Swing dance is a group of dances, including Lindy Hop and Charleston, that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1950s. We have a broad interpretation of swing dancing and include blues dancing as well. Below we have a short description and a video for the canonical swing dances.
Born on the streets of Harlem and associated with the Savoy Ballroom in the late 1920s, the Lindy Hop is known as the original swing dance and would probably be best described as “partnered jazz dancing”. The name “Lindy Hop” was inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic solo airplane hop in 1927. Over the years the dance evolved into different forms and styles in different regions of the country. In the 1980’s it was given new life as young dancers connected with and learned from the original dancers.
The core of Lindy Hop is improvisation – you play, you improvise, you syncopate. Still, the dance does have a structure with some basic steps, patterns and moves, which serve as the basis for innovation. It is mostly characterized by a breakaway move, known as the “Swing-Out”, where the lead sends the follow out of closed position and allows both of them to improvise solo steps. Unlike most ballroom dances, where the dancers float or glide on the floor, Lindy Hop is danced “into the floor” – it uses a “pulse” that drives and connects the dancers. Depending on the music, Lindy Hop can be fast and energetic or smooth and groovy.
Lindy Hop is mostly danced to swing, blues, and jazz music, but is not limited to these styles. Although Lindy Hop is a partnered dance it offers a lot of room for individual expression within the partnership. Both lead and follow constantly communicate with each other through connection, movement, timing, harmony, and musicality. It is said that good Lindy Hop dancing is a perfect balance between structure and freedom.
The Charleston is a dance that became popular in the 1920′s, during the era of jazz music, speakeasies and Flappers. The Charleston dance was also a precursor to a dance that emerged in the 1930′s called the Lindy Hop. Variations of both dances are still popular in the world of dancing today.
The Charleston dance can be danced solo, with a partner, or in a group. While there are many variations on the dance, the basic steps involve kicking the legs and swinging the arms.
This dance is called Authentic Jazz because it grew concurrently with early jazz music. Used loosely the term describes all styles that were invented to accompany jazz music, including partnered styles, but nowadays it is used to describe the purely solo dance styles that grew in the 1920s and 30s.
A number of classic routines have survived the decades more or less intact, but authentic jazz is simply a repertoire of steps, derived mainly from tap, African dance, Charleston, and earlier partnered swing styles such as Breakaway. New steps have been invented since that time, retaining the vintage styling to differentiate them from modern jazz dance.
Authentic jazz is a lot of fun, and very expressive – you can let loose without worrying about a partner! It is also great for your partnered dancing as it improves rhythm, musicality, styling and understanding of jazz structure. There are also a lot of steps which can be incorporated into your partnered swing dance and are easily led and followed.
The original Balboa dance is a form of swing dance that started as early as 1915 and gained in popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. It is danced primarily in close embrace, and is led with a full body connection. The art of Balboa is in the subtle communication between the lead and follow, including weight shifts, which most viewers cannot see. As a result, Balboa is considered more of a “dancer’s dance” than a “spectator’s dance”. Its exact origins are obscure, especially as most of the original Balboa dancers have since died.
Balboa is danced to a wide variety of tempos. Because the basic step takes up such a small space, Balboa can be danced to fast music (over 300 beats per minute). Balboa is also danced to slow music (under 100 beats per minute), which allows more time for intricate footwork and variations.
Blues dancing evolved from Blues music (which preceded swing music). Originally it was not danced in public spaces, but rather in jukejoints or at private house parties. It only recently has become a popular dance, practised in bluesdance scenes around the globe. Blues dancing thrives on expressing feelings through dancing, moving to the music and improvising. It can help a dancer to appreciate dancing to slow music, with simple movements, how to stay connected to the partner and to the ground, how to lead and follow efficiently using the whole body rather than just the arms.
The Collegiate Shag (or “Shag”) is a partner dance done primarily to upper tempo jazz music (usually 200+ beats per minute). It belongs to the swing family of American vernacular dances that arose in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. It most likely originated in North Carolina, but quickly spread across the United States during the 1930s and as far as Australia by the 1940s.
Tap dancing is a dance where a performer creates a staccato beat by tapping with his shoes while dancing. This dance was incorporated into many dance routines in Hollywood movies from the Swing era, including classics such as Singing in the Rain. There are two major types of tap dancing: rhythm (jazz) tap and Broadway tap dancing. The latter focuses on the dancing, the former more on the musicality. Tap dancing influenced a lot of Lindy Hop moves (for example, there is a tap version of the famous Lindy Hop routine, the Shim Sham). The focus on rhythm of Tap dancing and the strong interdependencies between Lindy Hop and Tap dance make Tap dancing a valuable addition to any Swing dancer’s repertoire.
An aerial, or air step, is a dance move in which the follower loses contact with the floor. Aerials as such are not a specific dancing style, but due to
their dynamic character and because they are fun to watch, they are often used in Lindy Hop choreographies.
Here’s a famous Lindy Hop scene from the Hellzapoppin’ movie (1941), featuring one of the founding fathers of Lindy Hop, Frankie Manning. You can see lots of back flips and a super-fast Lindy flip (a kind of swing out in the air, 1:48).