"The Swing" is a term that is sometimes used to describe a dance taught or performed in a ballroom. Its understandable that this term would be used, because a lot of people dance "The Waltz," "The Foxtrot" or "The Macarena" for example, but why does "The Swing" leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Lindy Hoppers? It primarily stems from the fact that there is no original dance called "The Swing". There was "The Charleston" and "The Lindy Hop," but even adding the "The" to these dances seems overly formal and unnecessary. Its like saying you're going to check "The Facebook", or listen to "The Hip Hop", while smoking "The Marijuana". It just feels like an out-dated formality that parents used when warning their children to avoid anything new or different.
The history of swing dancing is foreign to most people outside of our scene, so as a result, what most people know about swing dancing consists of spins, dips and aerials, and that's pretty much it. Our society treats dancing like its something you "just feel" and that it requires no skill or instruction. This leads to a lot of dancing that is presented as an authentic or only version of swing dancing, when its not. So, with this in mind, I present a top 10 list of videos of people dancing "The Swing", which is to say, dancing something they call swing, while missing the origin of the original dances created in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
# 10 - The Jive
East Coast Swing was introduced in the UK and Europe during World War II when the dance was called Swing, Jitterbug, or Jive; however it wasn't until the 1960s that this version of "The Swing" was formalized by British Ballroom Instructor Walter Laird. He published a technique book, which included The Jive, where he attempted to make swing dancing more beautiful and elegant. The end result is a dance that looks clean, and has sharp movements, but also like something an ostrich would do to attract a mate.
# 9 - Stage and Broadway Versions of Swing
Similar to the Jive, a lot of stage and Broadway choreographers have added "showy" elements to swing choreography. The worst treated of all the swing dances would be the Charleston. Pointed toes and jazz hands have no place in this dance, and unfortunately most audiences don't know better. The reason this kind of dancing infuriates Lindy Hoppers is that it makes our dance look over the top cheesy, when we know this dance can be anything but.
# 8 - Any Video With "The Pretzel"
Who knows how the pretzel became associated with swing dancing. I think it was originally a Salsa or New York Hustle move. No matter what we do, beginners will always come out dancing thinking this is the greatest move in swing dancing history, not knowing that no one ever did this to swing music. Plus this move lacks any hint of rhythm or dance frame.
# 7 - "Instructional" Videos Showing How to Do "Aerials"
One of the proud elements of Lindy Hop is that we know how and when the first "aerial" was introduced into swing dancing. I put "aerials" into quotes because the correct term to use is "air step" and not aerial. YouTube is chalk full of videos giving instruction on how to do various lifts and tricks, many of which miss the point of an air step; to be able to dance into and out of the air step smoothly, and with the music. People who are often obsessed with "aerials" often think this is all there is to do with swing dancing, and miss the whole dancing aspect. I think its ironic that the uploader of this video goes by the handle of "lovetoswingdance" and has multiple instruction videos, none of which actually discussing dancing.
# 6 - Four-Count Swing
The most common form of East Coast Swing consists of two "triple steps" followed by a rock step. At some point someone decided this was too difficult for beginners to learn and simplified East Coast Swing to two "slow steps" followed by a rock step. Each of the slow steps is supposed to take up two beats of music, but over the passage of time, the side, side, rock, step pattern changed from 6-counts to 4-counts. I'll admit that 6-count swing doesn't really work with swing music (which is written in 8 or 4 beat bars), but this version of the dance just amounts to walking to the tempo. If you've ever clapped along to a birthday jam, you know that the soul of swing music is in its 2-beat rhythm, not in the tempo.
# 5 - This Flash Mob
Before flash mobs became a thing, Lindy Hoppers had their own version: the Lindy Bomb! Flash forward to after flash mobs became popular, and you have this. From the look of the dancing and the music, you'd think this was from the late 1990s . . . nope, 2010! The added insult to this performance is that this took place in Los Angeles, which has one of the biggest Lindy Hop scenes in the world. You'd think the organizers of this event could have done a little bit of homework about that before putting this online?
# 4 - The Ballroom Version of Lindy Hop
Arthur Murray gets the blame for this one. Lindy Hop does have a lot of kicks in it, especially when we account for all of the Charleston variations that are part of the dance; however, this version is quite simply East Coast Swing with kick-steps in the place of triple steps. If this dance was called "Kick Swing", or "Charleston Swing" then it wouldn't make this list, but just because it is called Lindy Hop (a very well documented historical dance that looks nothing like this), its definitely worthy of "The Swing" label.
# 3 - Country Swing Dancing . . . All of It
Country music has an interesting musical history. This genre combines lots of musical elements like blues, rock, boogie woogie, waltzes, and event two step. All of these elements changing from one song to another provides for a lot of rhythm variety for an experienced dancer . . . yet the only kind of dance people tend to do is "Country Swing." Just like "The Swing" shown in early videos in this list, you have "spins and tricks" treated as more important than the concepts of tempo and rhythm and footwork.
# 2 - A Version Of "The Swing" That Just Looks Painful
All athletic endeavors have their risks of injury, and this includes Lindy Hop, any and all lifts, and air steps, but this . . . this just scares me. I don't have anything else to say as this video speaks for itself.
# 1 - This Showcase Routine by Andrew Thigpen & Karen Turman
Never has "The Swing" been done with more love than this. After all, we all have to remember that (most) everyone starts out dancing "The Swing" before we discovered Lindy Hop, Balboa, Charleston, Shag, and all the other swing dances that there are out there. This video is listed as #1 because it is the best version of "The Swing" you'll probably ever see, and even though its done ironically, its musical, and fun, and everything that we want beginners to love about our dance. (Note: This still doesn't make The Pretzel an acceptable swing move.)
Funny that BBVD's "You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3" is featured over and over in these videos. That made me laughReplyDelete
Hmm. Ought not the swing dance community (am I permitted to put 'the' in front of 'swing' in that context?) be well advised to come across as neither snobby nor sneering? I'm not in to country music at all, but that couple dancing to C&W looked to be having a lot of fun and dancing with skill and energy. Might not show-tune jazz-hands Charleston be a way in to swing dancing for some? Were not Alex and Nikko dancing a spoof dance? And dammit the pretzel CAN be danced with connection and rhythm (even if it usually not).ReplyDelete
In the fourteen years I've been dancing Lindy, I've seen several major changes of fashion, and one thing one can say about fashion is that things come full circle a lot. Be careful what you criticise today - tomorrow it may be the height of cool chic.
Well said, sir!Delete
Morgan, I could kiss you on the lips, this is so awesome.ReplyDelete
This was epic. That showcase routine at the end made my night. Thanks, Morgan.ReplyDelete
Wow, looking at women dancing "The Swing" in stilettos made me cringe. You can break an ankle that way!ReplyDelete
Good selection of videos, they are all quite horrifying, except for the last one :)
Great post. I cringed repeatedly and then cried out with glee!ReplyDelete
Some points I want to add my comments to:ReplyDelete
"There was "The Charleston" and "The Lindy Hop," but even adding the "The" to these dances seems overly formal and unnecessary."
- And there was various kinds of Shag, Balboa, Swing (today called Bal-Swing), plenty of other local dances that are forgotten, plenty of other dances like the jig-trot that died out, but gave input in today's bigger swing dances like lindy and bal-swing.
"Each of the slow steps is supposed to take up two beats of music, but over the passage of time, the side, side, rock, step pattern changed from 6-counts to 4-counts."
- First of all I am not 100% sure if that 6 to 4 count shortening actually happened like you propose. I see a lot of people dancing their Lindy often with single steps rather with full triples, especially to faster music. I do that myself. Does that make me not a Lindy hopper any more?!
Also you can shorten plenty of moves like a tuckturn down to 4 beats. Works great with slower music where it would just look booooring doing the move in the full 6 counts. Hell, even Michael and Evita did a class on that a while ago. ;) But I agree, what them kids show in that video, is terrible! ;)
"The Ballroom Version of Lindy Hop"
- Interesting. Didn't know that this was the name for it.
Some people call this the "Jitterbug" and teach it as a separate dance from Lindy hop and say this was a swing dance distinct from Lindy Hop... Also certain schools use this type as their beginnery kind of basic footwork to teach newer dancers. I don't like that myself and it is terrible to dance with follows who do that footwork as their basic :D