of the most attractive features of the Lindy Hop is the room it allows for improvisation. While the basic steps are common to the dance, all sorts of flourishes and stylings can be added, making each individual performance unique. The Lindy Hop died away for some time, but has recently enjoyed a revival, since the mid 1980s. The United States hosts the largest number of Lindy Hoppers in the world, but there are communities of dancers in Europe, Australia, Canada, and many other countries. Another form of swing which evolved from the Lindy Hop is the Jitterbug. This dance is technically very similar to its forebear, but the styling distinguishes it. Dancers of the Jitterbug were said to look as though they had been drinking illegal moonshine, or “jitter juice.”

In the late 1930s, West Coast Swing evolved from the Lindy Hop. This smooth style features a distinctive “slot” dancing approach formed from dancing along the sides of the floor while the Jitterbugs took up space in the center. Modern West Coast Swing can be conservative in posture, or wilder, but historically, this “sophisticated swing” was smoother and danced with less abandon than the earlier dances. Much of its popularity heralds from the banning of the Jitterbug from serious dance halls in the lat 1940s. West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music performed in 4/4 time. Its origins are in the “swing era” of music, or what we most commonly associate with swing dancing, but modern dancers have often added soul, funk, rock, and pop to their West Coast Swing libraries.

The Carolina Shag is stylistically similar to West Coast Swing. It originated in North Carolina in the late 1930s and early 1940s and is associated with beach music. The upper body and hips remain largely stationary in this dance, as all the fancy moves are taken up by the legs and feet. Kicks and fancy footwork are popular. The lead dancer is the center of attention, with the following partner mirroring moves or marking time during spins and wild moves. The Carolina Shag is still danced today, but is largely confined to the southern United States. It features a relaxed posture, as in West Coast Swing, but without the leverage and compression between the partners. The Carolina Shag tends to glide, rather than bounce, through the progression of the dance.

East Coast Swing, also known as Ballroom Swing, also derived from a type of Shag. In this case, Shag is the leaping version of the Foxtrot, which evolved into Eastern Swing. With the addition of elements from the Lindy Hop and Charleston, these form East Coast Swing. The name was originally coined to distinguish between the street form of the dance and the new variant being danced in formal ballrooms and classes. It is a standardized form of the dance which allows for comparison between competitive dancers, and as such, is one of the few types of swing dance with a right and wrong way to dance it. Technical elements of this form of dance are documented and governed by the National Dance Council of America. East Coast Swing is danced in six counts. It is also called Single Time, Triple Step, and Six Count Swing. It has a simple structure and footwork with basic moves and styling. Its forgiving nature makes it popular and allows it to be danced to almost any tempo and type of music. By the early 1940s, many studios were teaching this codified form of the wilder swing dances. It continues today as a popular ballroom dance.

The popularity of swing has ebbed and flowed over time, but it has been experiencing a revival since the lat 1980s. Dancers today are likely to be more creative and break the original “rules” of an individual style of swing. While traditionally, swing was danced to specific types of music and the following partner did so one hundred percent, modern swing dancers are likely to incorporate more interactive dancing to unusual music. Creativity and personal styling are coming back, as they were at the beginning of swing dance. The renewed popularity of the wilder swing styles such as Lindy Hop is a testament to this renewed individualism. Internet message boards and networks are also helping to spread the new popularity of older dances, since they allow interested parties to get together and discuss their hobby in ways that were previously impossible. Regional swing clubs are springing up in many locations. Each city and country will vary in their preference for particular dances, keeping the regional variations in swing dancing alive, almost a hundred years after its inception.



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