What is Swing Dancing?
Swing dancing is a dance style, or a group of dances, originating from Harlem, New York with Afro-American Roots. The feeling of the dance is "swinging", as it developed to the swing style of jazz music from the 1920s to the 1940s or 50s. The most known swing dance is the lindy hop that is danced today around the whole world. Developing from dances called breakaway and Charleston, swing dancing has not only that "swinging" feeling but lots of space for improvisation between partners. Swing dancing is danced socially, not just in competitions, which makes it interactive, fun and a great time as you get to meet and dance with lots of different people and have fun outside lessons too. Below you can find information on the various styles of swing dance. At EUSDS we offer Lindy Hop, Charleston and Balboa regularly, with some Collegiate Shag and authentic Solo Jazz sprinkled in too!
The swing dance to rule them all was invented in New York and developed out of the Charleston. It has a relaxed athletic stance, plenty of opportunity for both partners to improvise and lots of fun moves. It can be slow and playful or blazingly fast with spectacular acrobatics ('air steps' or 'aerials'), and everything in between.
Lindy Hop, sometimes called "Jitterbug" by those who do not dance, is the main dance style of EUSDS and of almost all other swing dance clubs and societies across the world. Lindy Hop is one of the most influential dances of the 20th century; it was not the first true partnered swing dance (shag pre-dates it) but it is the ancestor to a huge number of later dances such as jive, rock-n-roll and even break-dancing. Dating back to the late 1920s, Lindy Hop is a Rolls Royce of dance styles, able to look really smooth and cool to slow music, and also able to fly like the wind when the tempo picks up. You can watch archive clips of authentic Lindy Hop by clicking here (where the star is the inventor of the dance, George Snowden), here (after a short into), and here (with a 50s feel).
In our lessons we mainly do social Lindy Hop. This means you won't learn routines (unless for performances) but you will learn how improvise to any song with someone you might have never met before, and your feet will stay firmly on the ground for the most part. If however you want to go on and learn aerials or start competing and performing, these lessons will provide an excellent foundation!
You can start learning Lindy Hop in semester 1 or semester 2 - no experience or partner required!
This dance is a contemporary of Lindy Hop and developed on the other side of the country in California. The stance is a bit more upright, and in pure balboa, partners connect at chest level and express the music through intricate footwork, but it is also possible to open up to do fancy spins and other flashy moves with bal swing. You will learn both in our lessons. Compared to Lindy the steps are also much smaller so it is great for faster music.
Balboa is a jazz dance which can be done either to swing music or to the older, Dixieland, form of jazz. The dance dates from the 1930s, and was probably derived from Charleston and Collegiate Shag. It first became popular on the Balboa Peninsula of California in the 30s (although there are several competing stories of its origin). Pure Balboa is danced in a closed position with a chest to chest hold and, except in the 'break', this close hold is never lost. The dance is ideal for crowded floors and fast music.
Bal-Swing is a derivative of Balboa that opens out and takes up more space. Most 'balboa' classes taught round the world are actually classes in Bal-swing. Bal-swing includes all balboa and then a lot of other material besides. It is difficult to find vintage movies of Balboa. This vintage clip is of a style of Balboa/ Bal-swing that owed much to shag; it illustrates well the point that Balboa does not have to be a smooth and gliding dance!
Bal-trot is a modern invention which turns Balboa into a progressive dance that goes around the room the way that Foxtrot, Quickstep, etc. do. By dancing Bal-trot you can therefore mix with members of Footloose in ballrooms, but you still have the full repertoire of Balboa and Bal-swing moves to drop in to look really flashy!
You can start learning Balboa in semester 1 or semester 2 if you have previous experience in a lead/follow dance.
Shag is a very fast close-hold dance that evolved in the crowded dance floors of college "hops" in the USA. It can be danced to the fastest jazz music, and fits swing music as well as the Rag-Time for which it evolved (it pre-dates Lindy Hop). EUSDS was the first place in Scotland to teach classes in Collegiate Shag.
Visit the class notes page on the Swingdoctors' website for notes and videos about how to dance Collegiate Shag.
The Charleston is not strictly a swing dance but is such a close ancestor that it seems a pity to ignore it. The Charleston is the dance of the Roaring '20s. It is mainly an unpartnered dance form, and danced well can be both energetic and funny.
We teach some Charleston in our regular Monday classes in Semester 1 and 2.
Blues (Slow Drag)
Feeling the blues? Then Blues might for you. Growing up parallel to Blues music, Blues dancing has a slower and more intimate vibe. With a strong improvisational focus which can be danced partnered or solo! Refering to a family of dances, much of Blues can be split into two major styles. Ballroomin' Blues, characterised by large moves and lots of traveling, ballroomin' Blues formed in the ballrooms of big bands and slow tunes, danced as a break from the faster styles. Jukin' Blues, formed with a much closer tie to the growth of blues music, danced I'm juke joints, where space was often a limited resource! Jukin' Blues therefore has more emphasis on rthythmic movements and a lot of space for individual creativity and improvisation.
We don't teach Blues at EUSDS, but there are many other places where you can learn it, for example with Edinbop.
One feature of the swing era was a succession of crazes for jazz strolls and line dances. We teach some of the more famous ones, because they are fun and also because they are a very good way to practice steps that appear in partnered dances too.
You can see original footage (1930s) of Whitey's Lindy Hopers doing the Big Apple below.
St Louis Shag ('speed shag')
St Louis Shag is a partner dance derived from the Charleston. It can be danced at very high speed, although some of its figures can look graceful at moderately-paced music. It is danced mostly in place, the body barely moving but the legs dancing different patterns on the floor. It is not often seen any more - EUSDS is probably the only place to teach it in the UK.
The first 'Swing Age' lasted from the late 1920s until the early 1950s, and was at its height in the decade between 1935 and 1945. This was the era of 'big bands', led by jazz greats such as Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, all in the USA, and Billy Cotton, Ted Heath and The Squardonaries in the UK. Continental Europe produced its own distinctive styles at this time, such as the 'gypsy swing' of Django Reinhardt.
In the 1950s, swing was eclipsed by Rock'n'Roll (which shared the same deep roots in blues). From the mid 1980s, though, there has been a strong revival of interest in swing music and dance by a generation far too young to have remembered the first swing era, the formation of new swing bands ('neo-swing') and the revival and development of swing dancing.
Wikipedia pages on important musicians:
The first Swing Era:
We've also put a selection of good practice music on Spotify; click here to reach it.