What is Swing?

“Swing” is the music, and “swing dancing” is the family of dances that developed to the new musical style that began with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Taking elements of jazz, tap, the Breakaway, the Charleston and the new syncopated rhythms of the era, a new dance style emerged—Lindy Hop. One hundred years later, swing dancing with its many variations is still going strong.

“Shorty” George Snowden and Big Bea, 1937

“Shorty” George Snowden is widely credited with not only creating Lindy Hop, but also naming it. According to legend, during a 1928 dance marathon in New York City, a reporter saw Shorty George doing a “break away” step from his partner and asked Shorty what he dance he was doing. Inspired by newspaper headlines of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight (“Lindy Hops Atlantic”), Shorty responded that he was “doing the Lindy Hop!” Shorty appeared in “After Seben,” a 1929 film short hailed as the first visual recording of Lindy Hop. He formed and led the first professional Lindy Hop dance troupe, the Shorty Snowden Dancers. Unlike later Lindy Hop performance groups such Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the Shorty Snowden Dancers performed as individual couples, as if dancing in a contest or challenge dance. With his partner Big Bea, Shorty George was generally recognized as the best dancer at the Savoy Ballroom until he was unseated by Frankie Manning and Frieda Washington in a dance contest in 1935 in which Frankie introduced the first airstep in Lindy Hop.

Hellzapoppin, 1941

Savoy-style Lindy Hop team performance at its best! Choreographed by Frankie Manning (although he received no screen credit), the scene features Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers’ William Downes, Frances “Mickey” Jones, Norma Miller, Billy Ricker, Al Minns, Willa Mae Ricker, and Ann Johnson. Serving as inspiration to legions of todays swing dancers, this film clip is widely regarded as the best example of group swing choreography.

Swing Fever, 1944

As the music changed and the dance spread to mainstream America, Dean Collins developed a smoother, more linear style of Lindy that became popular in southern California. This clip featuring California Swing Dance Hall of Fame member Jean Veloz(nee Phelps) dancing with Don Gallager and Lenny Smith in “One Girl and Two Guys,” by Kay Kayser, sung by Marilyn Maxwell epitomizes that style. Notice that unlike the earlier clips, the follower has become the focus of attention..

Don’t Knock The Rock, 1956

As big band music faded and rock and roll became the popular music, a new generation of dancers entered the scene contributing their own styling to Lindy. This clip features Freda Angela Wyckoff, Gil and Nikki Brady, Joe Lanza and Jimmy and Jovada Ballard dancing to the song “Rip It Up” by Bill Haley and the Comets.

Nathalie Gomes and Yuval Hod, 2004

As the neo-swing resurgence brought new influences into the genre, Nathalie and Yuval integrated innovative and incredible aerials from the world of European Rock and Roll into their dancing. They partnered for many years and operated the Hop, Swing and a Jump studio in New York City. This clip shows the 2004 Swing World Champions performing at Glen Echo Park’s Spanish Ballroom.

Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg, 2005

Although not in the same league as the foregoing dancers, we’ve included a clip of our style of dance that evolved before the swing revival of the late ’90s and the advent of the internet. Partners since 1987, Tom and Debra began teaching Jitterbug and Lindy Hop together in 1994. Their company, Gottaswing, now offers numerous locations throughout the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area. Gottaswing’s teachers reach over 4,000 students a year and are proud to offer one of the friendliest and most inclusive swing dance scenes in the nation.