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History Of Swing – Part 2

Swing Dance

In Part 1 of this article we explored how Swing evolved and pervaded the American dance scene, but the dance has also had a huge impact on modern culture. Find out more about its role in society and you’ll want to try a free dance lessons and get the bug for yourself.

Swing culture

As Swing dancing took off in the 1920s, the African-Americans who spawned the style started teaching the wider community how to Lindy Hop. Racial barriers began breaking down, but to make a living, aspiring Swing dance teachers needed to stand out as exceptional dancers. Many injected tricks like acrobatic flips into their personal style during public demonstrations to help drum up business.

Swing dance marathons led the Depression’s competitive dance craze in America with endurance contests seeing entrants perform non-stop for hundreds of hours in a bid to win much-needed prize money. The famous HH Harvest Moon Ball dance championships showcased the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug in 1938 for the first time. When the event was shown on movie newsreels the craze spread worldwide.

GIs travelling from America to Europe during the Second World War cemented the Swing’s popularity during the 1940s and later TV shows like American Bandstand featured teenagers jiving to Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, continuing the craze for a new generation.

Swing Style 

Films such as Swing Kids (1993) and Swingers (1996) and the fabulous Gap commercial in 1998 featuring Lindy aerials, all prompted a revival in Swing dancing in its many guises. Some purists dance only the Lindy, while others mix all the variations but a certain form can be seen throughout all Swing styles.

Descending from the Charleston, which was traditionally a side-by-side dance, Swing evolved to alternate between an open and closed position as the couple push away from each other before snapping back together like a rubber band. The footwork includes a rock step, ball change, twist and back step to facilitate this elasticity.

The overall movement is reminiscent of the style’s African roots as the whole body is used, not just the legs and arms. The frame is bent forward in a wide solid stance, rather than upright. Swing uses lots of improvisation and personalisation, as in African dancing, and elements of friendly competition and one-upmanship is actively encouraged in the Swing dance community. However, most aerial lifts and acrobatics are only seen in performance dances as they are too dangerous to attempt on the social dance floor.

Swing Fashion 

Swing is one of the best ways to let your hair down and many people dress up for a social dance. Men might wear high-waisted wide-legged pants with a button through shirt, but don’t be surprised if you see someone wearing a flash ‘zoot’ suit of the era. ‘Spectators’ are two-toned leather shoes perfect as part of the Swing ‘costume’. The toe and heel are dark colour (typically black) with the rest of the shoe in a lighter colour (usually white). If you don’t want to dress up, just remember the basics for enjoyable dancing, of comfortable, lightweight loose clothing and leather shoes.

Women can also have great fun dressing up in knee-length full skirts (petticoat optional), just remember to wear shorts in case your skirt flies up in a spin. Heels should be low enough to be able to dance properly, with lace-up or strappy shoes the best option for avoiding your shoes flying off with your kicks and flicks. Avoid jewellery which can catch on you or your partner as you twirl, and tie long hair back for the same reason.

Swing Socials

Part of Swing’s appeal is the lack of an intimate hold compared to many other partner dances, and so it lends itself well to the social dance floor. The whole ethos is to have fun and let yourself go, so if someone asks you to dance, just go for it.

If you find a partner who is more experienced than you are, don’t be intimidated as basic steps can be easily paired with flashier versions, however usually the better dancer will meet your level or even encourage you to be more adventurous.

Try a free Swing Dance Lessons

Swing is perfect for beginner dancers or those returning to dance classes to try a new style. Take a look at our top ten Swing songs here.  We’d love you to try a free class. Simply register online to take a private lesson at a studio near you.