The title of a classic jazz standard composed by Duke Ellington in 1931 – "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" – is a fitting description for how dancers feel when they request a "Swing" for more uplifting music during dance parties.
When it comes to worldwide popularity, Swing dancing is near the top of the curve, undoubtedly due to its versatility, limitless options for improvisation, and a universal desire to move to exciting, rhythmically strong tunes.
In fact, if you intend to learn only one or two dances before the upcoming holidays, don't be surprised if your instructor suggests East Coast Swing – whether "triple-time," "double-time," or the easier "single-time" version – to start your ballroom journey.
Basic steps involve an energetic but controlled "bouncing" action, using a combination of side steps and "rocking" steps, plus spins and turns for both leaders and followers. The aerobic fun that new dancers experience with these moves usually creates a desire to learn other dance styles.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of dancing with a songwriter and vocalist who said he loves dancing to live bands nearly as much as singing, despite having learned only one ballroom dance many decades ago – the East Coast Swing. His early lessons paid off, and we had a great time doing a Swing to a classic tune.
Only one of a few ballroom dances that originated in the United States (another is Foxtrot), Swing began in New York's Harlem in the 1930s. As it spread throughout the country, numerous regions developed variations.
With roots in big band jazz and the blues, it can be danced to a variety of music and tempos. It's often the first choice for rock and roll, Top Forty hits, and even Country and Western selections.
As upbeat music styles changed during the 20th century, this dance kept pace, perhaps more than any other. One book that tracks the history of dancing lists more than 80 versions of Swing.
For up-tempo tunes, you will often see dancers clustered in the middle of the floor using East Coast Swing or one of its variations, while other dancers move safely out of the way, traveling counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the ballroom with a fast Foxtrot or a Quickstep.
The most common Swing styles in local studios include East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Jive, Jitterbug and Lindy Hop. The first three of those styles are often present in ballroom competitions, and the other two are found more frequently in social dancing or performing. You are likely to see any or all them on the floor during a dance party. In one form or another, it's all Swing!
Hope to see you on the dance floor!
© 2012, Cheryl Burke Dance, LLC. All rights reserved.