Swing (dance)

Jitterbugging at a juke joint, November 1939
Evita and Michael at 2011 Catalina Swing Dance Festival

"Swing dance" is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1940s, with the origins of each dance predating the popular "swing era". During the swing era, there were hundreds of styles of swing dancing, but those that have survived beyond that era include: Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Lindy Charleston.[1][2] Today, the most well-known of these dances is the Lindy Hop, which originated in Harlem in the early 1930s.[3] While the majority of swing dances began in African American communities as vernacular African American dances, a swing era dance, like Balboa, developed outside of these communities.

Somewhat surprisingly, "swing dance" was not commonly used to identify a group of dances until the latter half of the 20th century. Historically, the term "Swing" referred to the style of jazz music, which inspired the evolution of the dance. Jitterbug is an umbrella term that denotes all forms of swing dance, though it is often used as a synonym for the six-count derivative of Lindy Hop called "East Coast Swing".[4] It was also common to use the word to identify a kind of dancer (i.e., a swing dancer). A "jitterbug" might prefer to dance Lindy Hop, Shag, or any of the other swing dances. The term was famously associated with swing era band leader Cab Calloway because, as he put it, "[The dancers] look like a bunch of jitterbugs out there on the floor due to their fast, often bouncy movements."[5]

Forms of swing dance

The term "swing dancing" is often extended to include other dances that do not have certain characteristics of traditional swing dances: West Coast Swing, Carolina Shag, East Coast Swing, Hand Dancing, Jive, Rock and Roll, Modern Jive, and other dances developed during the 1940s and later. A strong tradition of social and competitive boogie woogie and Rock 'n' Roll in Europe add these dances to their local swing dance cultures.[6]

Original forms dating from the 1920s and early 1930s

Forms dating from the late 1930s and early 1940s

Derivatives of swing dance from the 1940s and 1950s

Swing dancing today

Swing dancing was most popular in the 1930s and 1940s, but it still continues today. Dance moves have evolved with the music. Swing dancing styles are the foundation of many other dance styles including disco, country line dancing, and hip hop. Swing dancing clubs and contests are still held around the world.[20]

San Francisco Sunday Streets: Valencia

Competition, social dancing and music


Traditionally, distinctions are made between "Ballroom Swing" and "Jazz Dance Swing" styles. East Coast Swing is a standardized dance in "American Style" Ballroom dancing, while Jive is a standardized dance in "International Style"; however both of these fall under the "Ballroom Swing" umbrella.

Jazz Dance forms (evolved in dance halls) versus ballroom forms (created for ballroom competition format) are different in appearance. Jazz Dance forms include Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Charleston.

Types of competition

Dance competitions specify which forms are to be judged, and are generally available in four different formats:

  1. Strictly: One couple competing together in various heats, to randomly selected music, where no pre-choreographed steps are allowed.
  2. Jack and Jill: Where leaders and followers are randomly matched for the competition. In initial rounds, leaders and followers usually compete individually, but in final rounds, scoring depends on the ability of the partner you draw and your ability to work with that partner. Some competitions hold a Jill-and-Jack division where leaders must be women and followers must be men.
  3. Showcase: One couple competing together for a single song which has been previously choreographed.
  4. Classic: Similar to Showcase but with restrictions on lifts, drops, moves where one partner supports the weight of the other partner, and moves where the partners are not in physical contact.


In West Coast Swing the competitions are divided into sections by level of experience. The levels are Newcomer, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. There is no official system in the United States to ensure that couples dance at the appropriate level of experience. Competitors should keep track of their own points and register accordingly at competitions. Once you earn 7 points in a level, you can no longer dance at that level.[25] There is no points system for the majority of Lindy Hop competitions.

Judging criteria

Swing dancing falls under the American Rhythm category. There are several different categories at competitions depending on what type of dance you do.[26] 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 usage.

Judging for competition is based on the three "T's" (below) as well as showmanship[27] (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 leader and follower 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 Hop's most prestigious events have never used these criteria, usually having the simple judging value as who was the best/most-impressive Lindy Hop couple. The Harvest Moon Ball competition in New York City, The American Vernacular Jazz Institute's Hellzapoppin' Competition, and the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown all fall into this category.


Most competition dance floors can only hold about 12 couples dancing at a time. If the number of participants is larger than what the floor can hold, the competition will hold qualifying rounds. Once they get to 24 couples there will then be the quarterfinal round (2 separate rounds of about 12 each), then the semifinal (1 round of about 12), and finally the final round (1 round, usually 6 or 7 couples).[26]

Team formations

Additionally a "Team Formation" division may also be specified at a competition. Under this category, a minimum of 3 to 5 couples (depending on individual competition rules) perform a pre-choreographed routine to a song of their choosing, where the group dances in synchronization and into different formations. This division is also judged using the three "T's" and showmanship; however the criteria now apply to the team as a whole.

Social swing dancing

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 Lindy exchanges.


The historical development of particular swing dance styles was often in response to trends in popular music. For example, 1920s and solo Charleston was - and is - usually danced to 2/4 ragtime music or traditional jazz, Lindy Hop was danced to swing music (a kind of swinging jazz), and Lindy Charleston to either traditional or swing jazz. West Coast Swing is usually danced to Pop, R&B, Blues, or Funk. Western Swing and Push/Whip are usually danced to country and western or Blues music. There are local variations on these musical associations in each dance scene, often informed by local DJs, dance teachers and bands.

Modern swing dance bands active in the U.S. during the 1990s and 2000s include many contemporary jazz big bands, swing revival bands with a national presence such as Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers (based in San Francisco), and local/regional jazz bands that specialize in 1930s-1940s swing/Lindy dance music, such as The Swingout Big Band, White Heat Swing Orchestra, and Beantown Swing Orchestra (Boston), The Boilermaker Jazz Band (Pittsburgh), the Southside Aces (Minneapolis), Gordon Webster Septet (New York), Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five (Los Angeles) and The Jonathan Stout Orchestra featuring Hilary Alexander (Los Angeles), The Flat Cats (Chicago), Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators (Seattle), the Solomon Douglas Swingtet (Seattle), The Gina Knight Orchestra (Chicago and Joliet, IL), the Solomon Douglas Swingtet and the Tom Cunningham Orchestra (Washington, D.C.), Sonoran Swing (Arizona), and The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra (Los Angeles).

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Swing dance.
  1. "What is Lindy Hop?".
  2. 1 2 3 4 The Rebirth of Shag. Dir. Ryan Martin. Vimeo. 2014 <http://vimeo.com/88253085>.
  3. "What is swing dancing?". Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  4. "The Jitterbug". Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  5. Christine Zona, Chris George (2008). Gotta Ballroom. United States: Human Kinetics, Inc. pp. 13–214. ISBN 9780736059077. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  6. The Beautiful Times. "Swing dance". The Beautiful Times. wordpress. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  7. Manning, Frankie (2007). Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Temple University Press. p. 46. ISBN 9781592135639. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  8. Spring, Howard. Swing and the Lindy Hop: Dance, Venue, Media, and Tradition. Vol. 15. University of Illinois Press, 1997. 183-207
  9. Manning, Frankie (2007). Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Temple University Press. p. 230. ISBN 9781592135639. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  10. Pritchett, Judy. ""Shorty" George Snowden". www.savoystyle.com. 1995-2006. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  11. Spring, Howard. Swing and the Lindy Hop: Dance, Venue, Media, and Tradition. Vol. 15. University of Illinois Press, 1997. 183-207.
  12. Guest, Dan. "Balboa History". www.lindycircle.com. 10/17/2005. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  13. “Shag Latest Dance” Blytheville Courier News (Arkansas) 25 July 1929: 5 [Research credit: Forrest Outman]
  14. "St. Louis Shag". StreetSwing.com. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  15. 1 2 Wilkinson 2003b
  16. Guest
  17. Barrett
  18. Jitterbuzz
  19. "Swing History origins of Swing Dance". 1996. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  20. 1 2 "The History of Swing Dancing at ZZounds." The History of Swing Dancing at ZZounds. Accessed March 28, 2015. http://www.zzounds.com/edu--historyofswingdancing.
  21. "AllSwingDJ - Swing Dance Songs".
  22. http://www.globalswingdjs.com/top-songs.html
  23. "World Swing Dance Council Member Registry Events Page". Archived from the original on January 30, 2016.
  24. "ImperialSwing.com". Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  25. "Competition Rules." - Swing Dance America. Accessed April 10, 2015. http://www.swingdanceamerica.com/competition-rules.html.
  26. 1 2 "DanceSport - Competition Guides - For the Competitor - USADance.org." DanceSport - Competition Guides - For the Competitor - USADance.org. Accessed April 10, 2015. http://usadance.org/dancesport/competition-guides/for-the-competitor/.
  27. "On Judging, Part 3: Swing Judging Philosophy 101". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-04.

External links

Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Swing Dancing
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