Introduction to Swing
Do you love fun, upbeat music? Do you enjoy learning new dance steps and styles? Learn to swing and you will never find yourself standing alone at the edge of a crowded dance floor again. Instead, you`ll be the life of the party. Let your unique personality shine as you add your flair to the basic swing moves.
History of Swing
Swing music and swing dancing entered the stage during a particularly tough period of time in US history. Shortly after the end of World War I, prohibition laws were put into effect and musicians lost a large portion of their audiences. Soon after, the stock market crashed and the United States entered the Great Depression. Finally, right as things were looking up, World War II began and everyone`s brother, father, and husband got shipped off to battle Germany.
Fortunately, jazz musicians are famous for using their music to help people persevere through even the toughest of times. After World War I, Jazz shifted into The Swing Era, a period that would last twenty five years. Swing dancing developed in the jazz halls of the 1920s as dancers, frustrated with dance moves that couldn`t keep up with the rhythm of the music, developed a completely new style of dance.
By the mid-Thirties, dance halls all over the country were dancing the Lindy Hop and the less complex Jitterbug. Dance instructors claimed that the wild and crazy dances were just a fad and would disappear as quickly as they came. However, the swing style stuck and dance schools everywhere began to teach swing to their eager students.
Swing dance served as entertainment and stress relief during the worst economic period in American history. Throughout the Great Depression, swing continued to spread throughout the country. This affordable form of entertainment kept people social, active, and distracted from the reality of the depression.
Every region of the United States tweaked the dances to suit their music and their culture. As a result, East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing were developed. In a similar fashion, the Charleston is quite unlike DC Swing. By the 1940s, swing was nationwide and spreading. Soldiers in World War II even carried the style to Europe, where alternative forms of swing then developed. Those styles returned to the United States after the war and changed form again.
As the United States moved out of its 25+ year long period of trouble, swing didn`t lose any of its popularity. The steps were so versatile they could be applied to virtually any style of music. As music changed, so did swing. Country music and rock`n`roll were added to the swing repertoire. By the 1990s, teenagers and retirees were dancing together in swing clubs and competing in national swing competitions.
Today, swing dancing takes place to almost any form of music. The steps are adaptable to many different rhythms and styles of music. Swing was developed by people who faced the Great Depression with both determination and a positive outlook. With its upbeat and enthusiastic tempo, swing mimics the positive attitude of those who created the style.
Swing Music: Past & Present
Swing music developed in a period of jazz history commonly known as The Swing Era. This development in swing took place from the late 1920s through 1945. During this time, many great jazz musicians had the opportunity to explore a new realm of jazz. As a result, dancers had an excellent variety of new swing music to which they could dance their new steps.
The Great Depression was largely responsible for this shift in jazz style. While many of the original jazz musicians dropped out of the music scene when the money disappeared, many talented and innovative young musicians entered the field as their real jobs disappeared. At the moment when Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Benny Goodman finished laying the foundation for this period of jazz development, the influx of talent allowed jazz to become swing.
Types of Swing Dances
Across the country, there are many forms of swing. Not only are there different steps, the styles mimic the culture of the region in which they developed. Each regional swing dance takes advantage of the upbeat nature of swing music, rock`n`roll, and other music styles. Regardless of location, the quick pace and controlled movements remain the core of swing dancing.
There are two very distinct periods of swing dance development. The first period took place between the 1920s and 1940s. The second period began at the end of World War II and continued well into the 60s. Today, the swing dances of the 1920s through the 1960s are all actively used by swing dancers. Some swing advocates prefer the classics while others prefer the more modern rock`n`roll and jive forms of swing. The following list details the various forms of swing and their primary characteristics.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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).
• 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).
Once everyone`s soldiers returned from World War II, the second period of swing began with great enthusiasm. Young soldiers wanted to go out to socialize with their friends and meet women. Dance halls provided young people with an excellent place to meet and socialize.
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 with Frankie 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 to East Coast Swing, a Six count dance standardized for the American ballroom industry.
• Carolina Shag was danced along the strands between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, during the 1940s.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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,
• 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.
Competition ballroom dancing has existed for several decades. Swing was translated into ballroom friendly forms when it was first introduced to the ballroom dancing arena. However, competition today also includes the unmodified swing style.
If you are interested in swing competition, your local swing club may have an active competition team. Dance schools and universities also host adult swing competition teams.
Each form of Swing Dance and each organization within those forms will have various rules, but those most often used are pulled and adapted from Ballroom follow - 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.
It should be noted that Lindy Hops most prestigious events have never used these criteria, usually having the simple judging value of who was the best/most impressive Lindy Hop couple. The Harvest Moon Ball competition in New York City, Th American Vernacular Jazz Institute`s Hellzapoppin` Competition and the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown all fall into these category.
Competition is a fun and challenging way to improve your dance technique and see the latest in swing style. Unlike social swing, you are required to meet team expectations and requirements. When you join a swing team, you may have to purchase a specific uniform and/or special footwear. You will be required to attend all practices and training sessions. If the team travels, you will need to plan accordingly for competition trips.
You don`t have to have a dance partner or a group of friends in order to swing dance. Swing dancing is a social activity. You have the opportunity to meet new people in a fun and exciting environment. For the most part, everyone is more than happy to share their knowledge of swing dancing with each other. You are not required to have expert swing skills to be welcomed into a swing club.
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.
Almost every mid to large size city has an active swing community. Check your local newspaper and online event listings for events in your area. If you are unable to locate any events in your city, try the next city over. You might meet people who can send you in the right direction. Don`t be afraid to ask people questions about swing dancing. You never know what you might learn from a fellow dancer.
That old saying, “Time flies when you`re having fun,” is particularly true when you are swing dancing. You won`t even realize you were on the dance floor for ten songs in a row. After three or four hours of nonstop dancing, you will put in more hours of cardio than most people get in an entire week.
The health benefits associated with an exercise you enjoy are endless.
• Increased cardiovascular activity burns fat and calories.
• Tones and strengthens your leg, core, and arm muscles.
• Increases flexibility and stability.
• Promotes healthy weight loss.
• Reduces stress and increases energy levels.
• Improves posture and coordination.
• Strengthens bones in your ankles, knees, and hips.
Unlike walking on a treadmill or swimming laps, swing dancing combines physical activity with social activity. The exercise is fun and stimulating, thereby reducing the likelihood of boredom or burnout.
Learn To Swing Dance
There are virtually endless resources available for learning how to swing dance. You can begin with online and DVD resources if you would like to get the hang of the individual steps. Once you are comfortable with the moves and the music, try a swing club or a dance class. You will meet others who share your interest in swing and are at a similar skill level.
• Online lessons: Free lessons are available online. They explain the steps for each in individual movements. Some online lessons even include videos and pictures. There are lots of free online video lessons available.
• DVDs: Your local library or bookstore may have exercise DVDs that teach you how to swing dance. You can also order DVDs online from anywhere that sells exercise videos.
• Swing clubs: Look in your local newspaper or on a community web site to find your local swing club. Often, these clubs will hold free lessons to teach new steps and increase club membership. If you can find free classes, take advantage of them as often as possible.
• Dance classes: Many dance schools offer adult dance classes. These classes include jazz, swing, and hip-hop. Adult classes are quite affordable and are designed to fit a working person`s schedule. Your local gym may also offer dance classes at different times during the year.
If all else fails, you can post an wanted ad for a dance instructor in your local listings. When you receive a response, you may also find your connection to your community`s swing scene.
What To Wear
While swing dancing has no set uniform, here are some recommendations for appropriate clothing to wear when swing dancing.
Shoes: Any shoe that will provide support and stability while you are cavorting around on the dance floor should work well. For women, ballroom dancing shoes are an excellent option. If you would rather not wear heels to dance, you can also wear a Ked-like shoe. For men, dress shoes or other lace up shoes are great options.
Clothing: Wear clothes that allow you to move freely as you dance. Clothing that is overly tight or restricting will limit your dancing ability. Lightweight, loose clothing is ideal. Unless otherwise specified, formal clothing is not required. Overly casual clothing may not be appropriate at most venues. Regardless of what you wear, your comfort is important.
Jewelry and Accessories: Until you master the moves, avoid dangling earrings and necklaces as well as sharp rings or other jewelry. If you would like to avoid accidentally injuring your partner, refrain from accessorizing.
Any athletic activity can result in injuries. Due to the speed and intensity of the moves used in swing dancing, you do run some risk of experiencing an injury. Common dance injuries include:
• Torn or strained muscles
• Joint pain
• Stress fractures
• Torn or strained tendons and ligaments
• Shin splints
Avoid injuries by stretching and warming up prior to participating in dance activities. Proper nutrition prior to strenuous exercise can also reduce the risk of fatigue related injuries.
Even if you are enjoying yourself, do not forget to stay hydrated. Your body will respond better to exercise if it is hydrated. Dehydration can cause kidney,liver, and heart problems.
If you are not traveling to dance events with a friend, let someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be at the event. Some swing events will have over 200 dancers in attendance. No matter how comfortable you feel at the event, do not accept rides from strangers you meet while attending a dance event alone. Many events are alcohol free. Regardless, do not leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from anyone you do not know. If you feel uncomfortable at any time, don`t be afraid to let someone know.