What is Swing Dancing?

Swing dancing has a long history, going all the way back to 1927. It is an easy year to pinpoint because it is also the year the Charles Lindburgh – or Lindy, as he was also known – “hopped” over the Atlantic Ocean.

It was during that same period in history that two things were happening: swing music was just starting to hit its stride, becoming more and more popular; and black people in Harlem ballrooms were taking steps from different dances and combining them with new steps they created themselves, and weaving it all into one brand new dance. One fateful evening one dancer was asked what that cool new dance he was doing was called, and as the dance didn’t have a name as such yet, on a whim he called it “the Lindy Hop”. The name stuck, and within a few years people all over the country were doing the Lindy Hop, the original of what are now widely referred to as the Swing dances.

Swing is a wide family of dances incorporating many related (though sometimes only loosely) dances, from Lindy Hop to East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing to Boogie Woogie, Balboa to Shag, and from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Jive.

Jitterbug is another common term applied to the dances. It came about from an offhand remark by someone watching some people Swing dance, saying they moved “like Jitterbugs”. Jitterbug seems to be a term like Swing — that is, it isn’t one specific dance, but rather has been applied to several of the dances over the years. Many of the styles are similar and even share moves, and they were contemporary (that is, they are from around the same time). Some dancers would often even switch styles seamlessly in the middle of a dance. That’s why it’s hard to say any one dance was “THE” Jitterbug.