History of Swing Dancing

Swing dancing is a type of dance that is based in “street dance” tradition, having started as an unstructured social dance (both solo and partnered) that was danced by young people to the popular music at the time, as well as making inroads into performance and movies. It is based on a pair of dancers working from a common set of “leading” and “following” principles, allowing dancers from near and far to communicate and improvise together to a variety of music.

Swing emerged as a dance form around the 1920s, in parallel with swing as a style of music, predominantly in the Harlem area of New York City. Swing largely has African Americans roots and was integrated and popularized in that culture for many years (this documentary talks about swing, hip hop, and many other "street" styles). Both the music and dancing evolved, and 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.

Until the 1940s swing dancing was going strong (called the "golden age" of swing), but then began to die off as many of the more influential dancers went overseas for World War 2 (read more: "The greatest lindy hopper of all time", and "20 original lindy hoppers"). The music at the time was also changing, moving towards the beginnings of rock n roll.

Decades later, in the 1980s, some younger dancers of that time started to look at historical connections back to the start of the century, and picking up the swing style. They were able to locate one of the foundational dancers from the golden age, Frankie Manning, then in his 70s. Into the 90s swing dancing started to reappear, surging forward near the end of that decade and regaining much popularity again through this "revival" movement.

Over the time of the swing revival the dance has expanded to all corners of the world, including having very highly developed communities in locations such as the US, England, France, Sweden, and South Korea. Activities such as lessons, weekly and monthly dances, competitions, workshops, camps, and exchanges (multi-day events solely for dancing, without classes or competitions) are easy to find throughout the year in any number of countries.

In Waterloo Region, as in many places, swing dancing grew from around 2001, initially through students who had learnt in Toronto and who then started a club at the University of Waterloo. Since then the community here has evolved through different organizations and leaders. Today Hepcat Swing carries the torch from that lineage and is the main provider in KW of swing dancing lessons and activities. Other organizations also contribute to the local swing community, including the still-active UW Swing Club.