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The Swing's the Thing

by Irv & Betty Easterday

Social dance styles have a tendency to change greatly from one decade to the next. It seems as if every new generation expresses itself by making a unique contribution to ballroom and social dancing. Just by tracing the evolution of SWING of the 1930s and 1940s one cannot help but be impressed by the ability of each younger generation to place its stamp on modern popular dance.

Jitterbug was the modern expression for a new kind of jazz in the 1930s and was Afro-American in origin. It went through a fad period of being eccentric, with its wild aerobatics inspired by the rising popularity of boogie woogie. The big apple, the shag, and the lindy were all products of that period. It changed after World War II to a more syncopated rhythm called "rock and roll," with the double lindy pattern, and to "swing," as the smooth sophisticated triple rhythm, which came in a short time later. All during the rock period, both the double and triple lindy could be seen on the TV show, American Bandstand. Then jitterbug began to come back. And a softer sound called boogie -- but no relation to boogie woogie -- began as a result of synthesization of electronic equipment. Both slow and fast swing are currently IN!

The different types of swing are most often determined by the speed of the music.

The slowest type of swing is west coast swing. Rock and roll, hustle, and disco are hybrids of west coast swing. They were developed from west coast swing slot action with a Latin influence. Because of the way American music developed, there was a "cross-over" into swing from the Latin rhythms -- hence, Latin hustle. West coast swing is composed of walks and double-time and triple-time actions.

East coast swing uses music that is somewhat faster and is mostly done with two triples left and right, followed by a rock and recover. Each "triple" is timed 1/2, 1/2, 1; a count of 1&2. There is more separation between partners in this type of swing. Movements are softer and slower than in jive.

Jive is the fastest of the swing dances. Because of the speed of the music, partners will stay closer together and make sharper rotations. The action is more "up and down" in the knees and legs. Often there is a lot of "picking up" of the legs and feet in order to predominantly accent beats 2 and 4 of each measure. The timing of each step in the triples is 3/4, 1/4, 1; a count of 1a2. The weight is carried well over the balls of the feet and the soft knees are used to lower. The heel barely touches the floor during execution of the figures.

There are other types of swing less used or not used in round dancing:

Lindy (Jitterbug) -- This dance has a smooth, "folksy" quality. One of its distinguishing features is the continual bending and straightening of the knees. The solid beat in the music gives this dance its characteristic lilt and bounce. Many texts list the basic as "dig, step, dig, step; step, step" as the primary figure. All the syncopated dances from the South -- charleston, black bottom, shag -- come under the lindy classification. But the shag, with its more pronounced hop, was the first actually to be called a jitterbug dance.

Rock 'n' Roll (Discotheque) -- This is one of the most diversified dances done today. The standard lindy figures are most often used, but the solid beat of the rhythm and blues music lends itself to dipping in the knees and a rocking of the torso. The twist set the style for disco dancing, which permitted dancers to move independently. the twist was just a fad, but from that dance step came the frug, watusi, monkey, and many others.

Swing music is written in 4/4 or cut time. It is extremely adaptable to fast or slow rhythm or to 4/4 time, from foxtrot to hard rock in quality. The shag was actually the first dance to be called jitterbug and its "slow, slow, quick, quick" rhythm set the pattern for all the others. The single lindy has the same rhythm.

The styles and positions used in swing are very diversified. It is a matter of taste for the individual dancers whether they use a dig step, a step hop, or a kick step. However, the basic rhythm must be maintained by both man and lady in order to coordinate the pattern together, unlike the disco in which the step or rhythm pattern of each partner is unstructured.

Many of these swing steps tend to cover a small circular or slot space in one area of the floor. The footwork is at all times small and close together with rolling and turning on the ball of the foot. The rhythm pattern is generally the same over and over, but the changes in position and direction and the constant subtle smooth roll to offbeat rhythm generates a fabulous excitement for both dancer and observer.

From clinic notes prepared for the URDC annual convention, 1996, and reprinted in the DRDC newsletter, February 2015.


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