Swing dancing encompasses a variety of different styles, the same way that ballroom dancing includes waltz, foxtrot, and other dances. As swing dancing evolved in the 1920s and onwards it expanded into various styles such as Lindy Hop, Charleston, and Balboa, giving an array of different flavours and speeds both within individual styles and across styles. This was driven by both variations in the music of the times, and by the different ways that the dancing progressed in different geographical areas.
Informally, swing dancing falls into about 3 different major groupings:
- Lindy hop
- West coast swing
These types of dances have many similarities, but tend to have different communities and cultures.
The lindy hop is the oldest of these 3 groupings and arguably the predominant one in the current swing dancing culture. It is strongly based in the music of the big band swing era. The name is often mistakenly thought to refer to the action of “hopping”, however this is not really a characteristic of how swing is danced. Rather, the name comes from a dancer offhandedly telling a news reporter that their dance was the “lindy hop” as a made up name derived from the recent first non-stop airplane flight from Paris to New York, the Atlantic “hop” by “lindy” (Charles Lindbergh).
There are a number of dance styles that are quite different but all retain a similar culture and are known by this crowd of dancers:
- Lindy hop itself (lindy hop sample), a very versatile style that can adapt to many tempos of music and known for its foundational 8-count move, the swingout, which transitions the 2 partners from open position to closed and back to open in quick succession.
- Charleston (Charleston sample), easily recognized by more “kicky” movements and well-used for faster tempos and performances
- Balboa (Balboa sample), with much less body movement but very quick and intricate footwork, for extremely high speeds
- East coast swing, a simpler and easier variation of lindy hop that is usually used to introduce beginner dancers
- Shag (shag sample), a less commonly known style with a hopping and kicking type of movement
Blues dancing (blues sample) is rooted in blues music, and has many different variants like Jukin’ and Ballroomin’. It is a very grounded and groovy dance, generally on the slower side, and characterized by strong and smooth hip and full body movements.
West Coast Swing
West coast swing (WCS) (WCS sample) uses a lot of the same moves and rhythms as Lindy hop, but has a very different style, musical genre, and culture. While Lindy uses more round formations and has a more athletic posture, WCS is smoother in its travel on the floor, more upright in posture, and more linear with its movement patterns. In terms of music, WCS is danced to medium and slow music in more modern styles such as pop and R&B.