On Let’s Swing

When thinking about the emerging music of the 1920s and 30s in the USA, swing music come to mind. The initial craze led into the Big Band era that continued into the 1950s.

From the likes of African-American giants as Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, and Louis Prima to Big Band icons as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman to the new generation of swing of Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, then onto the more contemporary sounds of Brian Setzer, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, swing has maintained a presence for many years.

Even within a generation, not all swing music is the same. Different music with different rhythms at different tempos also means different dances. Swing dance broke the rules of dance as it was fast, loose, and free … so the purpose of this post is to examine a few of the mainstays of swing dance.

Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop’s roots a traced back to the Harlem community of New York City, and influential dancer George “Shorty” Snowden. Life was a buzz with Charles Lindbergh’s successful solo flight over the Atlantic, and his name became attached to many things.

The dance, a fusion of Charleston and Foxtrot, moved out of Harlem and became popular – and also took on another name – the Jitterbug. Interestingly, this dance remains popular today – especially in clubs specializing in Lindy Hop/Jitterbug. Enjoy this classic movie clip that includes dance legend Frankie Manning.


As a variation of Lindy Hop, Jive became popular in the late 1930s, then American GIs took the dance to Europe. Although variations as boogie-woogie, swing boogie, and modern jive exist, today’s jive is a competitive ballroom dance.


East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing evolved as a simpler version of Lindy – that is, East Coast was easier to do and easier to teach. Arthur Murray Dance Studios were instrumental in popularizing this dance, which also became part of the competitive ballroom dance circuit.

Because of tempo variations in the music, one could subdivide this dance into single-time swing (fastest music, slower steps), double-time swing, and triple-time swing (slowest music, fastest steps).


West Coast Swing
With a Lindy style that was more anchored and whippy, dancer Dean Collins left Harlem and took the Lindy Hop to the California. From this, West Coast Swing developed into a slotted dance where dancers are either on or off the slot (track). West Coast Swing music is typically slower than East Coast Swing music with more of a smooth, blues, R&B, cool jazz sound. This video involves two good dancers dancing improv (not choreographed).


As another variation of swing that developed from the upbeat music of the 1930s. Shag developed in the African-American communities of the Carolinas, and then spread across the country. DIfferent variations include Collegiate, Carolina, and St. Louis. This video is interesting because is uses multiple dancers.

Swing dance isn’t limited to the above as other variations include Balboa (Bal), Rock and Roll, Western Swing, Imperial Swing, Jazz Dance Swing, Rock and Roll Swing, Acrobatic Rock and Rock, Washington Hand Dancing, Push and Whip, DC Swing, and Charleston. Even in competitive dance, American Style Ballroom Swing is different that International Style Ballroom Swing.Swing dance is also the foundation other modern dances as disco and country line dancing.

Speaking of line dances, let’s end the post with a classic. Shim Sham originally appeared as a tap routine in Harlem during the 1930s – but it morphed into a swing dance, then into a line dance for today’s swing dancers. Let’s bring back the great Frankie Manning for some Shim Sham.

Any favorites? Which of these do you wish you could do? Better yet, can you dance any of these swings?

Which of these dances should have its own dedicated post?

38 thoughts on “On Let’s Swing

  1. Oh, Frank thank you for a swinging weekend! 😉 I like things nice and simple so I’d go for the last one [Shim Sham] and then the first one [Lindy Hop]. Eventhough I get the difficulty level, they look more ‘natural’ and loose. And while we’re on the subject, I pray for the elements to ease off swinging America! It’s unprecedented what’s happening. So here’s to a quiet weekend for everyone! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marina,
      No matter if music, dance, art, food, or clothes, it comes down to a matter of personal taste and preferences. Shim Sham is a repetitive pattern/sequence and looks fun. Good in a group. (I don’t know it.) No matter the swing, natural and loose are good descriptors.

      Meanwhile, two hurricanes within a short time period is a difficult challenge on their own – let alone the other stuff going on here.


  2. Oh Frank – that was fabUlous!! I loved them all and declare loudly as each one ends ‘that’s my favourite’ …… I have not heard of the Shag before and it looks so much fun to do. Seeing all the dancers take turns showcasing their own styles was just great. I loved the improv – how I wish I could dance like that. The last one, the Shim-Sham, was also new to me and I really liked the changing relationships to the beat and rhythm. I vote for a post for each dance showcased here 🙂 All in all a most successful post and such a fun way to spend my time this Saturday evening – when once I would have been out dancing the night away 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pauline,
      I know you enjoy these dance posts, so I’m glad you saw this. As you saw, there is a wide variety of swing, and it does come down to personal preferences in dance and the accompanying music. Shag is definitely a regional USA dance, … Shim Sham still is a line dance … swing clubs exist emphasizing Lindy …. while East and West Coast are probably the most-commonly dance. Lotsa of fun … and thanks for the suggestion about a post about each. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Frank! I know that Hellzapoppin video, and really like it!
    Oddly enough, at around 12, my best friend & I would go dancing with 2 boys from school. One of them had an older uncle who did competition dancing. He taught us how to Jive. When I look at the videos, it seems the Jive he taught us fell between The Jive & Carolina Shuffle. 😀
    Shim Sham was very neat! Happy weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jo,
      One doesn’t have to be a dancer to enjoy watching dancers. Let’s face it, there’s a lot to enjoy in this collection of videos!

      You are correct about my connection to ballroom dance. We take lessons and are frequent attendees on the social ballroom dance circuit here. One thing for sure, we’ve gotten to know many nice people through dance.


  4. Lordy! That Lindy Hop is frantic and frenetic! Fastest version of swing I ain’t never done seen!
    That version of jive was okay…. she definitely has Tina Turner’s signature moves down.
    That East-Coast swing is like a smooth, jazz, going down easy.
    That West-Coast swing. I never would have thought that was considered swing (then again, I know diddly-squat about dancing!) Definitely a sexy version…
    Now that Carolina shag – that’s how I remember my parents dancing once upon a time…
    Loved the shim-sham – his booty shaking is the best.

    This post was so much fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: On East Coast Swing – A Frank Angle

Comment with respect.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.