Shake It Up With A Little Jive
& Dan Finch
You either love it, or you wish the teacher would just ignore this
rhythm, called Jive. It is fast. It comes with a bunch of figure names
that aren’t used in any other rhythm. And while the timing sounds a lot
like Cha Cha, it doesn’t move a bit like Cha Cha.
But here we are just through Christmas, and you can’t ignore it. Among
all the two step and foxtrot dances written to Christmas music, at some
point, you will hear the Jives--A Jivey Little Christmas if you dance
advanced. Or Jingle Bell Rock, Phase IV, or one of the versions of
Winter Wonderland written at the Phase III level.
Not to worry. Jive is fun and not at all like those crazed Jitterbug or
Lindy demos you see on YouTube. Some terminology should be clarified up
front. Jive is a form of swing dancing. Swing is an umbrella category
also including East Coast Swing which is very similar to Jive but
different. In both, the basic step consists of two triple steps and a
rock recover – but they have major differences that distinguish them
from each other. Swing also includes West Coast Swing, which has no
rock recover. You may also see Single Swing in round dancing, which
does not have any triple steps.
All swings are decidedly American in origin. Danced by our GIs during
World War II, the swing went to all places the soldiers traveled and
became popular with the young set. Their rowdy form was toned down by
the British and made one of the five rhythms in International Latin
competitions. American dance professionals adopted their own version
for American rhythm competition that is called swing. Other variations
continue as “street dances,” with varying standards depending on the
part of the country where it is done, such as the Carolina Shag or the
Texas Push. Lindy retains the exuberance, flings and acrobatics of the
old GI dance form.
True Jive is done to fast music that will make you naturally want to do
an “up” bounce on the triples. It is generally a non-progressive dance
that accentuates up and down action, rather than travel. The same steps
done in East Coast Swing will be done with a “down” feeling, into the
floor. The other difference between the two is where the rock recover
occurs – at the start of Jive figures and at the end of East Coast
figures. That said, in round dancing, choreographers are likely to put
the rock recover wherever. The music will tell you to dance with a
bouncy, buoyant feel or a slinky down beat.
Jive and East Coast Swing are danced in circular patterns around
partner. West Coast Swing is danced in a slot.
The biggest fault in dancing Jive is working too hard. Steps have to be
small; taking too wide a step requires the body to work harder to be in
balance and to stay on time with the music. Steps are taken on the ball
of the foot with the knees flexed.
Aim to keep the shoulders level and body straight. On the rock recover
that begins most steps, step back under the body with instep behind
heel, thinking of opening the hip like a door swinging open. Recover,
like closing the door. Don’t take a big step back. This is part of not
working so hard, and it maintains better contact with the partner.
The Jive basic rock is counted 123a4. Like Cha Cha, you are to dance
five steps in four beats of music. In each rhythm, you do this by
dancing two steps on beat 3. It is an even split in Cha Cha, counted as
123&4. Jive splits beat 3 unevenly, giving 3/4 of beat 3 to one
step and only 1/4 to the second step, with the count of 123a4. This is
designed to create the up bounce characteristic of Jive.
If you aren’t tired of hearing Christmas music in the malls by now, you
can get a good dose of them while round dancing.
Neil Koozer wrote Little Saint Nick, phase III Jive with a phase IV
link rock added, to the Beach Boys classic. It has lots of swivel
walks, point steps, jive walks and chasse L & R. The Dois in Japan
wrote a Phase III with pretzel turn to the classic Winter Wonderland.
Bill Bingham write a Phase V Jive (with foxtrot in Part D) called
Rockin’ In A Winter Wonderland to the Rockapella version of Winter
Susie & Gert-Jan Rotscheid wrote one of the Jingle Bell Rock dances
to the Brenda Lee song, theirs at phase IV + 2. It adds Spanish arms,
chasse rolls and American spin. It came out in the era where some
choreographers only listed the figure and said “see Roundalab
Standard.” Hopefully, you’d get a teach on the figures when you’re
taught the dance.
We regularly play Bill & Carol Goss’s Cool Yule, written to the
Bette Midler song, during the holidays for advanced dancers.
For an unusual musical arrangement of Have Yourself A Merry Little
Christmas, try A Jivey Little Christmas by Annette & Frank Woodruff
of Belgium. It uses the Bobby Zee interpretation of the holiday
classic. At Phase V, it has the usual assortment of Jive figures and
throws in a thru vine 8 and single and double Cubans for variety.
The name “jive” comes from bandleader Cab Calloway’s 1938 “Hepster’s
Dictionary: A Guide To the Language of Jive.” Jive essentially means
slang talk. The dictionary codified what Calloway called “Harlemese
speech,” the slang that arose from African slaves. With the dictionary,
he said, “you could get hep to the jive.”
It’s come a long way from Harlem, but our Jive is still a language of
its own, and it swings right in with Christmas.
From a club
newsletter, December 2021,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, January, 2023. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.