A Few Notes On East Coast Swing
by Dan & Sandi Finch
You might call it “senior swing,” a more leisurely form of fast dance that is easy on the knees and hips. It is officially east coast swing, the American cousin of that International style swing dance, jive. It is more relaxed than jive, without the bouncy moves and staccato knee pumps, and it is danced to slower music.
Jive and ECS use generally the same figures. The difference will be in how you dance them. Jive is expected to have a springy “up” bounce off the floor, with lots of knee action. East coast swing’s triple steps are done with a “pulling” the trailing leg across the floor action.
It has been said there is no right or wrong way to dance swing, and indeed you can find much seemingly conflicting information from a variety of sources. What is universally considered a characteristic of east coast swing is to feel a swing in your hips—hence the name of the rhythm. Jive, on the contrary, should induce a desire to kick and flick and bounce.
Jive is danced to music with a tempo ranging from 40 to 46 measures per minute. You should hear the “up” bounce in the music. East coast swing will fall in the range of 30 to 36 measures per minute, and you should feel a stronger down beat. Your reaction to that different feel is how you dance the steps.
The name east coast swing (ECS) evolved to denote where the rhythm grew up and to distinguish it from west coast swing, a completely different dance style that was born in California. East coast swing is the form of swing used today in American rhythm competitions. Jive was created by the British syllabus writers—from the steps they saw being done by our GIs who were based abroad. Jive is one of the rhythms in International Latin competition.
For the purist, ECS also differs from jive in its basic formula. The “rock recover” steps that start most jive figures will come at the end of east coast swing figures. In competition style, however, the triples come after the rock recover.
Many of the older “swing” dances in round dancing are essentially east coast swings because of their speed and where the rock recover occurs in the figures, as in the classic Roadhouse Blues (1981) by the Easterdays. In 2007, Brent and Judy Moore gave us the phase VI east coast swing You Bug Me Baby. Both are danced with the triple steps preceding the rock recover.
In fall 2012, Richard Lamberty released Home USA, a phase V east coast swing using the music of Fats Domino. It is slow, intended to be danced without the bounce of jive, but written with the rock recover preceding the triples.
Swing evolved as a street dance, shunned by dance studios of the Roaring 20s as being too wild. In 1936, the president of the American Society of Teachers of Dancing predicted that swing would not last beyond winter.
It was not until the 1940s that Arthur Murray instructed his studios to standardize and teach the swing style being done in their respective areas. As a result, dozens of regional styles of swing were given his blessing, and today dozens of swing variations are alive in the United States.
Lindy Hop, also called jitterbug, is still the most exuberant form of swing, with show-stopping moves, including lifts. You will find Imperial Swing in St. Louis, Carolina Shag in Virginia and the Carolinas, DC Hand Dancing in Washington D.C., and the Cajun Lindy in Louisiana, all slightly different. You also can dance country-western swing, “single swing,” and “double swing” with different timings.
The Roundalab Manual currently categorizes all swing figures—except west coast swing and single swing—under Jive because of the similarities between them. The category could as easily—and perhaps more correctly—be called Swing.
MUSICAL TIMING (For you technically inclined who like to count ¼ beats)
Swing is danced to music written with four beats to each measure. The rock recover occurs on whole beats as QQ (two even counts). The triple steps are syncopated. The speed of jive dictates how the triples are danced—we say 1a2 to show the second step of the triple steals a little from the preceding quick to have a count of ¼ beat. Thus, to dance three steps in two beats of music, the triple timing is ¾ ¼ 1. In ECS, whether we say the timing is 1a2 or 1&2, the second step steals a bit more time to take one- third or even one-half of the preceding beat.
The first quick of the triple in both rhythms is split. The second step of the triple is faster in jive than ECS because less time is allowed for it. That speed translates into the jive “bounce” and staying on the toes through the triple. In ECS, the first and second steps will be more nearly equal, therefore not as fast and bouncy, and the foot will lower more, creating its characteristic swing.
Steps are taken ball flat. Rock back under the body, slightly behind the heel of the other foot, thinking of opening the hip like a door swinging open but keeping the shoulders to partner. Recover is like closing the door. In jive, the heel of the foot doing the rock step would never touch the floor, to avoid getting stuck “in a hole” and unable to stay with the music. In ECS, street dancers might do a flat-footed rock. A “swing hip motion” will occur on the triples by keeping the opposite hip lifted on the first two steps of the triple and delaying the straightening of the leg on the last step when the hip will swing over the foot.
How do you know the difference between an east coast swing and a jive? By the feel. “The music is in charge,” said Peter Perzhu, Russian-born, American style, 9-dance champion now living in Florida, lecturing at an American Rhythm Congress in New York. Can you bounce doing an earthy swing when dancing for fun? If you feel it that way, do it. “Swing is all about having fun,” Perzhu says . . . however the music feels to you.
From notes for a local teachers' clinic in Southern California, prepared by Dan and Sandi Finch , 2012, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2014.