The term “Lindy Hop” describes a style of dance but has been adopted as an umbrella term for an entire family of styles. Lindy Hoppers typically learn how to dance many of these styles, which are most appropriate for certain styles of music, and even how to intermix them during a single song! This page offers an introduction to some of the most common styles of dance in the Lindy Hop family!
While the exact origins of the Charleston dance are not entirely known, historians agree that it is African American in origin and was danced in the Southern United States as early as 1903. It entered the American mainstream when it featured in the 1923 show “Running Wild”, performed to a song by the same name by James P. Johnson. The dance quickly became a staple of vaudeville shows and was incorporated into the culture of the Harlem Renaissance. The dance proved foundational and its influence is evident in later dance styles including the Break Away and Lindy Hop.
Charleston is defined by a simple, 2-count step (typically arranged in 8-count patterns) and is a highly versatile dance style. It can be danced upright, down low, solo, partnered, high or low energy, and comfortably at fast tempos (200-350 beats per minute). It can also be seamlessly mixed with other vintage dance steps and traditional jazz repertoire, as often seen in solo competitions. It is most often recognized by the dancers’ high-energy kicks and swinging arms.
Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, and Jitterbug
With the jazz scene burgeoning in the 1920s, a fusion of several types of jazz dance gave rise to the lindy hop. European influences of partnered dancing, with Charleston-like movements lead to a dance that involves closed and open position. This “break-away” section became popularized during competitive dancing to allow partners to show off their own stylizations, and is one of the major characteristics of the dance. Lindy is an 8-count dance that can be danced in a wide-range of styles (see competition video below), and at many tempos.
The name lindy hop was given to this dance around 1927, by Shorty George shortly after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. At the time, dancing was considered “hopping”, and after Lindbergh’s achievement, Shorty George said “The Lindy Hop, we’re flying just like Lindy did!” While Shorty George was one of the first Lindy Hoppers, probably the most famous is Frankie Manning who took Lindy Hop to the next level at the Savoy Ballroom. He was the first to create aerial moves with his partner Frida Washington. The first introduction into pop culture was with Frankie Manning (choreographer) and Whitey’s Lindy hoppers in the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin.
You may have heard the term “East Coast Swing” before. Some dancers may argue the linguistics of it, but basically East Coast Swing is like Lindy Hop without any 8-count patterns, only six-count patterns, whereas Lindy Hop is a combination of both. East Coast Swing is also more associated with the 1940’s and 50’s, jump blues, early rock-and-roll, sock hops and poodle skirts!
You may have also heard the term “Jitterbug”. This is an older term that isn’t used much anymore, but it basically means the same thing as “East Coast Swing” or “Lindy Hop”, though the meaning has morphed over the years and is hard to nail down.
Balboa (or “Bal” for short) is a variety of swing dance that was first developed in Southern California around 1920. Taking its name from the nearby Balboa Peninsula, this 8-count dance is thought to have originated from Charleston. Balboa was danced continuously in the Los Angeles area until it became nationally popular during the swing revivals of the late 20th century.
The original version of Balboa is danced primarily in close embrace position, with the partners standing upright and pressing their upper bodies together. This style of Balboa is often called Pure-Bal. The dance uses subtle weight changes and small, intricate footwork, which originally allowed couples to squeeze together on overcrowded dance floors. Bal-Swing is a secondary style that grew out of the original Balboa in the 1930s; this version can be much flashier, as it incorporates open positions and spins that are reminiscent of other swing dances like the Lindy Hop. Today both forms of Balboa are often done together.
Balboa today is often learned by advanced dancers who already are familiar with other swing dances, and its many devotees appreciate it for its subtlety and uniqueness. Its small footwork also makes it a particular favorite for fast tempos.
Blues dancing consists of a family of dances, both historical and modern, that are typically danced to blues music. Blues music can encompass many different styles including slow jazz, delta blues, Chicago blues, and many others. While being a dance that was contemporary with Charleston and the Lindy Hop, blues dancing never reached the same mainstream acceptance. Included under the heading of blues dancing are dances like slow drag, fishtail, struttin’, mooch, and grind that can be danced individually or combined in the course of one song.
West Coast Swing
We do not usually do West Coast Swing here at SwingCville. That is a later dance that developed from Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing, and is primarily danced to more modern music. If that’s what you are interested in, you might be looking for our friends at the similarly named Charlottesville Swing Dance Society.