Swing (dance)

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Jitterbugging at a juke joint, November 1939

"Swing dance" is most commonly known as a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1950s, although the earliest of these dances predate "swing era" music. The best known of these dances is the Lindy Hop, a popular partner dance that originated in Harlem in 1927 and is still danced today. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway and Charleston.[1] While the majority of swing dances began in African American communities as vernacular African American dances, some swing era dances, such as the Foxtrot and the Balboa, developed in white communities. Swing dance was not always used as a general blanket term for a group of dances. Historically, the term Swing applied with no connection to the Swing era, or its Swing music. The Texas Tommy Swing dance first appeared in print in 1910 in San Francisco (Barbary Coast). Into the 1920s and 1930s every major city had their own way to dance, based on regional roots, and influences.

Los Angeles had its own form of what they called "Swing dance" which came from Charleston, Fox Trot, and Jig Trot influenced footwork. In Chicago and in the south they had their own style of Swing, which was more two-step based, and most of these regional swing dances gave way to various influences, such as other dance forms of dance but also the decline of dance bands and partner dancing after WW2.

Swing jazz features the syncopated timing associated with African American and West African music and dance — a combination of crotchets and quavers (quarter notes and eighth notes) that many swing dancers interpret as 'triple steps' and 'steps' — yet also introduces changes in the way these rhythms were played — as a distinct delay or 'relaxed' approach to timing.

Today there are swing-dance scenes in many countries. Lindy Hop is often the most popular, though each city and country prefers various dances to different degrees. Each local swing-dance community has a distinct local culture and defines "swing dance", and the "appropriate" music to accompany it, in different ways.

Forms of Swing[edit]

In many scenes outside the United States, the term "swing dancing" is used to refer to one, or all, of the following swing era dances: Lindy Hop, Charleston, Shag, and Balboa. This group is often extended to include West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Hand Dancing, Jive, Rock and Roll, elden Jive, and other dances developed in 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.[citation needed]

Early forms from the 1930s and 1940s[edit]

Later forms from the 1940s, 1950s and later[edit]

Competition, social dancing and music[edit]

Competition[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Judging Criteria[edit]

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[5] (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.

Team Formations[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Music[edit]

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[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]