What is swing?
From the first triple-steps to the present
Swing is a jazz style created at the end of 1920s in New York. However, it got to the peak of its fame in the era of before and during the WWII (1936-1945). It owes its popularity to Benny Goodman’s big band, which took it from New York to the other coat – Los Angeles. Hollywood takes some credit for spreading swing as well, as swing practically appeared in every movie produced in those times. It can come as no surprise that those days are still referred to as ‘Swing Era’.
With the transformation of jazz music into swing, the dance would change as well. It started with Charleston, which was very popular in the 1920s (today we call it the 20’s Charleston). It was danced a lot in dance clubs in New York’s Harlem and gradually it started turning into swing dance – Lindy Hop. Apart from Lindy Hop a lot of dances adapted to the new music style. The origin of these dances is connected to the 20’s Charleston; however, they come from different parts of America. Some of these dances are: Collegiate Shag, Balboa, Big Apple, and St. Louis Shag, et cetera.
Listen to the playlist our teacher Peter prepared for you. These compositions were the most typical for that era of swing dances.
Because the whole group of these dances is called ‘swing dance’ (sometimes simply just ‘swing’) we can translate the question ‘Do you dance swing’ as ‘Do you dance any of the swing dances?’
Lindy Hop is the main swing dance. It was developing together with swing; at the end of 1920s and in the 1930s. It was formed in New York dance club Savoy Ballroom, which was a community place, where black and white dancers, who shaped the dance, used to meet and dance together. One of the main representatives and to some degree a patron of Lindy Hop was Frankie Manning. He was the first dancer to introduce acrobatic elements into Lindy Hop, and basically he started the acrobatic madness in this dance as well as other dances that came after Lindy Hop.
The dance got to the East Coast just like the swing music. Lindy Hop started changing a little; the reason being the effort for white people performing and dancing in movies not to look as wild as people of color from New York. Even the acrobatics was tamed a little. Nevertheless, it did not disappear. Because during this era the WWII had already started and was happening already, in the movies we can see mostly soldiers and sailors dancing. Today, this style of Lindy Hop is called Lindy, Hollywood Style, or Smooth Lindy.
Nowadays, Lindy Hop (both styles) is still the pillar of swing dance; you can dance Lindy Hop not only at every international swing festival, but mainly at our social dances or regular courses where we teach it.
At present, Balboa is the second most popular swing dance. It originated on the peninsula Balboa in Newport Beach in California during 1930s. This dance was formed as a response to the situation at social dances at that time – for the more and more popular swing and its dancers even the biggest west coast ballrooms with the capacity of 2000 dancers would not suffice. When dancing Lindy Hop dancers usually took a lot of space, whereas it was not the case with Balboa. Overcrowded ballrooms led to the banning of Lindy Hop and to the development of Balboa as it is danced mostly in close position with really small steps, thus being very effective, which is why you can manage to dance Balboa to a really fast music.
The origins of Collegiate Shag, the third most popular swing dance, are a bit unclear. It became famous thanks to the video clip of New York dance school owned by Arthur Murray, who, at u university club, discovered a group of students dancing a new (for him) style of dance. He took them to his studio and the result was the instructional video of Collegiate Shag. This dance also became popular thanks to Hollywood movies, where it was danced by Los Angeles dancers and last but not least thanks to cartoon movies. Collegiate Shag is too danced to faster tempos of swing and jazz pieces.
Almost all swing dances originate from 20’s Charleston. Although it is not a typical swing dance (as it is not danced to swing, but to ‘hot jazz’ music), it belongs to the swing/ jazz dance family. It emerged and became popular in the 1920s, in the era called ‘Golden Age/ ‘Roaring Twenties’, and is popular even today (try going to an Electro Swing party or watching The Great Gatsby). Nowadays we do not pay much attention to 20’s Charleston at swing dance schools or festivals, but it is possible to learn it in the swing dance community. It can be encountered during performances or if the bands play music older than swing. 20’s Charleston can be danced in couples, but more often it can be seen as a solo performance.
St. Louis Shag
St. Louis Shag is one of the swing dances as well. It emerged from Charleston, but unlike other dances it wasn’t so popular. It is very similar to Lindy Hop, but it includes a lot of elements characteristic only for it (for example body position or a big amount of so called kicks). It is dance to faster tempos of different kinds of music (Hot Jazz, Swing, Rhythm and Blues, Boogie Woogie).
The words Jazz Dances stand for the group of all dances danced to the jazz music. Swing dances – Lindy Hop, Balboa, Shag – also belong to this groups. Apart from these, 20’s Charleston falls into this group, and so do other dances – Black Bottom, Peabody, Turkey Trot, Fox Trot, Tap Dance, Shimmy and many other. These dances can be learnt only in so called solo lessons where we combined the elements and steps of different jazz dances. Lessons are called Solo Jazz or Authentic Jazz lessons.
As the name suggests, blues is danced to blues music. History of this dance is older than history of swing, but unfortunately we do not know much about it. It is a folk dance and was danced in different parts of America. It was formed mostly in different pubs and clubs where people used to go to listen to the slow and calm blues music and they also danced freely to it. Although blues is not exactly a swing dance, you can learn it in a swing dance community (in ours as well!).
Boogie Woogie is classified as a swing dance; however, it is danced to the Boogie Woogie, Rhythm And Blues, and Rock And Roll music. The dance originated in Europe as a response to the situation in Rock And Roll, as it started to be more acrobatic, while Boogie Woogie wanted to preserve the original form of the dance. As the only swing dance, it primarily focuses on competitions, therefore most videos found on the Internet are from competitions. We do not teach Boogie Woogie, but you can try it with our friends in Bratislava – at the dance school B-Swing.