What is Swing Dance?
“Swing dance” is most commonly known as a group of dances that developed with the vintage swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1950s. The “Golden Age of Swing” in the 1930’s and 1940’s was when clubs were packed with swing dancers and big bands were the hottest ticket in town! Venues like The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem NYC were renowned across the country and the African American community was instrumental in developing both the music and the dance moves that would become mainstream across all of the USA by the time of WW2. Decades later, former professional dancers Al Minns and Frankie Manning were coaxed out of retirement to help bring back both the music and the dances they inspired. It worked. Thirty years on, there are now thriving swing dance communities worldwide. Frankie Manning taught and danced into his 90’s and is considered “The Ambassador of Swing”. The clip below is Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and is one of the most famous clips from back in the day (Frankie is in the overalls).
Lindy Hop (or just “Lindy”) is what you will see most of the time when you come to a Swing Dance. It’s an energetic dance that involves both 8-count and 6-count rhythms with triple steps, as well as elements borrowed from Charleston and Vernacular Jazz. Although performance Lindy Hop (such as with routines or within a “jam circle”) often involves lifts and high flying aerials (also known as air steps), social dancing Lindy Hop doesn’t require leaving the ground! Lindy Hop is characterized by a low, relaxed posture, an elastic connection to your partner, and a rhythmic bounce–or pulse–that matches the music.
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing is a term generally used to describe a simplified version of Lindy Hop that primarily uses 6-count moves. The basic rhythm of East Coast Swing is “quick-quick, slow, slow” or “quick-quick, triple-step, triple-step.” That may sound complicated until you realize that a single slow step can be replaced with a triple step. You could call what we teach in our beginner drop-in lesson “East Coast Swing,” but we prefer to think of it as just “Swing.” Rather than being a separate dance, “East Coast Swing” is a subset of the patterns, moves, and techniques we use in Lindy Hop. East Coast Swing is danced to swing music, making it a Swing Dance by our definition.
Balboa is a dance that originated in Southern California during the 1920’s, gaining popularity through the 30’s and 40’s. It was danced primarily in a “closed” position, which was similar to a ballroom dancing position but a lot closer together and much more relaxed. Within this close and relaxed position Balboa is led with a subtle full body connection and uses weight shifts and rhythms that aren’t as easy to see as compared to Lindy Hop. As a result, Balboa is sometimes considered more of a “dancer’s dance” than a “spectator’s dance”. Bal-Swing, in contrast, opens up a bit more, allowing for more space between the partners and thus more latitude for dynamic turns and movements. Balboa is danced to a wide variety of tempos. Because the basic step takes up such a small space, Balboa can be danced to very fast music (over 300 beats per minute). Balboa can also be danced to less crazy tempos or even to very slow music , which allows more time for intricate footwork and variations.
A broad category including solo charleston, vernacular jazz, some forms of tap, black bottom, cake walk, and others. Solo jazz may be danced alone, or you might see it in a “circle jam”, where dancers sometimes steal each others moves and try to one-up each other. Solo jazz routines such as the Shim Sham, the Tranky Doo, and the Big Apple are often performed (without advance notice) by a larger number of dancers and can make for quite a spectacle!
Savoy Blues and Slow Drag
Savoy blues (also called slow drag) has its roots in the same African-American dance traditions of the early 20th century as lindy hop and solo jazz – it’s just slower. Nowadays, “blues” is danced to a huge variety of music, and “fusion blues” dancers are pushing the boundaries of the genre, usually with much more modern music. In our eyes, dancing to slow vintage swing and blues music in a way that is insprired by the original dances is still swing dancing.
Collegiate Shag and St. Louis Shag are two different swing dances, despite their similar name (and both wholly different from the non-swing dance Carolina Shag). Collegiate shag is danced with an upright position, and is based on energetic scoots and hops. St. Louis shag is closely related to charleston, and is often danced to boogie woogie and jump blues.