To the modern dancer, one might fall into the misguided notion that Swing Dancing is kitschy or at best; nostalgic. This could not be further from the truth! Swing is "The All American Dance" and has always been the rebel in Ballroom. Its moves are fast, wild and liberated. Weather you prefer Charleston, Lindy Hop, Swing, Jitterbug, Jive or West Coat Swing they all different incarnations of the same iconic dance.
Like the music that inspired and grew side by side with Swing, we owe this dance to the African American community. The dance was born on an island on the South Carolina coast and was spread by an all African American group who played gigs around the continental U.S. The first location to feel the effects of this sensation was Charleston, where the dance earned its name. By 1913 the dance found its way to Harlem where it influenced and was influenced by the renaissance of the community there.
The Charleston didn't find its national spotlight until after the conclusion of WWI. After many years at war and the harsh reminder of mortality brought by the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 the nation was ready to celebrate life and a booming economy. America's "Roaring 20's" is inseparable from Jazz and the Charleston. It was an explosion of quick kicks and arm movements, night and day from other popular dances at the time.
Swing evolved quickly in the early 20th century. By 1927 the term "Lindy Hop" was born. By this point what was once the Charleston had developed into a dance filled with complicated arm tricks, leaps and acrobatics. The name "Lindy" is said to have been coined after Charles Lindbergh's first solo transatlantic flight. Duke Ellington's hit "It Don't Mean A Thing If You Ain't Got That Swing" in 1932 is thought to have brought the term "Swing" to define both the dance and the musical genre just like how Cab Calloway's "Jitterbug" attached itself as a new name for this exciting dance in 1934.
The term "Jive" was used originally as a derogatory term toward caucasian dancers who had appropriated the dance with Swing and Jazz culture. As American GI's popularized the dance abroad during and after WWII the term stuck for good. With the boom of television and teen cultures obsession with Rock n' roll in the 1950's brought even more media attention.
Swing, from the time of its first appearance, was considered wildly inappropriate by the ballroom community with many believing the craze would fade before the end of the 1930's. It became clear after the end of the dances third decade of popularity that Swing was here to stay! Arthur Murray was one of the first ballroom institutions to recognize this and began offering Swing classes in the early 1940's, embracing a dance that would one day define nearly half a century of American culture.
It wasn't until the 1960's that close contact partner dances fell out of fashion leading to a decline in King Swing's popularity in the U.S. Swing dancing underwent a revival in Europe in the 1980s, taking over discotheques in France and then clubs in the UK during the 1990's. In 1989 California even named West Coast Swing it's state dance.
Swing is considered a "living dance". It is not a time capsule that is limited to one time, place or generation. It is a constantly evolving art form that is spurred by the music and culture of the day. This once scorned dance form now has a special place in every ballroom around the world. This American creation made its mark on the global community and its influence can still be felt to this day.
by Talia Martin