Swing Dancing: What is it?

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Swing dance originated in the early 20th century with the Texas Tommy, followed by the Charleston and Lindy Hop. East Coast and West Coast swing developed later, with the former being more popular in ballroom competitions. Swing dancing is known for its lifts and spins, and has regained popularity in recent years. It is a vigorous form of exercise that can burn over 500 calories per night.

Swing dance represents a variety of dance forms related to the development of jazz music in the early 20th century. The first swing dance variation, the Texas Tommy, was thought to have originated in San Francisco. It resembles more well-known forms of swing dance in that the woman is pulled away from her partner in a combination of acrobatic moves.

The popularity of music associated with Charleston in the 1920s originated on the East Coast of the United States among African Americans. The Charleston had the unique advantage of being a dance that did not require a partner, although partner certainly could be made. The Charleston moves like step-kick and knee-crossing soon became popular in the United States, although some found the dance scandalous at first, as it was associated with “loose women” and morals.

The next development in swing dancing was the emergence of Lindy Hop in the 1930s, incorporating many of the movements from Charleston. It is considered the first “true” representation of swing dance, as it would develop over the next few decades. The steps were usually simple to learn, even if one had to think on one’s feet, as Lindy Hop required improvisation during the dance.

Jazz music up to bluesy chords and the emerging Rock and Roll developed Lindy Hop into Boogie Woogie or East Coast swing. A fantastic example of East Coast swing dancing is seen in the film version of the comedy, Grease. While this music has been adapted into the more mainstream rock of the mid-1950s, it is still essentially swing, with elements of Lindy Hop and Charleston mixed in.

The West Coast swing developed in the 1950s and was less forceful in nature, involving not so much footwork, but more partner spins. Along with Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing, the West Coast variety is representative of the modern swing dance repertoire. A variant, Western Swing, is sometimes danced to country music.

Both East Coast and West Coast swing are now performed in professional ballroom dance competitions. Initially, dance professionals did not find swing appealing, and some thought all variations of swing were vulgar. Dance competitions did not officially include any type of swing dancing until the late 1950s.
The basic swing steps are more easily understood when visualized. You take a step to the left, then to the right followed by three short steps. This is repeated with three passes in the opposite direction. Basic footwork can be easy to master and there are a number of good DVDs that can teach the basic steps.

Swing dancing is best known for its lifts and spins, which can be quite tricky to learn and require a greater degree of fitness. Swing regained popularity in the 1990s and is still going strong. There are now a number of swing clubs in big cities and small dance schools in suburban and rural areas, which meet faithfully for swing dance nights and to teach more advanced moves.
Swing dancing is vigorous, as is any aerobic exercise, so you may want to consult a doctor before starting a swing dance class. Overall, learning the steps and practicing is a fantastic way to increase your fitness. A night of swing dancing can burn over 500 calories in a way that many find far more enjoyable than more traditional types of aerobic training.

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