American Style Swing (East Coast Swing)
This is a dance of many regional names, depending on where you are. It is sometimes referred to as Jive (North American Jive), Jitterbug, Rock-n-Roll or Boogie Woogie. This dance in its varied forms is known in the Arthur Murray syllabus as simply “Swing”. This American Style/East Coast Swing is extremely adaptable with a wide range of tempos, foot rhythms and regional variations which account for its many names of reference.
The Swing in its many forms is danced with a carefree style and a lot of circular rotation. The various possible rhythms are excellent training for quick footwork and spontaneity, adding comfort and ease to other rhythm dances. Once mastered, the Swing is fun and exciting to learn and practice.
- Basics–Turns and position changes
- Open Breaks–Fingertip lead and follow; arm control
- Maneuverability–Learn how to move comfortably in all directions
- Footwork–Weight changes in rotation
- Swing Motion and Accents–Stress the use of beats to steps and body to music
- Various Timings–Single, double, and triple timing as well as Lindy timing (8 count) to adjust to different music tempos
- Compare/Contrast–Lindy Hop, Hustle, International Style Jive, West Coast Swing, Fox Trot
As with all Swing dances the American Style Swing was derived from the original Swing dance: the Lindy Hop/Jitterbug. After the Second World War was over, the western world was ready once again for new dancing innovations. Starting from this time Swing dancing has evolved to over 40 documented styles, most quite regional in nature. This regionality can create some confusion with Swing terms since sometimes different regions use the same terms to refer to different elements. One of these such innovations was originally known simply as The Swing or Eastern Swing, now sometimes called the American Style Swing to distinguish it from other Swing forms.
Even by this time, just after the war, the Lindy/Jitterbug styles being danced around North America were extremely varied. Arthur Murray himself was instrumental in developing the American Style Swing based on observing what dancers were doing and then codifying the material into a coherent syllabus. The Swing basic rhythm is said to have resulted from the popularity at that time of 6-count patterns in the Lindy/Jitterbug (usually an 8-count dance). It is also notable that Fox Trot (as it is introduced in the American Style) is also a 6-count basic pattern and is also danced to the more mellow versions of the same big band ‘Swing’ music. This allowed for adept social dancers to slip from one dance to the other effortlessly in the same piece of music for more variety and musicality.
By 1951, with the help of some Arthur Murray instructors who were Swing dance competitors, the step list was updated to the form that largely exists today based on the observations of what was being danced competitively and socially at the time. Famous Swing dancer and choreographer Dean Collins (originally a Lindy Hopper from the Savoy Ballroom) had a profound influence as well, having been hired by Arthur to help in developing the material.
On a related note around this same time a dance was being developed in the dance studios of England that is very closely related to the Swing, a dance called the English Jive, now known as International Style Jive. It is a very fast, upright and showy version of Swing dancing. Both the American Style Swing and International Style Jive continue to be danced in professional competitions in their respective divisions to this day.
The Swing subsequently adapted well to the rock-n-roll music that became popular in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, able to be danced to every piece of music from the Drifters to the Beach Boys. It was during this time that the “Jive” version of Swing (as it is danced socially in North America) developed to the fast rock-n-roll music. The dance even held its own during the period of “freestyle dancing” in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when it became unfashionable to dance touching someone. By the mid 1970’s the disco craze had the western world in its grip and Swing continued, even spawning a new dance form originally called “Swing-Hustle” now known simply as the Hustle. Later adaptation to blues and funk style music resulted in an additional form of Swing called West Coast Swing, today it’s own unique form.
Since that time Swing/American Style Swing/East Coast Swing has always enjoyed a certain amount of popularity in the dance studios and clubs of North America in its many varied forms [see list of Variants below]. It has, as with all Swing dance forms, experienced a particular resurgence with the Swing revival of the 1990’s. To this day it remains a popular dance for social dancing, adaptable to all possible partner skill levels and styles.
Swing music is normally written in 2/4 or 4/4 time with the musical accents occurring on the even beats of each measure. Swing includes two general rhythms: a 6-count Swing Rhythm – 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6 or an 8-count rhythm – 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8.
Swing may be danced comfortably over an extremely wide range of tempos. The different step rhythms described below allow for adaptability to virtually any ‘high energy’ or blues related music.
For competition purposes (where American Style Swing is based on the triple rhythm mostly) it is recommended that the tempo of 34 to 36 bpm (bars per minute) be used. It is important to note that the speed of the music should not be played too fast since the character of the dancing will change and start to take on the look and feel of International Style Jive. This is particularly as the tempo approaches 40 bpm or above and the predominantly triple rhythm is danced.
Variants of the American Style/East Coast Swing:
The American Style East Coast Swing is in itself quite a varied dance. Since there are so many possible components and rhythms this dance can be quite complex for the advanced dancer or broken down to a very basic form for the beginner. Due to this potential simplicity the American Style East Coast Swing is often taught as the first introduction to Swing, particularly if the student has never danced before, since it gets the basic Swing skills in place the fastest way possible. It can also serve as the starting point for learning other more regional or complicated forms of Swing.
THE TRIPLE STEP VERSION
American Style Swing in its basic structure is based initially on a 6-count basic step (using six beats of music). It starts with a “rock step” (2 steps in place) followed by a “triple” to the left for the man (side, close, side) and then a “triple” to the right. This basic rhythm then repeats: rock, step, triple step, triple step.
It is in this form that the American Style Swing most resembles the structure of the International Style Jive. This triple rhythm serves as an important prerequisite for the West Coast Swing among other forms of swing.
Addition of rotation, underarm turns and changing hand leads create a fun, fast moving and elaborate looking dance even without the addition of other rhythms.
THE NORTH AMERICAN “JIVE” OR SINGLE STEP VERSION
As alternative the 6-count basic can also be danced, again starting with the “rock, step”, but now on the side movements using a “single step” instead, replacing the triples. The dance now has the timing of : quick, quick, slow, slow (rock, step, side, side). This version is usually danced to very fast music and in this form it is sometimes called Jive, Single Swing, Single Step Swing, Jitterbug, or (in Europe mostly) Rock-n-Roll.
In this form the American Style Swing is most compatible with the beginning rhythm in American Style Fox Trot or Progressive 2-step in country dancing and adept social dancers make use of this by slipping from one dance to the other as the music varies or simply for more variety.
THE 4 COUNT VERSION
The North American Jive or single step swing can also be altered by keeping the step intact but changing the timing to a continuous even rhythm 1,2,3,4: usually quick, quick, quick, quick (rock, step, side, side). This version can be called 4-count Swing, 4-count Hustle, 4-count Jive or Country Swing (particularly if it is danced to country music). A further similar related dance form has evolved in Europe called LeRoc, Ceroc, French Jive or Modern Jive.
THE DOUBLE RHYTHM OR “RETRO SWING” VERSION
Yet another option in the American Style Swing is to use a “double rhythm” or “tap, step” instead of triple steps (rock, step, tap-step, tap-step). This is sometimes called Delayed Single Step, Double Swing, Double Jive, Tap-Step Swing or Tap-Step Jive. A further variation on this theme is to use a “kick, step” styling on the double rhythm with the heel outstretched on the kicks giving the look and feel of Lindy Hop but doing the 6-count patterning more similar to the American Style Swing. This hybrid version is sometimes called Kick Swing or Retro Swing.
8 COUNT OR “LINDY RHYTHM”
There is also for more advanced dancers a set of 8-count basic patterns as well.
These patterns are considered more advanced since the switching from the usual 6-count to these 8-count patterns requires a skilled lead and follow. In the 8-count patterns there are all the options described above using triple, single and double foot rhythms.
Someone quite accomplished at dancing the American Style/East Coast Swing will mix all the different types of step rhythms listed above into the patterns. This makes for very interesting and extremely varied musical interpretations.
The body rhythm used in the American Style/East Coast Swing (in all but the 4-count version) is predominantly a swinging of the hips to right and left with a counterbalancing of the rib cage in the opposite direction. This swinging body action is much more predominant here than in the International Style Jive and the feeling is slightly lower into the legs and much more “grounded”. The ankles and legs often create a somewhat buoyant feeling but it can be danced much more evenly and level if the music is less heavily accented or less “light” sounding.
Rotating is also important to this dance. It should rotate almost constantly, changing from clock-wise to counter clock-wise and suspending the turning only occasionally, usually as “breaks” or stops for musical accents.
The American Style Swing is sometimes criticized for its lack of specific character but ironically that is one of its main strengths. It is not tied or greatly associated with any specific era and it can be danced to a wide range of music styles and tempos. The popularity of the Swing stems largely from this very pliable nature. Its multiple rhythms and styling make it hugely adaptable to many new music styles that evolve and developing one’s own personal style.
This dance is a great dance for someone wanting to get out on the dance floor and dance right away. Swing is ultimately a great way to let your personality show since it is so varied and you can choose your favourite version or adapt your Swing dancing to many styles of music that are being played.
Swing songs and artists include:
- In The Mood – Glenn Miller
- Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley and the Comets
- Start Me Up – The Rolling Stones
- Jump, Jive, An’ Wail – Louis Prima or the Brian Setzer Orchestra
- I Get Around – The Beach Boys
- Pink Cadillac – Bruce Springstein
- Howlin’ for You – The Black Keys
- All About The Bass – Meaghan Trainor
- Dance With Me Tonight – Olly Murs
- Feel it Still – Portugal. the Man
- No Good Woman – Elise LeGrow
- Hand Clap – Fitz and the Tantrums