Brief History of Swing Dancing

swingersOften, music will influence the way a dance evolves, however, with Swing Jazz, it may have been the other way around. The bands playing live to their audience who were often always dancing, would tailor the music for the dancer's benefit. Quickly, the music evolved to fit the dancing, creating a bond between the two so great, they are even referred to by the same name : Swing.

Swing broke all the rules: it was loose, free, and completely modern. However, its easy to lump together all Swing and big band music, but one must understand that within the genre, many different rhythmic and harmonic styles flourished. There were Hot Bands, with a hard-driving sound, featuring groups such as Benny Goodman Count Basie, and Duke Ellington's groups. At the same time, there were those that put less emphasis on improvisation, and more emphasis on feeling and emotion. These were called Sweet Bands. Among these Sweet Bands were Glenn Miller, Freddy Martin, and Wayne King's groups. One must also realize that not all big bands were Swing bands. In fact, many big bands experimented with styles such as Bebop and Cool Jazz, and Latin musical styles.


In the 1920’s, a new dance was being developed, different from any previous dance. It would become known as the Lindy Hop, and later as the Jitterbug. Lindy Hop (the original form of swing dance) is a mostly 8 count dance based partly on the Breakaway and the Charleston, with influences from many Jazz dances and other previous dances. Smooth Lindy would develop soon after the birth of the Lindy Hop, and these two styles would give rise to various other dances.

Dance contests became more and more "attention getting". In the 1930's a dancer named Frankie Manning added the first aerial into the Lindy. Aerials (lifts, flips, and other "air steps") had been done for years in a few other dances through exhibitions by professional club entertainers, but supposedly had not yet been done in the Lindy Hop.
Frankie and his partner worked out a back flip they had seen, and they added it to their performance at a dance contest in an effort to beat the then Savoy Ballroom "king" dancer, George Snowden.

July 4, 1928. On the 18th day of a non-stop dance marathon at the Marathon Casino, the NYC Board of Health had finally closed down the event. Four of the original 80 couples were left standing. Contestant number 7, Savoy Ballroom dance star "Shorty" George Snowden, and his partner shared the prize with the other three couples. Earlier, when the event was still in full swing, people could post a small cash prize with the emcee for a brief mini-contest among the survivors. This was the backdrop in which Shorty's spontaneous throw-out breakaway, and a flash footwork improv, capturing media attention. "What are you doing with your feet?" asked the Fox Movie Tone News interviewer. "The Lindy Hop," replied Shorty George -- Charles A. Lindbergh (aka "Lindy") had recently "hopped" the Atlantic, landing on May 21, 1927. From Shorty George's ad hoc reply, the Lindy Hop was officially given a name.


Men such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Chick Web, and Tommy Dorsey would alternate between leading and soloing on each tune played. Other leaders led by playing piano full time on each song. Among these were Count Basie and Duke Ellington. A few of the in-front bandleaders were still around, one of the most famous being Cab Calloway, who in the 1980's was brought out of retirement, for a time, after his appearance in the now classic movie The Blues Brothers.

Today there are many types of swing. East and West Coast, The Lindy Hop, The Charleston, The Jitterbug, etc. The ASU Swing Dance Club teaches East Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, Shim-Sham.