Types of swing dance

What are the different types of Swing Dance?

Swing Dance is an umbrella term for a group of dance styles that originated in the 1920’s. Taking its inspiration from the Jazz era of music, it all started with the grandfather of all swing dances: Lindy Hop.  From there it evolved into numerous variations, including these types of swing dancing: Jitterbug, East Coast Swing, Collegiate Shag, Jive, Balboa, Charleston, Carolina Shag, D.C. Hand Dancing, right up to today’s contemporary West Coast Swing.  The most popular of these in the U.S. and around the world is: East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, and Lindy Hop.  The others are regional dances and are performed differently in various parts of the country. As you can see there are many types of swing dance.

Watch this short video by US Open Swing Dance Champion Robert Royston on the different types of swing dance!

Different types of swing dance

East Coast Swing Dancing

One of the most common types of swing dance is East Coast Swing. East Coast Swing refers to a form of social partner swing dance that mainly uses six-count patterns, although there are some eight-count variations as well.  ECS is a spot dance moving in a circular fashion, with most patterns ending with a rock step. It uses three different rhythm structures: single, double, and triple rhythms.  This dance is fast and upbeat and is characterized by its bounce and lilt actions.

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Here is an instructional video covering the basic steps of East Coast Swing: 

West Coast Swing Dancing

A modern type of swing dancing is West Coast Swing. West Coast Swing refers to a form of social partner dance that can be done to a wide variety of music, including pop, country, blues, and contemporary music.  It can vary greatly in speed but is generally between 90-120 beats per minute. Grab our best west coast swing music here.

Check out our article on the differences between East Coast and West Coast Swing for a more in-depth discussion of these two dances.

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Here is an instructional video covering the basic steps of West Coast Swing:

Lindy Hop

Lindy Hop was the initial form of swing dance, introduced at the Savoy Ballroom in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.  Originating in the 1920’s, its popularity heightened in the ‘30’s.  The basic for this dance involves both six- and eight-count patterns, with its signature whips, kicks, and swing-out moves.  Advanced dancers also perform aerials and lifts in this style.  The music is known for being very fast, with twists and grounded movements.

Even today, lindy dancers like to dress in 1930’s attire! Learn the basics of lindy hop here.

Here is a great example of how Lindy hop looks in contest format:

Jitterbug

Jitterbug is a term often used generically to describe East Coast Swing dancing and dancers.  But specifically, Jitterbug is a form of ECS called single rhythm swing, and it is danced to very fast big-band music, yet the footwork is slower than the triple rhythm swing.  Standard timing consists of slow, slow, quick, quick. This equates to two swaying steps in place, followed by a rock step.

Here are some beginner moves in Jitterbug

Balboa

Balboa started in Southern California and is performed in a closed dance position.  Unlike the other types of swing, Balboa mostly stays in a close embrace and focuses on footwork to emphasize the fast music.

Here is an example of a Balboa showdance:

Jive

Jive is a ballroom dance that is the last of the five International Latin dances (although ironically, it’s an American dance!).  Jive is a very fast version of East Coast Swing with speeds around 175 bpm.  Fast, rebounding flicks and kicks are the signature of this dance.

Here is a video of one of world’s top couples performing a Jive showdance: 

What are the different types of swing music?

Well there is big band jazz, a faster swing rhythm that we often think of when we think of swing. Then there is a slightly slower swing music with a bit of a bounce that we might dance east coast swing to. Finally there is a blues or pop oriented style of music more popular for west coast swing.

Again lets turn to this great video description by Robert Royston!

What is the difference between East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing?

This is a question we get all the time. They are both swing dances but have completely different and distinct differences! We shot a video describing the difference in the basic patterns and actions of west coast swing versus east coast swing. When you’re done check out these resources on east coast swing.

We did a video on the topic of ECS vs WCS!

The history of swing dancing

So we don’t have the knowledge to go into the history of each swing dance style but here are a couple basics. Swing dancing came from swing music, a form of jazz in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Many different forms of swing popped up all over the country none more prevalent than Lindy Hop. Dance studios at the time hoped that this swing craze would go away. Finally they gave in and a chain of studios adopted East Coast Swing into their syllabus around 1942.  The  history of west coast swing is a little less clear but is generally traced to Dean Collins moving from California to New York and teaching his version of swing in the 1950’s. At the date of this article, the first recorded use of the name west coast swing that we could find was in 1957

2 thoughts on “Types of swing dance”

  1. Marie what a wonderful overview of swing. Makes me want to start lessons with you again after dancing at Heidi’s.
    I have been focusing on Round and square dancing the last 6 years, but missing West Coast Swing.

    Reply
    • Thanks Steven! We’re working hard to create some great content. It’s fun to do some research and create new blogs and videos. Keep up the dancing!!! -Brian

      Reply

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