Swing Dance: Timeless Fun on the Dance Floor
What is now called "swing" originated as a number of different dance styles in the 1920s and '30s, primarily in black communities in New York. Swing dancing and jazz music grew together and had a lot to do with each others' developments. The best known styles of dance that originated during this time are the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug.
The dances were so impressive to watch and fun to do that they quickly went mainstream and were embraced by social dance enthusiasts and band leaders, white and black alike.
It took some time for the professional dance community to accept what was thought of as just a "craze" but swing eventually became an acceptable and competitive form of ballroom still celebrated today.
Ballroom dance teachers began teaching slower, modified versions of the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug, and the "West Coast" and "East Coast" styles were born out of this simplification of the dances that were too fast and challenging for beginners.
The fashions of the time were a big part of the social experience of swing dancing and jazz clubs. Because the ability to move freely was important, pants and short skirts were often worn to allow for the athletic and acrobatic. But as swing worked its way into sophisticated dance halls and ballrooms across the country, pants and short skirts were replaced with classier dresses. Since a form-fitting dress with a tight skirt would not do, and dress styles evolved to accommodate the range of motion required by female participants. And it didn't take long to figure out that a full, flowy skirt greatly complimented the drama of lifts and spins. Since skirts were going to be flying up and revealing what's underneath, stockings and undergarments had to be just as presentable as the rest of the outfit.
Modern day swingers love to dress up in period clothes, hair, and makeup inspired by the '30s, '40s, and '50s when they go out dancing. It makes the experience more fun and authentic. Lots of modern-day designers still create fashions that cater to competitive and casual swing dancers. Broad Minded Clothing and other brands provide full-skirted dresses that, when paired with a petticoat skirt, make swing dancing as fun and fabulous today as it was back then!
The Great Debate: East Coast vs. West Coast vs. Lindy Hop
Not since Tupac has there been such an East Coast / West Coast rivalry between two passionate factions.
While both of these styles can be traced back to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in the twenties, they have grown separately to become very different styles. And enthusiasts of each side believe theirs to be the superior dance. The dance that originally started it all was the Lindy Hop, a very fast and acrobatic dance.
The Lindy Hop begat the Jitterbug, which was even more vigorous than its predecessor. It was a bit too frenzied (and violent) for ballroom, so it was “tamed” and modified again to become the Jive. This is the style most similar to the current West Coast swing style. It’s bouncier, faster, performed mostly to 4/4 time, big band style music.
In California, the music was more western in influence with slower tempos and country/western instrumentation, which played a large part in the evolution of the dance style taught in California ballroom studios. The dancing became the slower and toned-down style we now call West Coast swing.
West Coast swingers consider their style to be the most sophisticated and refined. East Coast swingers think the West Coast style is watered-down and less musical. But both require a level of technical skill and rhythm and are equally impressive to watch and most importantly, equally fun to participate in.
Separate from the East Coast and West Coast styles is the original Lindy Hop, which has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. Harkening back to the original Harlem dances, the new Lindy Hop is aggressive, athletic, and often involves lifts and flips.
No matter which style you enjoy the most, you’re apt to have a great time doing it, especially if you’re wearing a reproduction swing dress from Broad Minded Clothing and Babygirl Boutique!