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Swing, lindy, jitterbug, shag, and hand-dancing


About swing

Selection from Dancing: A Guide to the Capital Area by Pat McNees (mostly online for free now). See links below

Swing dance, says Leslie Plant, “developed in the 1920s when the Lindy Hop, an energetic improvisational jazz dance, took Harlem by storm. By the 1930s, with the arrival of the swing style of Big Band Dance, the Lindy Hop, sometimes referred to as the ‘one true American Folk Dance,' had become even more popular, drawing huge crowds to ballrooms across the country.” Swing dancers consider swing a folk dance. Stan Fowler, the clogging Glen Echo Park ranger, backs his case with a 1943 article from Lifemagazine headed: “The Lindy Hop: A True National Folk Dance Has Been Born in U.S.A.” Much of the energy behind the original swing revival in D.C. came from contra dancers, many of whom became interested in swing in the 1980s because Ken Haltenhoff and Anne Townsend were doing it at all-night parties Ken would hold after the Bluemont contra dance. Many contra dancers do both; some are shifting their allegiance to swing.

What is the difference between the Lindy Hop, swing, jitterbug, and shag? between West Coast, western, and East Coast swing? and between Varsity, St. Louis, and Carolina shag? First, it's important to understand that there are both eight-beat and six-beat forms of swing (not to mention four-beat). The Lindy Hop used eight (not the usual four) beats of music to complete a figure. Popular in the late ’20s, it originated in 1927 after Lindbergh's flight to Paris, when some young black dancers began improvising eccentric off-beat steps in a corner of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The couple would start together in ballroom position, then the man would fling his partner away and improvise on a “solo hop,” reminiscent of Lindbergh's then-recent flight across the Atlantic. (I lean here on two excellent accounts by Robert Crease of the dance's early history: “Swing Story” in the 2/86 Atlantic Monthly and “Last of the Lindy Hoppers” in the 8/25/87 Village Voice.)

Jitterbug, which was popular in the 1930s, speeded the dance up, says Craig Hutchinson of Potomac Swing (emphasizing that no two people will agree on these definitions), using six beats of music for each figure. Both the lindy and jitterbug used acrobatics, aerials (e.g., flipping the woman over the man’s back), and breakaways (where the partners break apart from each other and do different things). “In the forties,” says Hutch, “the dance schools tamed the jitterbug and Lindy Hop — took out all the bumps and grinds, squats and aerials — and the music changed, too. They started playing swing music and came up with a much smoother, more sophisticated form of dance called swing.

The extended rhythm of the Lindy's eight counts, writes Crease, gave the dancers “plenty of leeway to incorporate elaborate twirls, flips, and all the other jazz steps, including the Charleston. The dancing became hotter still with the arrival of the swing style of big-band music, in the mid-thirties; the swing sound developed when bands substituted bass and guitar for tuba and banjo in their rhythm sections. (The term swing soon spread from the music to the dance. Today dance studios use swing, Lindy, and jitterbug synonymously, although dance connoisseurs make distinctions among them, considering swing dancing to be the whole genre and jitterbugging to refer to a bouncy, six-count variant of Lindying.” Crease says the Swedes (who are great at swing dancing) call swing “the American hambo” (a wonderful but complex Scandinavian couples dance).

Swing developed in two different directions: into East Coast swing, which is danced in a circular area, and West Coast swing, which is danced on a straight track. “In country swing and jitterbug,” says Craig Hutchinson, “the emphasis is on leading the lady through a variety of dance positions: the man who can take the woman through the most moves in fifty beats is the winner. Westcoast swing is sometimes called slot dancing, because the man stands in one place and passes the woman back and forth to either side as if she were in a slot.” West Coast swing in the Midwest emphasizes taking the ladies through a variety of dance positions. On the West Coast it emphasizes the lady doing synocopated rhythm breaks (syncopations). West Coast swing on the East Coast, a la Carolina shag, emphasizes the man doing the rhythm breaks — the man is the show.

In country swing there's very little leg work; in West Coast there's a lot of leg and foot work. (In the hustle the emphasis is on the upper body and the lady's arm work.) To the old timers East Coast swing is jitterbug and West Coast swing is swing and then there’s ‘studio swing’ (or “jive”) to cover the swing taught in dance studios. There's also ‘triple swing,’ where you add a couple steps on the slow beats.

If that doesn't confuse you, add shag, which, says Hutch, “has its roots in the Charleston music of the twenties and was popularized as the Varsity shag in the thirties. Shag has different meanings to dancers in different parts of the country. Originally it was a light bouncing dance predominantly performed in closed dancing position, emphasizing fancy footwork and an eight-beat figure, with a few breakaways. It was originally (in the thirties) called Varsity Shag, is currently called the Balboa out on the West coast, and is not to be confused with St. Louis shag (which is a variation on the Lindy hop) nor Carolina shag (which is a variation of West Coast swing, which in turn is called Alcatraz in New Orleans).” [See Robert Crease's interesting article, “The Return of the Shag” in the September 1988 Atlantic.]

“The problem is,” Hutch continues, “every major U.S. city has its own style of swing dancing. I use the term generically to cover every form of swing from the l910s Texas Tommy to the 1980s hustle. It’s the form of dance the young generation performs to their popular contemporary music. You can lump Charleston in there — it’s predominantly where they’re dancing as a couple. The dance schools are continually trying to tame whatever dance forms are out there so the elderly ladies can dance it. They’re always saying the younger generation is going to pot — and their dances have to be watered down so their older clientele can feel comfortable doing them.” (They said the same thing about the waltz, which so wickedly brought male and female bodies close together.)

“The Lindy Hop was performed by young kids in the twenties, jitterbug in the thirties, swing in the forties, and rock and roll/bebop/Carolina shag in the fifties. In the sixties, young kids broke away and danced animal caricature dances; in the seventies they danced the hustle.” Each of these dances is characterized by a unique set of moves that are suited to the music of the period. “The music of the seventies lent itself to the development of the hustle just as the music of the twenties lent itself to the development of the Lindy Hop.”

Copyright (c) by Pat McNees. Do not reprint without permission (for which, contact the author at www.patmcnees.com).

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All About Swing Dancing (Thanks, Kaila Novak, in Elizabeth Pawlicki's youth group, for directing my attention to this excellent resource)
Swing dancing at Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom (six-count swing, as opposed to Lindy, which is eight-count)  Both are done at Glen Echo.
Archives of Early Lindy Hop (Savoy Style -- including history notes, biographies of the original dancers, and links to clips of them dancing, from old movies)
Frequently asked questions about Lead and Follow
Swing Dance Steps (Ross Mernyk)
Jive Steps and Swing Steps (plus links to foxtrot, polka, and waltz steps) (Centralhome.com)
The History of Dance (brief histories and links to DVDs for sale)
So you want to learn to Swing Dance? (Samson Timoner's page, with a few principles worth knowing as you start to learn how to swing dance. For example: "Learn to stay at constant height: Swing can look like there is a huge amount of motion involved even though there is often very little vertical motion. Having lots of vertical motion in your dance makes you look ridiculous. It is also very difficult to dance with someone who jumps up and down. (Note: one foot should always be on the ground at any one time.)"
Cleveland’s “Junior Jitterbugs” Win Junior Championships in International Competition (Mhari Saito, IdeaStream, 9-2-11). In 2011, a group of Cleveland elementary school kids brought home the top prizes in the junior division at the International Lindy Hop Competition.
Skippy Blair's Dance Dictionary
Unlocking the Mysteries of West Coast Swing for Newcomers (H. Leon Raper)
Swing Dance Lingo (Michigan State Swing Society)
Is Your Dance Partner Dangerous?: Swing Dancing and the Fight or Flight Response (Jason Sager, whose site I found when the one I'd previously posted disappeared: The World of Floorcraft, or How Not to Kick People
Raper's Who's Who in Swing Dance (H. Leon Raper), with informative links to all kinds of things, including Dancing in Motion Pictures

Hand Dancing in DC, MD, and VA

DC Hand Dance is an improvisational form of swing style partner dancing developed in the Washington, DC area in the early 1950s by African Americans as a form of recreation and entertainment.

D.C. Hand Dance Club Hotline: 301-460-0800
The History of DC Hand Dance (The National Hand Dance Association)
Hand Dancing Meetup Groups in Washington <
Mayor on the move: Vince Gray is the No. 1 fan of a D.C. art form, hand dancing (Nikita Stewart, Washington Post 1-1-2011)

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Dance clubs and venues where you can swing dance in Washington DC area

Ballroom at Maryland (frequently asked questions about BAM student-run group classes). See also Steve's class notes (beginner West Coast swing and Viennese waltz)
Chevy Chase Ballroom
Dance Jam Productions (Dave Moldover's guide to DC Area West Coast Swing, Hustle, Hand Dance, Country, Lindy -- and it's Dave Moldover who runs the dances)
DanceDC.net (classes with Donna Barker and Mike Marcotte at Glen Echo Park)
Dean & Dawn (among other things, they teach excellent lessons in West Coast swing at Cherry Hill)
DC Swing Net (hustle, lindy, shag, and hand dancing)
Dushor ballroom dance studio
Friday Night Swing Dance Club (Baltimore)
Flying Feet Enterprises (Ellen Engle and Marc Shepanek teach the old dances). Here they are on Facebook
Gottaswing (Tom and Debra teach jitterbug and Lindy hop)
Hollywood Ballroom (located in an industrial park in Maryland, but with a great dance floor!)
Hot Club of DC (music, really -- Gypsy Jazz in the tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli)
Hot Society Orchestra of Washington (plays dance music of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, recreating sound of jazz dance bands of earlier era, often at Glen Echo)
Mid-Atlantic Dance Net (studios all over the DC area)
Mobtown Ballroom, located in historic Pigtown, in Baltimore (861 Washington Boulevard Baltimore, MD 21230)
Northern Virginia Shag Club (shag dance every Wednesday, 6:30-10:30). Here you will find links to shag dances elsewhere in the U.S.A.
The Promenade DanceSport Facility (Baltimore, a somewhat older group does ballroom)
Swing Dances at Glen Echo
Swing Out DC (swing dancing & Lindy hop in Washington DC
Tom Cunningham Orchestra

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Swing dance camps

Swing Dance Camps Around the World (Laura Laker, The Guardian, 11-2-12). Indulge your love for the lindy hop and other swing dances at one of the growing number of international festivals – from Russia to Argentina – for dancers of all abilities
Camp Jitterbug (Seattle, Memorial Day weekend)
Herräng Dance Camp (late June to early August, northernmost Sweden)
Palm Springs Swing Dance Classic & Dance Camp Extreme (August, Palm Springs, CA)
Swing Out New Hampshire (late August, Camp Wicosuta, at north end of Newfound Lake, near Hebron, NH)
Camp Hollywood (Seattle, Labor Day weekend)
Camp Swing (Mendocino Woodlands, CA, in the fall)

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Dance Clubs and Societies Around the States

University of Maryland (links to many college ballroom dance clubs)
Michigan State Swing Society
Houston Swing Dance Society
Chicago Swing Dance Society
Triangle Swing Dance Society

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Video of various styles of swing dancing, over the years

Rare vintage swing dance clips (Atomic Ballroom)
Archives of Early Lindy Hop (Savoy Style -- including history notes, biographies of the original dancers, and links to clips of them dancing, from old movies)
Boogie woogie (a superfast, energetic swing dance, with aerials, as danced here by Maeva and Will, with Silvan Zingg on piano (YouTube video)
Swing dancing at Glen Echo to Doc Scantlin: Rug Cutter's Swing (Maryland, 12-26-17) More of same, plus Jean Veloz swing dancing at Glen Echo.
1940 jive lindyhop dance to "In the Mood"
Swing Dance (Genevieve Grazis, 6-6-15) Clips from movies.
Genevieve Grazis, the lost follower ISDFNKA #4 (Swungover, 6-7-11) Incredible Followers That No One Knows About. Leading is one skill set; following is another. Johnny Duncan, who got his start in jitterbug movies, is leading here.
FlipIt video Swing dancing at Glen Echo, 12-1-08)
Lindyfest 2019: Open Swing Dance Battle - Fast Round (Houston Swing Dance Society, 3-30-19) Dancing competitively.
Arthur Murray demo of collegiate shag dancing, 1937 (here swing does get bouncy--several demos on this site)
• Britain's Jive Aces, playing "Bring Me Sunshine." After a slow start, you get to the music and the dancers and the campy costumes and recreation of the 1950s scene, British style, with turquoise booths, pompadours, circle skirts, and saddle oxfords.
Video of Dawn Hampton dancing at Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom (one of the original Savoy Ballroom swing dancers still cutting a rug, with style)
Donna Barker & Ken Haltenhoff dancing six-count swing (Swing Dance demo, 1989 -- this is really part of Glen Echo history, though not shot at Glen Echo)
Swing dancing at Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom (various styles and evenings)
Baltimore Dance: The Friday Night Swing Dance Club (held in Towson, MD, video from 2009)
2011 Blues Shout Strictly Slow Blues (shows many couples doing a recently popular form of bluesie slow swing dancing -- you can tell it's at Glen Echo from those patches on the floor)
Greg Scott and Hannah Wenzel perform their Classic West Coast Swing routine (mind you, not everyone does it this well!)
Dancers from West Coast swing competitions (Dave Moldover's Dance Jam Productions, videos uploaded on YouTube)
Videos of West Coast swing in dance competitions (Dave Moldover, Dance Jam Productions)
Video of Erik & Sylvia, young dancers at Glen Echo jam (2005, YouTube video)
Competitive lindy dancing (superfast, from LindyLibrary.com, where you'll find lots of video of lindy dancing)
Country swing dancing (Forever Swing)
MADjam 2012 Champions Jack & Jill Final - Arjay Centeno & Melissa Rutz.mov (West Coast swing champions)
Greg Scott and Hannah Wenzel perform their Classic West Coast Swing routine (mind you, not everyone does it this well!)

DC Hand Dancing
DC Hand Dancers (6-7-14)
Dancing in the Name of Love Millennium Stage, 2-14-2020, an hour or so of video)
D.C.'s official dance: "Hand dancing" (2017)
DC Hand Dancing, old style (from '50s and '60s)
Dancing at DC Hand Dance Club (June 2009)

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Shopping for Swing Dance Stuff

I am listing but not necessarily recommending -- I haven't shopped at these sites. If you have kids who go dancing in the neighborhood, chances are your town has a local shop that sells dance shoes. Meanwhile, here are a few resources which I hope are helpful, if for nothing more than showing you what's possible. In no particular order:
What to Wear for Swing Dancing (Roaming Lindy Hopper)
Vintage Clothing — Dance Clothes and Shoes for Swing Dancing(Hepcats! Lexington, Kentucky) Pay attention to this advice -- especially, men, suggestions to bring an extra top, because you will probably sweat!
DanceStore.com (shoes and more)
Ray Rose Dance Shoes, UK
Swing dance clothing (Etsy)
Swivels Shoes for swing dancing, from Paris. Click on Derbies and on Ankle boots (in lots of colors)
Discount Dance (several stores in California)
Where do I buy shoes for swing dancing? (Heather Ballew FAQ, with links to places to shop)
Finding Swing Dance Clothes (Adrea Gibbs, professional dancer)
How to make any shoe into a dance shoe (Vintage Dancer) See also Swing Dance Clothing You Can Dance In
Styles from Vintage Fashion to Steampunk
Swing Dance Shop (Vintage clothing by ReVamp, custom-made in limited editions)

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Other dance pages on Pat's website

Dancing: A guide to the Capital area (Dancing in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia)
Ballroom Dance
Ceilis (Irish dancing)
Country Western Dancing
Folk dancing in the Capital area (Contra, English country, international, Irish, Israeli, Scandinavian, Scottish)
Love at First Waltz (by Cheryl Kollin)
Shuffling Off to Buffalo Gap Dance Camp (Pat McNees)
Swing, lindy, jitterbug, shag, and hand-dancing
Dating -- again! (that's extra, but often relevant -- dancing is one way to restore your social self, after separation)
Many of the stories by Pat McNees posted here appeared first in the Washington Post

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