What is swing? - swing dance styles
"Swing dancing" refers to a group of different dances - although it usually refers to Lindy hop, Jitterbug or Jive. At Swingland we concentrate primarily on the styles from the 1920s to 1950s; from Charleston to Rock 'n' Roll, but especially Lindy hop.
Also known as "Jitterbug" or "Jive", Lindy hop was born in the dance halls of late 1920s Harlem, New York City, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance - from a fusion of partnered Charleston, jazz, breakaway and Texas Tommy along with more formal European styles.
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. Here's one of our 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!
This clip of two of today's best dancers (Skye Humphries and Frida Segerdahl) shows that you don't need air-steps if you don't want them! Here's Swingland's Martin & Ruth Ellis dancing at their wedding (despite the comments on the audio, this is freestyle dancing, not choreography).
Lindy hop is incredibly versatile and can be danced in one way or another to anything from late 1920s hot jazz to 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 world-wide 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!
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing is a partnered swing dance style, perhaps the closest to what would have been called "Jive" in 1940s England. You can see East Coast Swing being danced to the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at The Derby (Los Angeles) in the film Swingers.
Also known as "6-count Swing", East Coast Swing is probably the easiest and most accessible of all the swing dance styles - it's great fun and a great way to start learning - and because the steps and footwork are also used in Lindy hop it is also an excellent introduction to the latter. We teach East Coast Swing as well as the basic Lindy hop steps in our beginners classes as a solid foundation for our more advanced classes - to get you dancing quickly and confidently!
Authentic jazz dance
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:
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.
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.
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!
The Swingland Stomp
The Swingland Stomp is another 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. We teach the Swingland Stomp regularly because it's an excellent way to learn and improve your jazz steps - and it's great fun!
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.