What is Swing Dancing?


Swing Music

Swing has to do with the rhythm of the music where accented notes are played at roughly twice the emphasis of the non-accented notes. A simple way of explaining this is to say the word “bicycle:” it has three syllables, but the emphasis of the first syllable is roughly twice that of the last two.

Swing was the predominant style of jazz music played from the late 1920s to mid-1940s. It is usually played by big band ensembles that use a rhythm section with drums, bass, sometimes a guitar, and almost always a piano, a brass section of trumpets and trombones, and a reed section of saxophones and clarinets. Musicians who are most known for their contributions to swing music include Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Billie Holliday, Slim Gaillard, Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong...and we're just getting started. Many musicians also carried the tradition of hard-swinging rhythm past the swing era, and bring us a whole new generation of swinging jazz.

Lindy Hop

Lindy Hop, the dance that started it all, stands today as America's true folk dance. Legend has it that one of the Harlem’s best in the day, Shorty George Snowden, coined the name when he saw a newspaper headline, “Lindy Hops the Atlantic" in 1927, the year that Charles A. Lindbergh made the first ever transatlantic flight.

The dance was first created by African-American kids during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s. Like swinging jazz, Lindy Hop is improvisational and playful, which is what makes social dancing fun and its competitions so delightful to watch.

The Lindy Hop's renaissance period began in 1984 when Frankie Manning, a pioneer of the dance in the 1930s and choreographer for the famous troupe Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, came out of retirement. He appeared in the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’, performing a swing routine (complete with aerials) that is now universally recognized in the swing world. By the late 1990s, the swing craze was booming; many nationwide had caught the jitterbug.

Swing Dancing Today

These days, people dance to not only classic big band swing tunes, but also electro swing songs by artists like Caravan Palace and Parov Stelar. Modern East Coast Swing dancers are also inspired by dance styles such as West Coast Swing, Tango, and Hip Hop. Competitions that range from the International Lindy Hop Championships to the inventive and unconventional Jedi Swing Finals take place every year. As a social dance, swing continues to attract a vibrant crowd of all ages as it fosters life skills such as connection, trust, and improvisation in one of the most irresistibly fun ways possible!


What is the Shim Sham?

Originally a tap dance routine performed during the 1930s, the Shim Sham became popular in the swing community after Frankie Manning adapted it for swing dancers. It is now often danced at social dances, usually to “Tain't What You Do (It's the Way That Cha Do It)” by Jimmie Lunceford. Since the choreography for the Shim Sham consists of ten eight-count phrases, dancers usually pair up with a random partner to dance until the end of the song, while the DJ occasionally yells out directions such as “Freeze,” “Slow Motion,” or “Dance” to spice things up.

What are Jams?

When dancers form a Jam Circle, different couples take turns going into the center of the circle to show off their moves. However, Jams are also commonly used to commemorate special occasions, such as birthdays (there are birthday jams, visitor jams, and farewell jams, just to name a few)! The dancers in the outside circle take turns ‘stealing’ the special person (or people) in the center throughout the song. Check out the video on the left for an example of a birthday jam, and the one on the right for a great demo of jamming and stealing!

A Typical Playlist