The history of swing dates back to the 1920’s, where the black community, while dancing to contemporary Jazz music, discovered the Charleston and the Lindy Hop.

On March 26, 1926, the Savoy Ballroom opened its doors in New York. The Savoy was an immediate success with its block-long dance floor and a raised double bandstand. Nightly dancing attracted most of the best dancers in the New York area. Stimulated by the presence of great dancers and the best black bands, music at the Savoy was largely Swinging Jazz.

One evening in 1927, following Lindbergh’s flight to Paris, a local dance enthusiast named “Shorty George” Snowden was watching some of the dancing couples. A newspaper reporter asked him what dance they were doing, and it just so happened that there was a newspaper with an article about Lindbergh’s flight sitting on the bench next to them. The title of the article read, “Lindy Hops The Atlantic,” and George just sort of read that and said, “Lindy Hop” and the name stuck.

In the mid 1930’s, a bouncy six beat variant was named the Jitterbug by the band leader Cab Calloway when he introduced a tune in 1934 entitled “Jitterbug“.

With the discovery of the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug, the communities began dancing to the contemporary Jazz and Swing music as it was evolving at the time, with Benny Goodman leading the action. Dancers soon incorporated tap and jazz steps into their dancing.

In the mid 1930’s, Herbert White, head bouncer in the New York City Savoy Ballroom, formed a Lindy Hop dance troupe called Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. One of the most important members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers was Frankie Manning. The “Hoppers” were showcased in the following films: “A Day at the Races” (1937), “Hellzapoppin” (1941), “Sugar Hill Masquerade” (1942), and “Killer Diller” (1948).

In 1938, the Harvest Moon Ball included Lindy Hop and Jitterbug competition for the first time. It was captured on film and presented for everyone to see in the Paramount, Pathe, and Universal movie newsreels between 1938 and 1951.

In early 1938, Dean Collins arrived in Hollywood. He learned to dance the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy and Swing in New York City and spent a lot of time in Harlem and the Savoy Ballroom. Between 1941 and 1960, Collins danced in, or helped choreograph over 100 movies which provided at least a 30 second clip of some of the best California white dancers performing Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy and Swing.

In the late 1930’s and through the 1940’s, the terms Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy, and Swing were used interchangeably by the news media to describe the same style of dancing taking place on the streets, in the night clubs, in contests, and in the movies.

By the end of 1936, the Lindy was sweeping the United States. As might be expected, the first reaction of most dancing teachers to the Lindy was a chilly negative. In 1936 Philip Nutl, president of the American Society of Teachers of Dancing, expressed the opinion that swing would not last beyond the winter. In 1938 Donald Grant, president of the Dance Teachers’ Business Association, said that swing music “is a degenerated form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability.” In 1942 members of the New York Society of Teachers of Dancing were told that the jitterbug (a direct descendent of the Lindy Hop), could no longer be ignored. Its “cavortings” could be refined to suit a crowded dance floor.

 

Swing Styles

Ballroom West Coast Swing: a style of swing popular in the ballroom dance school organizations and different from the style performed in the California night clubs and Swing dance clubs.

Cajun Swing: a Louisiana Bayou style of Lindy danced to Cajun music.

Carolina Shag: a style of Swing popular in the Carolinas emphasizing the leader’s nimble feet.

Country-Western Swing: a style of Jitterbug popularized during the 1980’s and danced to Country Western music.

DC Hand Dancing: a Washington, DC synthesis of Lindy and Swing.

East Coast Swing: a 6 count style of Lindy popular in the ballroom dance school organizations.

Imperial Swing: a style of Swing popular in St. Louis, Missouri.

Jive: the International Style version of the dance is called Jive, and it is danced competitively in the US and all over the world.

Lindy style is a smoother-looking dance.

Pony Swing: a Country Western style of Cajun Swing.

Push: a style of swing popular in Dallas, Texas, emphasizing moves spinning the follower between dance positions with a rock rhythm break.

Savoy Swing: a style of Swing popular in the New York Savoy Ballroom in the 30’s and 40’s originally danced to Swing music. The Savoy style of swing is a very fast, jumpy, casual-looking style of dancing

Supreme Swing: a style of Swing popular in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

West Coast Swing: a style of Swing emphasizing nimble feet popular in California night clubs in the 30’s and 40’s and voted the California State Dance in 1989.

Whip: a style of Swing popular in Houston, Texas, emphasizing moves spinning the follower between dance positions with a wave rhythm break.