What is swing dance? Swing dancing is a type of partner dance performed mostly to swing music. The focus is on musicality, improvisation, and personal expression.
There are many ways to classify swing dances. Most of the following types of swing dance are derived from traditional dances, such as the Lindy Hop (which was done in ballrooms during swing music’s heyday), East Coast Swing (typically danced socially to slower music), Balboa (a fast-paced solo dance mainly done in California).
There are many places that offer swing lessons and dances, from the local dance studio to your very own backyard! All you need is a good mood and comfortable swing dancing shoes, and you can get a powerful energy boost at the swing party!
What are the main features of swing dance?
Swing dance is characterized by the following features:
- Pivoting is a key dance move used in many swing dances. This typically involves leading a one- or two-step turn.
- Swing dance may be danced in the open position or closed position (with dancers facing each other). In the open position, the leader usually has the follower’s right hand in his left hand. In the closed position, the dancers may be connected at either or both sides, so that they have their arms around each other. Although some types of swing dance are characterized by a more close position.
- It includes Charleston elements such as “kicks”, “licks”, and hip motions. Some types of swing are danced to faster tempos than other forms, depending on the style.
- The presence of acrobatic elements.
- All forms of swing are characterized by a syncopated (shortened) rhythm, typical of African-American and West African music and dance, and with jazz dance of the jazz era. The swing style typically includes “triplet steps” on every beat, meaning that the first step is made on a triplet boundary and typically uses a ball-change footwork pattern for this reason. A triplet is a set of three beats in which the first two are strong or accented and the third is weak or unaccented.
- Many swing dances are characterized by very fast movements and footwork.
- Swing music has a characteristic “swing” feel. It also typically includes triplet rhythms. The rhythm may be accented either on one or three beats of the measure.
- Also, an important part of the swing is improvisation, the way you feel the music and embody it through your body.
- Another feature of swing dance is that swing dancers from different localities and groups often bring their own features and characteristics to it. Swing actively absorbed and absorbs local features, even different clubs, DJs and coaches contributed to the swing dance their vision of dance compositions. Hence – the emergence of a large number of different types of swing dance.
What are the Main Types of Swing Dance?
The Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop is known for its fast and athletic style. It is a mix of Charleston, breakaway, and the Shim Sham. Lindy Hop dance is considered the most developed and most complex form of swing. The peculiarity of the lindy hop is the ability to improvise and the rhythmic flexibility, as well as the ability to perform to any jazz or blues music.
East Coast Swing Dancing
The east coast swing was developed from the Jitterbug. A swing dance that was popular when Lindy Hop was in full swing, the East Coast Swing is much more gentle than other styles. It’s characterized by high energy movement and smooth footwork.
East coast swing is the round, rotating dance that has many wraps, tunnels, and turns. The advantage of East Coast Swing was that it can be performed to slow jazz and blues, as well as to fiery rock and roll. East Coast Swing is danced on a 6-stroke rhythm, but sometimes it is performed on an 8-stroke as a lindy hop or a Charleston.
Since this is fast swing dance, the steps should be small and easy.
The popularity of East Coast Swing is due to its simple structure, uncomplicated movements, and uncomplicated footwork.
West Coast Swing (Western Swing)
The West Coast Swing was invented in the 1990s by dancers who wanted something more energetic than Balboa but slower than Lindy Hop. West Coast Swing is considered the most elegant dance. In fact, watching this flowing dance, one can hardly find any resemblance to its parent, the Lindy Hop.
West Coast Swing dance involves moving partners along the line. In most cases, each combination begins with the steps of the lady. Moves forward are made on the counts of “one” and “two”. The anchor step completes all the basic figures more often and logically.
Among the interesting things, West Coast Swing has shattered notions of full partner lead, as is typical of most other swing dance styles. Here the partnership is divided 50-50. Each partner is free to express himself in the dance, the main thing is to listen to the music and to each other. Thus, in West Coast Swing, in contrast to other swing dances, there are more opportunities for the partner to improvise and really create together on the dance floor.
Because of the freedom for improvisation and movement, West Coast Swing is a lot of fun during classes and lends itself to quick learning. Already after a few lessons, you will learn how to connect with a partner and work in a tight frame.
By the way, in 1988, West Coast Swing becomes the official dance of the state of California.
The home of the Balboa dance is considered the Balboa Peninsula in California. The social dance of Balboa is good because it does not require special skills and training, you can learn it at any age, the movements are quite simple, but it is beautiful to look at.
The main feature of this dance is the rapid movement of the feet and the close contact between partners. The dance is performed too fast jazz music, the tempo is 180 to 320 beats per minute. But despite the almost crazy rhythm, it does not require a lot of tension, because all the movements are small. You can also dance to slow music, then you will have more time to perform complex movements.
Balboa is a dance built on improvisation. This dance is directed more inward to the couple than outward. And the compactness of Balboa movements allows you to save strength. The torsos of the partners touch each other so that no light can be seen between them.
The Charleston evolved from the Lindy Hop in Harlem in 1932. It has a jazzier look that comes from swing music still in its heyday. You can find older clips of this dancing in movies like Hellzapoppin, which was the first movie to fully feature swing dance.
The musical size is 4/4. The tempo is fast. Performed in pairs, briskly and loosely, with small movements around the hall. The dance is characterized by sharp syncopated steps and sweeps on the balls of feet. The energetic arm movements and characteristic turns of feet are the main features of this dance. The Charleston is danced both in pairs and solo. Hands move freely and energetically.
It has certain features of ballroom choreography, namely, foxtrot, with the difference that Charleston has a limited nature of movement and is performed mostly on the spot. By the way, Charleston is considered one of the forerunners of the Quickstep ballroom dance.
A partner swing dance, often done with a man and a lady, where the dancers rotate around each other. It evolved from Lindy Hop and is usually done at a faster pace.
It can be easily recognized by the leaps performed by the pair. The jitterbug includes in its variety of movements a variety of acrobatic elements, tumbling, splits, swing jumps, and spins.
Another modern style, Jazz is a smooth and gentle swing dance. This style is beautiful to watch. It’s a very popular swing dance in social dances because it doesn’t require a lot of training and preparation, but it looks fantastic.
The basic movements are performed on the spot, with a smooth changeover from one part to another. The dance is characterized by syncopated steps and high kicks.
As an “open” system, jazz dance refers to the means of expression of other systems and directions of dance, incorporating the achievements discovered by modern dance, classical dance, folk choreography, and other directions of dance art. As a result, the process of merging the main schools of modern choreography began and a new artistic phenomenon appeared: modern jazz dance.
St Louis Shag
Six counts, closed position, bouncing steps – and you’re dancing the Carolina shag! A modern American swing dance, St Louis Shag was invented in the 1980s as a speedier variant of its East Coast Swing forerunner. The name comes from a popular stomp, where the dancer taps their foot to the music.
Boogie-woogie is a European interpretation of Swing. The feature of this dance was the dancer’s ability to show movements on relaxed, yet resilient legs.
The rhythm of this dance is 4/4. It’s a very emotional, and free dance for a couple or in a group. This is the most popular swing variation at the present time. This is a bright, fiery couple dance, with fun music and an appropriate mood.
The Blues is very expressive and beautiful to watch. It’s performed at a slower pace, but it looks effortless. This dance is great for social dancing because you can really feel the music while you’re dancing.
The blues is the slowest of the swing dances. It is willingly performed when the dance floor is small or when you need a break from the jerky, nervous rhythms of other dances.
The musical size is 4/4. The tempo is slow, with 20 beats per minute. All fractions of the bar are accented. Performed in pairs, in the closed position, with moving around the hall. The dance is characterized by the alternation of the fast and slow steps and the light chorus when changing the legs.
Savoy Style Lindy Hop
This dance came from Harlem in the 1930s when jazz was at its peak. The Savoy, one of the most famous dance halls, was home to this style of swing dancing. This is the type of Lindy Hop that people think of when they hear the name “Swing Dance.”
Today the jive is an obligatory dance of the competitive Latin ballroom dance program. Its main feature, in addition to the high rise of the knees in the steps, is a characteristic swing movement of the hips and body as a whole.
The dance is fast and energetic, requires a lot of energy. The musical size is 4/4, the tempo is 44 beats per minute.
Swing Dance History
The word “swing” was first used in 1911 to describe the dance Texas Tommy, when the partner “unwinds” the partner, which is reflected in the name “swing”.
Swing dancing was popularized in the late 1920s and 1930s. It came from jazz music. The birthplace of swing is considered New York City. Here, in Harlem, the funniest parties were born, where dancing helped to forget about all problems. The legendary Savoy Club occupied an entire block, and hundreds of dancers came there every day to party to live music. Everyone was allowed in, as long as they knew how to dance.
Swing was first danced to big band music and later evolved into various new styles with the influence of rock n’ roll and other types of music. There are many swing dances, such as Lindy Hop, Balboa, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Jitterbug, and Triple swing, etc. But all of them, in some way or another, come from the original swing.
From the 20s of the 20th century, the dance spread to America and Europe, actively absorbing the national features of the country in which it was performed. Therefore, in today’s world of dance, there are many varieties of swing – from slow jazz compositions to fast ones.
Today swing is America’s leading social dance. It is loved for its awesome, easy atmosphere and fun. It’s a great dance style to learn if you want something fun and energetic. Plus, it’s a great way to meet new people. So whether the style of swing dance you choose, you’ll get the best mood of jazz party with like-minded people.
And pay attention: swing dance world is very strong and friendly, it is really unifying kind of class, which gives a lot of acquaintances and bright impressions. So let’s dance swing!