If you want to learn an energetic and rhythmic dance with a partner, then Swing is for you! Swing has been around for decades, starting in the 1920s. There are different types and styles of swing, making it very versatile with lots of options. In the U.S., there is a West Coast Swing, an East Coast Swing, and many other types of swing dances. All swing music has a 4/4 time and both types have the same basic six-count timing of 1,2,3-and-4, 5-and-6. But, the speed and feel of the music can differ a bit for each version.
At Fred Astaire, we love to teach swing dance! It’s one of our favorites because of the vivacious energy and steps. We wanted to spend some time on the history of swing in this article, specifically, East Coast Swing that derived from the Lindy Hop–how it started, how it has changed over the years, and what it looks like today.
What Is Swing?
Swing dance is actually a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s through 1940. Historically, “swing” referred to the style of jazz music that inspired the dance. During that time, hundreds of styles of swing dancing developed. The ones that have survived through the decades since are the Lindy Hop, Collegiate Shag, and the Charleston. The most popular, and the one that is most widely known, is the Lindy Hop, which originated in Harlem in the early 1930s. The category of “swing dance” was not commonly used to identify a group of dances until the latter half of the 20th century.
The term “swing dancing” includes other dances that don’t have certain characteristics shared in traditional swing dances such as the Carolina Shag, East Coast Swing, Jive, and Rock and Roll. These as well as other related dances were developed during the 1940s and later.
How Swing Dancing Started
As we said above, swing dancing originated in Harlem during the 1920s with jazz music, and it was called “Lindy Hop.” Cab Calloway was one of the band leaders who developed the type of music that lent itself to the bouncy movements of swing. The Lindy Hop, also called the Jitterbug, is purported to be the original form of swing dance. It combined elements of both partnered and solo dancing using movements of African-American dances along with the formal eight-count structure of European partner dances. You can see this in the basic Lindy step called the swingout. However, the core of the Lindy Hop is characterized by a lot of physical vigor and a tap on the dance shoes. In the 1930s, the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem was the center of the dance as it continued to evolve. In the decades afterward, more professional dance troupes formed around the dance, making the popularity more widespread.
Over the Decades
Since the beginning of swing dancing, music has changed and so has the dance. Swing dance has evolved across the U.S. to accompany many musical genres such as jazz, bop, rhythm & blues, rock and roll, country, and disco. Over time, ballroom dance studio instructors began to simplify the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, and Swing in order to reduce the complexities of the dance for the public. This resulted in the creation of the two swing dance styles, the East Coast Swing and the West Coast Swing. As a social dance, swing continues to attract a vibrant crowd of all ages as it fosters life skills such as connection, trust, and improvisation.
Swing Dance Today
Swing dance remains a very popular type of dance today. There are many different versions for swing dance so there are a lot of options to choose from. Here are just a few.
The Lindy Hop is still one of the most popular types of swing dance even today. Lindy hop uses six- and eight-count swing dance patterns. It is danced as a social dance, a competitive dance, and a performance dance. It is a dance that lends itself to improvisation, which is a central part of social dancing and many performance and competition pieces.
The Balboa evolved from the Lindy Hop and Charleston and originated in Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula in Southern California. This dance has more upright dance steps than other swing dances.
East Coast Swing
The East Coast Swing emerged in the 1940s with Arthur Murray’s dance studio throughout the U.S. Other names for this dance are the Jitterbug, Triple Swing, and American Swing. The East Coast Swing uses six-count patterns and is a spot dance with moves in circular fashion and ending in a rock step.
West Coast Swing
The West Coast Swing developed from the Lindy Hop and other genres of swing dance in the 1950s. This is a much smoother version of Lindy Hop and is the most sensual types of swing dance styles. Hollywood movies added to the dance’s popularity.
Jive was first performed by the American swing dancers who showcased the dance in Europe. Now, Jive is part of the five dance styles and genres that form the International Latin dance style competitions. It is very similar to the East Coast Swing and is performed within a circular area with lots of kicks, spins, and underarm turns.
Contact Fred Astaire in Durham to Learn How to Swing Dance!
Regardless of the swing dance you choose, you will have a fun experience learning it at Fred Astaire! Our facility is state-of-the-art with a large dance floor used for lessons and public dances. Our professional and experienced instructors create the perfect environment for you to learn, practice, and have fun. Call us at 919-489-4313 or fill out the form below to get started!