About Swing

"Swing" describes both a genre and a way of playing music, as well as a group of dance styles generally danced to that music.

At Swingland we concentrate primarily on the swing dance styles from the 1920s to 1950s; from Charleston to rock 'n' roll, but especially Lindy hop.

Lindy hop

The original Swing Dance

Also known variously as "jitterbug", "boogie-woogie" and "jive", Lindy hop was born in the dance halls of late 1920s Harlem, New York City, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Lindy hop grew from a fusion of partnered Charleston, jazz, breakaway and Texas Tommy along with more formal European styles. Although Lindy hop eventually spread worldwide and is now danced by people of all nations and cultures, it was created by black people and is at its heart, an African-American dance form.

As hot jazz music gave way to big band swing in the 1930s, Lindy hop evolved rapidly, especially at the legendary Savoy Ballroom, where the opportunity for the best dancers to entertain the tourists contributed to it becoming both a social dance craze and an exciting performance style!

Lindy hop is well-known for its amazing air-steps, where one or other partner (usually the follow) flies through the air over or around her (or his!) partner. Air-steps are done rhythmically in Lindy hop - rhythm is the essence of the dance.

This film clip from the 1941 film "Hellzapoppin'" shows Lindy hop at its height as a performance style - crazy, incredibly fast but still rhythmic (the dancing starts around half-way through the clip). Here's a modern Lindy hop competition too, and one of Swingland's previous performance groups in action at a display in Borough Market.

Lindy hop is also characterised by breakaway jazz steps where each partner executes his/her own improvised steps as an interpretation of the music. It is a very free, informal dance style.

Air-steps are generally reserved for competitions, performances and "jams" - most people prefer to dance socially, enjoying the opportunity to interact with different people. The music is happy and the dance is immense fun - a chance to relax and forget about other things in life!

Here are Swingland's Martin & Ruth Ellis dancing at their wedding (despite the comments on the audio, this is freestyle dancing, not choreography). The second video is a clip of two of today's best dancers (Skye Humphries and Frida Segerdahl) showing that you don't need air-steps if you don't want them!

Lindy hop is incredibly versatile and can be danced in one way or another to anything from late 1920s hot jazz to old-school rhythm 'n' blues, jump-jive, boogie-woogie, rock 'n' roll, lounge swing and more. A stylised form of Lindy hop can be danced to hip hop and swing-influenced remixes ("Electro swing") - but most Lindy hoppers prefer the original music, whether original recordings from the 1930s, 40s and 50s or good modern bands, especially live.

As with partnered dance in general, Lindy hop is currently enjoying a worldwide resurgence and is a living, evolving dance form as relevant today as ever - and most of all it's great fun!! It is a fantastic way to stay in shape too.

Lindy hop is featured in countless films, videos and stage shows - a wild and crazy, smooth and cool swinging style, we'll show you how to do it!

Authentic/vernacular Jazz dance

The roots of improvisation

The authentic "vernacular" jazz and tap dance steps from the 1930s and before are the basis of improvisation in Lindy hop and are therefore essential knowledge for accomplished Lindy hoppers. The following dances are all based on vernacular jazz and/or tap dance:

Shim Sham

The Shim Sham is a fun routine made up of simple jazz steps, generally done in a line, but often also in a circle. Originally the Shim Sham (Shimmy) was a tap routine choreographed by Leonard Reed - which was adopted universally by stage performers so that they could do a whole company encore at the end of a show rather than each act do individual encores. The Lindy hoppers of the 1930s and 40s took the dance and changed it subtly - nowadays most people can learn it without any experience of tap, although many dancers do put in some or all of the original tap elements as they become more proficient. It is done as a soft-shoe in clubs though - you can see it done with taps but generally only on stage or in cabaret. We teach the Shim Sham regularly because it is considered essential knowledge around the world in swing dance clubs, and is an excellent way to learn and improve jazz steps which are in many ways the foundation of good Lindy hop.

Big Apple

The Big Apple is a circular dance made up of more complicated and syncopated jazz steps, often called by a dancer in the centre of the circle. The dancers perform the steps called (or as choreographed), some of which require interaction with the other dancers. It was very popular in the dancehalls of the late 1930s - such as the Savoy Ballroom - but was also taken to the stage and in film, where it was more usually choreographed and therefore performed without a caller. We teach many of the Big Apple steps as the basis of improvisation in our Lindy hop classes and we also regularly teach the version choreographed by Frankie Manning and danced by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the film Keep Punching.

Tranky Doo

The Tranky Doo is a another fun jazz dance made up of more complicated and syncopated jazz steps, similar to the Big Apple but done in lines rather than a circle. We teach the Tranky Doo regularly as it is fast becoming essential knowledge for swing dancers!

Swingland Jazz routines

Over the years we've created many of our own routines for both classes and performances. "The Swingland Stomp" is a fun routine made up of simple jazz steps (with a couple of trickier steps thrown in!), generally done in a line. Choreographed by Swingland's Martin Ellis & Liza Patoux to the song Opus One. "Barrelhouse Boogie" is another of Martin & Liza's choreographies - you can see them performing it here. The second video shows Martin with Charlie Carter performing "It Ain't Right".


The 1920s craze

Lindy hop has many of its roots in the Charleston dance craze of the 1920s.

Many steps characteristic of Lindy hop are clearly derived from the earlier dance. With the move from hot jazz to swing music, dancers changed from a choppy, up-and-down style to a more fluid, horizontal style with a gentle bounce, so the steps look very different to the original Charleston. When people refer to Charleston in Lindy hop they generally mean partnered Lindy hop Charleston, but there has recently been increasing interest in learning the original Charleston - both partnered and non-partnered ("solo").

We teach Lindy hop Charleston as an essential and intrinsic part of our Lindy hop classes.

We also regularly teach solo Charleston, and occasionally the earlier partnered style - look out for special classes and workshops.

The Savoy Ballroom

The Savoy Ballroom, Harlem, NYC, 1926-1958

"The home of happy feet"

The Savoy Ballroom was located on the corner of 140th Street & Lenox Avenue - up in Harlem, New York City. Known as 'the home of happy feet' - or locally as 'the track' - it was a whole city block long and boasted a large dance floor and two bandstands where the musical greats of the swing era did battle. The Savoy opened at the height of The Harlem Renaissance and was an integrated venue where people black and white were allowed to mix and dance together, and it's said that the only important question was "can you dance?". In this melting pot of cultures and dance styles, the Lindy hop was created in the late 1920s and taken to its greatest heights in the 1930s. The best Savoy dancers - including the likes of Frankie Manning and Norma Miller - turned professional and took the dance worldwide, on stage and in film, with the group Whitey's Lindy hoppers.

Savoy style

By "Savoy style" we mean the style that would likely have been recognised as Lindy hop at The Savoy Ballroom - particularly by the black dancers. Our inspiration is Frankie Manning, the "Ambassador of Lindy hop" who sadly passed away recently, but was still travelling and teaching around the world at the grand old age of 94! In the 1930s and 40s Frankie was a regular at The Savoy, going on to lead and choreograph the most famous swing dance group of all time - Whitey's Lindy hoppers - and he is credited with the first ever Lindy hop airstep. According to Frankie, everyone at The Savoy had their style, and our aim is to bring that out in everyone. Savoy style is your style, but it does have a fantastic - and unique - smoothness and quality of movement which we will show you!

Read the story of The Savoy at
Archives of Early Lindy hop
The Harlem Renaissance
Welcome to Harlem, The Savoy Ballroom
Also see The Savoy Ball

Lenox Avenue, Harlem, 1938Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

This rare photo shows Lenox Avenue, Harlem in 1938, just a few blocks down from The Savoy!