SWING DANCE: Styles & History

Kurt Lichtmann
Faculty, Ithaca College, Ithaca NY
Founder: Cornell University Swing Dance Program
Dozens of significant regional swing dance variations are alive in the USA and Europe. The number of distinct regional styles is far greater than the number of distinct musical styles. To make matters even more interesting, not only do important sub-regional variants exist, but experienced and creative dancers may have radically different (fascinating, beautiful, and developing) personal styles! Many swing dance forms originate in a specific city, in a particular dance club, or even owe their birth to a one inspired individual.

Wiliam H. Johnson "Jitterbugs"
A short list of some of the major USA swing dance variations :
Lindy, Jitterbug:
Harlem, NYC

Carolina Shag: Myrtle Beach, SC
'50s Rock & Roll: Philadelphia,PA
West Coast Swing: Southern California
Balboa, Bal Swing: Southern California
Bop (Beach Bop): Jacksonville, FL
DC Hand Dancing: Washington, DC
St. Louis Imperial: St. Louis, MO
Dallas Push & Houston Whip: Dallas, TX & Houston, TX
Jumpswing: Long Beach & Redondo Beach CA , Ithaca NY
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Daily Dance Tips & Quips
In the 1990's, an estimated less than 2% of all swing dancers had any accurate idea of what swing forms outside of their region look like. The vast majority of Northern swing dancers have never seen Shag; the vast majority of Southern Shaggers had never seen Jitterbug or Lindy Hop. Or else, they may have a distorted image based on observing an eccentric version of the dance. In the 2013's plus, Youtubeand the many national dance congresses have changed that to some degree!

Performance vs. Social Style: They can be quite different! Of course, everybody likes to show off once in a while (or more often, in some cases!) on the social dance floor, so there is an undeniable "performance" element in social dance. However, "real" performance not only involves many unleadable moves, but also extremely difficult, and even dangerous moves, the kind that one would never attempt in a social dance context, even with one's regular partner. Still, performance profoundly affects social dance. Creative perfomers pride themselves on unveiling totally new and neat moves; they will be immediately copied, made safe, or otherwise adapted to social dance by those so inclined. "Dance like no one is watching?" And why do all our dance studios have wall to wall mirrors?

In general, social dance is more about "feel" than about "look". Hence, social dance has more repetition, more "grooving" to the beat. Social dance also has more experimentation: spontaneously creating and attempting moves that may or make not work! Not only does performance swing dance have many more diverse moves in the space of a 3 minute dance (less repetition), but also an excess of flair, a greater abundance of dramatic moves than social swing. The adage "A mountain on stage looks like a mole hill to the audience." is relevant.

Want more?
Swing Dance: Personal Styling

swing dance - the author and Kelly Douglass
Swing Dancers: the author and Kelly Douglass

balboa music fast lindy music jumpswing      

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