Swing dancing is the umbrella term for a group of dance styles that originated in the 1920’s-40’s, mostly developed by African-American dancers. Throughout the 1920s many dance crazes, both solo and partnered, were exploding and the jazz age was strong. The most commonly known dance fad of this era is the ‘Charleston.’ Lindy hop is the dance most people think of as “swing dancing” and it is the main focus of what we teach at Swingtown Rebels. It was danced first in Harlem, New York in the 1930s, by black dancers as a way to express themselves and have fun in a society that was oppressive. It spread from there all over the world, before it died out a bit as the music moved away from the big band era.
In the last 25 years there has been a revival, with interest piqued by old time movies and film clips readily available on youtube, people sought out some of the original black dancers, now in their 90s (or sadly since passed away), such as Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Al Mins and Pepsi Bethel. These dancers travelled the world leading the swing revival, and in recent years it has once again become a worldwide craze! Lindy hop can be fast and energetic or slow and and relaxed but no matter what tempo you’re dancing to there is always a laugh to be had!
Other dance styles include blues, balboa, solo and partnered Charleston, and Collegiate Shag. More information on each of these styles is included below! Swingtown Rebels teaches all of these styles but currently these are by demand only, so if you’re keen, get in touch with us!!
One thing all of these dance styles have in common is that they developed out of social dancing, which is still the main focus! This means everybody dances with everybody else, and most of the time moves are not choreographed – they just make it up as they go along! The partnered dances all have a ‘lead’ and a ‘follow’. In the past, men have been leads, and women follows, but in recent times people learn whatever role they want, and often both! In fact Christchurch has a strong reputation throughout Australasia for having lots of people who are great leads AND great follows! So why not head on down to the Darkroom on Tuesdays at 8:30 pm to check out (or join in with) some social dancing in action!
Lindyhop was a street dance that evolved over many years. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic and the papers read “Lindy hops the Atlantic”. At the same time, the partnered jazz dances of Harlem had evolved and one took on the same catchy title, ‘The Lindyhop’. This street dance had evolved over many years from many dance styles and many people so its exact birth is relatively unknown. However, it’s beginnings and growth is largely associated with the streets and dance halls of Harlem, New York. Here great dancers such as Shorty George Snowden, Norman Miller, Frankie Manning strutted their stuff and bought Lindyhop into history.
Check out these videos of Swingtown Rebels dancers performing lindy hop:
Blues dancing, like any other dance style, has it origins based around the style of music it is danced to. There are many different styles of blues dancing but all focus around the idea of a great partner connection and individual creativity and musicality.
Blues dancing was originally danced at house parties and smoky blues bars and remains a style that must be danced rather than watched to understand what it’s all about.
The simple movements and strong lead and follow aspect to blues dancing making it a great dance for people new to dancing as well as people wanting to improve their connection in other dance styles.
Check out the Rebels doing Blues dancing:
This style of dance originated in the 20’s and is often depicted with flappers and gangsters. It is an energetic dance that is taught either as solo dancing or as partnered dancing and is great for fitness!
Here are some Rebels doing a Solo Charleston routine:
Balboa is a style that evolved as dance floors got too crowded to dance Lindy hop. Balboa is a close hold, dance focused on footwork and is generally danced to faster music. Here’s what balboa looks like:
Shag is a highly energetic dance style from the 1930’s that is danced to faster music. It is well known for its hopping basic step and 6 -count footwork.
Where can I find more information on all of these dance styles??
- There are many many videos on the internet of all the above dance styles – but warning, you may lose hours and hours of your life to watching these once you get started! Just type “lindy hop”, “blues dancing”, “collegiate shag” (don’t just type shag!) into youtube and then follow the links to your heart’s content! Looking up Mix and Match (used to be called Jack and Jill) contests is a great way to see some of the best examples of non-choreographed social dancing.
- Bobby White has put together a great blog called Swungover. He has a good history page amongst other worthwhile pages. http://swungover.wordpress.com
- Don’t just look up modern dancing videos, but also some of the original oldtimer dancers! Some of the classic old time video clips include:
Whitey Ford’s Lindyhoppers – Big AppleGroovy MovieAl Minn & Leon Uris – Charlestons
- Interviewers with some of the oldtimers who came out of retirement some 50 years later to initiate the modern day swing revival e.g. interviews with Norma Miller or Frankie Manning. A great interview with the famous Norma Miller can be found here:
One of the fun things that Lindyhop brings is history. Within the history is the vintage style. Many people enjoy the dressing up in this era for the dances. Your local thrift store is often a good place to find some retro clothing, but there are also plenty of other shops selling awesome gear, e.g. www.dancestore.com
Note that if dressing up is not your thing don’t worry – whatever you’re comfortable wearing is perfectly fine as well!