Arthur Murray Dance Studios of Central New Jersey

The History of Swing Dance
What is swing dance, where did it come from, and can I dance it?

Arthur Murray Dance Studios of Central New Jersey

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

A lot of Arthur Murray students recall seeing their parents do the jitterbug or the lindy hop on the dance floor when they were kids. But what exactly is swing dance, can it be done to modern music, and is it realistic for you to dance it?

Where Did Swing Come From?

It can be hard to pin down the exact etymology of dance, since, like language, there are many stories and legends behind each dance style’s origins.

Developed in America in the Jazz Era around the 1920s-1940s, the term “swing” comes from the type of beat jazz percussion was playing. A “swung” beat plays with the length of the space between beats.

As American lifestyle shifted into high gear, dance and music styles did as well. The upbeat tempos seemed to match the mood of the country as the economy boomed and the stuffy customs from the turn of the century gave way to the freedom of the roaring 20s. With the huge rise in popularity of swing music in the US, the craze infiltrated dance styles. Hundreds of swing dance styles developed alongside rising hemlines, bootleggers, and the world of jazz.

The Swing Umbrella

Jitterbug, East Coast swing, West Coast swing, Carolina shag, and balboa are just a few of the many names given to swing dancing.

Depending on where you were in the world and what tempos of jazz were popular, different styles of swing emerged. In New York it was the fast and energetic lindy hop and jitterbug, in Los Angeles it was sexy West Coast swing, rock n roll, and balboa, in the south styles like cool Carolina shag were born. The swing craze even crossed the Atlantic to the U.K. in the form of jive.

The swing genre of dance is unique for its transmutation into many distinct shades of movement. Dancers use the term ‘swing’ to refer to one or all of these styles.

Balboa is known for its close embrace and full body connection

Don’t I Need to be in Shape to Swing Dance?

A lot of people assume they need to be somewhat of an acrobat to swing dance. While swing dancing is good exercise (as is any dancing for that matter) there are many different styles and tempos of music you can do swing to. Some choose to become professional swing dancers and travel all over the world to perform tricks and flips. Others just want to learn a new hobby that will help them stay in shape and maybe boogie around the dance floor at a wedding. It really comes down to what you want your swing to look like. It’s a highly stylistic and individualistic dance, a relic of the uniquely American spirit behind it!

Do People Still Swing Dance?

With the rise in popularity of dance shows, partner dancing is making a comeback, but swing music never left us. Bands like Maroon 5, Katy Perry, and Muse all have that classic ‘swung’ beat that you can swing dance to at weddings or clubs. Not a fan of modern music? Prefer your oldies radio station? Good news, most of that music is swing too!

Can I Learn How to Swing Dance?

The answer is yes of course. You don’t have to throw your partner over your head in order to dance the swing. At studios like Arthur Murray, swing is broken down into comfortable steps with an emphasis on usability and movement, rather than impossible tricks. Most studios will focus on the most common types of swing danced nowadays, like jitterbug, East Coast swing, West Coast swing, and lindy hop, but if you’re interested in a particular style, just ask!

So what are you waiting for? Get into the swing of things! Find a studio near you.


Written by Jindalae Suh for Arthur Murray Central New Jersey

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