Swing Dance History

Swing dance couple

What dance is more upbeat, cheerful, and fun to watch than swing dancing? Swing is a far cry from the waltzes that came before it, and a mix of several other types of high-energy dances.

The Beginning of Swing Dance History

According to SwingGang.com, swing dancing began during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of great cultural and intellectual achievement among African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. The dances were generally performed to jazz music, another burgeoning art form of the time period. The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem was the birthplace of the Lindy Hop. In a sense the dance was the African American response to European social dances. However, while Latin American dances grew from a mix of Spanish colonial forms and African beats, swing was more like a mockery of Europe's sedate waltzes. The dance was performed with a partner, but the wild movements were a mix of tap, Charleston and free-form expression created as the inspiration struck. This improvisation had its roots in Africa. However, dancing with a partner was a foreign concept in African dance forms, so that is the enduring contribution of European dances to swing.

The Dance Grows

Swing dancing spread beyond the African-American community in the 1930s. It was viewed unfavorably by dance teachers, but they couldn't contain what was happening in local clubs. As swing dancing's fame grew and it spread across the United States, regional styles arose during the 40s and 50s.

Eventual variations of swing dancing included Balboa, Collegiate Shag, Carolina Shag, East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing. East Coast Swing is considered an American competitive ballroom dance and other styles of swing dance are sometimes noted as ballroom dances. Even Jive dancing and its variations can be traced back to the emergence and popularity of swing. Though each of these styles has its own distinctive steps, one of the hallmarks of the dance remains improvisation and free-spiritedness.

Modern Popularity

Despite being decades past the style's heyday, it still enjoys a resurgence from time to time. Even when the dance isn't currently in favor with trend setters, college groups and swing dance nights at hipster clubs keep the spirit alive. While some dancers enjoy performing to nostalgic songs, you can find people swinging to everything from country to hip-hop. Modern dancers maintain many of the classic movements but because of the form's openness to new ideas, you never know what innovative combination you might see on the dance floor.

Modern dancers enjoy both social dancing and performance. In addition to official DanceSport competitive dancing, local organizations also plan performances and competitions. Social dancing usually results in more restrained movements to prevent injury to themselves or other dancers. It may also be more repetitive as there isn't a need to pack a lot of moves in a short period of time. Dancers are more likely to do whatever feels most comfortable with the music, even if it means performing the same spin or pass multiple times.

Additional Resources

The following sites offer more information on the early days of the dance form and current innovations:

  • The Beginning of the Lindy Hop focuses on the Lindy Hop's Harlem origins and the big names of the time.
  • If learning about its history has piqued your interest in learning the style, swing dance steps online from a source like Learn to Dance can help you get started. For competitive information, visit the official USA Dance site for a syllabus of steps.
  • West Coast Swing America provides a list of helpful resources, including a historical perspective on several styles.
  • Yehoodi.com is an online community and news site for modern dancers, if you want to stay in touch with the future of swing dance.

Still Going Strong

Swing dance has its beginnings firmly rooted in a time in history when the world was rapidly changing from a cultural perspective. Used as an outlet for pent-up energy, the dance has continued to draw enthusiasts from around the world. Whether you enjoy dancing yourself or simply like to watch a performance, swing dancing is sure to lift your spirits.

Swing Dance History