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Swing Dancing  

This guide gives a brief overview of the history of swing dancing. It delves into the Lindy Hop and East and West Coast Swing dancing.
Last Updated: Nov 14, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

History of Swing Print Page

Swing Dancing Example


From Past to Present


History of Swing Dancing

This LibGuide is a cursory introduction to swing dancing.

Swing dancing came alive in the 1920s and 1930s in America. The dance is a wonderful blend of European and African dance moves. Swing dancing is a nuanced dance with many different stlyes, including the Lindy Hop, and East and West Coast Swing.

Swing originiated in Harlem during a time when Big Jazz Bands were popular in the 1920s. Swing dancing has its roots in African dancing. The improvisation and 'cutting', or or other competitive moves, are part of its African legacy. Unlike traditional European dances, swing dancers interact with their audience, with clapping and verbal exclamations a common part of the cacophony of swing. 

Swing dancing also draws upon early European dance styles. The waltz influenced how closely dance partners stand together; the main difference between basic footwork for the waltz and swing is the tempo of the song. Ballet, likewise inspired several movements within swing dancing, most notably the pirouette.

Swing dancing is important to the history of American ballroom dancing because it was one of the first dance crazes and it blended African and European styles. Swing dancing was inclusive to all races during a time of segregation. Benny Goodman famously integrated his band in 1936; swing dancing was a form of social protest where the color of your skin was not as important as your ability to jive.

Swing dancing developed as jazz became the popular music of its day. Household names such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, and Glenn Miller were the du jour of the times. Jazz music and swing dancing would continue to evolve hand in hand over the coming decades.

Swing dancing reached its zenith of popularity from 1935 to 1946 in what is known as the Swing Era. During this time, jazz and swing dominated the radio waves and dance halls as the most popular music in America. Swing dancing was unique in that while there were expert dancers, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, most swing dance moves could be performed by people off all ages. 

After more than a decade as the popular musical and cultural influence, swing dancing and jazz fell out of favor. Swing dancing and big band jazz declined with the emergence of World War II and increased racial tensions in America. Though swing dancing is not as popular as it was, it continues to be a staple of the American ball room. 


Print References

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And They Called It Swing, Its History, the Bands, Its Legacy - Oren Freshour
ISBN: 1682895661
Publication Date: 2016-05-24
In this book the author gives the complete history of Swing music and Big Bands from it's beginning to it's place in the world today. It tells where it began. When it began. How it spread and grew to become America's number one popular music in the 1930's and 40's. The names and dates of the originators, the players, the bands, the composers, the arrangers, the side men, the hit songs, they are all here. It tells the story of Swing music's role in radio, and the history of disc jockeys. It tells how Swing music helped the recording industry and how records helped the success of name bands. The book also explains Swing's affect on the nation during it's years of popularity. It tells how during the time of segregation, the youth of America cared little about the color of Swing bands and their musicians. It tells how during the great depression, the youth of that period became crazed with Swing similar to how Rock and Roll swept the youth during the 1960's. It tells how those same young people, who would later be called the Greatest Generation, spread the music around the world while fighting WWII. It tells how and when Swing broke the color barrier in music despite living in a nation of segregation. Swing and Swing bands were instrumental in proving segregation had no place in popular music long before the laws of social justice came into being. The reader who loves music and/or history will find this book informative as well as entertaining. Enjoy.

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The Swing Era - Gunther A. Schuller
ISBN: 0195071409
Publication Date: 1991-12-19
Here is the book jazz lovers have eagerly awaited, the second volume of Gunther Schuller's monumental The History of Jazz. When the first volume, Early Jazz, appeared two decades ago, it immediately established itself as one of the seminal works on American music. Nat Hentoff called it "aremarkable breakthrough in musical analysis of jazz," and Frank Conroy, in The New York Times Book Review, praised it as "definitive.... A remarkable book by any standard...unparalleled in the literature of jazz." It has been universally recognized as the basic musical analysis of jazz from itsbeginnings until 1933. The Swing Era focuses on that extraordinary period in American musical history--1933 to 1945--when jazz was synonymous with America's popular music, its social dances and musical entertainment. The book's thorough scholarship, critical perceptions, and great love and respect for jazz puts thiswell-remembered era of American music into new and revealing perspective. It examines how the arrangements of Fletcher Henderson and Eddie Sauter--whom Schuller equates with Richard Strauss as "a master of harmonic modulation"--contributed to Benny Goodman's finest Duke Ellington usedthe highly individualistic trombone trio of Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Juan Tizol, and Lawrence Brown to enrich his elegant Billie Holiday developed her horn-like instrumental approach to singing...and how the seminal compositions and arrangements of the long-forgotten John Nesbitthelped shape Swing Era styles through their influence on Gene Gifford and the famous Casa Loma Orchestra. Schuller also provides serious reappraisals of such often neglected jazz figures as Cab Calloway, Henry "Red" Allen, Horace Henderson, Pee Wee Russell, and Joe Mooney. Much of the book's focus is on the famous swing bands of the time, which were the essence of the Swing Era. There are the great black bands--Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and the often superb but little known "territory bands"--and popular white bands likeBenny Goodman, Tommy Dorsie, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman, plus the first serious critical assessment of that most famous of Swing Era bandleaders, Glenn Miller. There are incisive portraits of the great musical soloists--such as Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Bunny Berigan,and Jack Teagarden--and such singers as Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Helen Forest.

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Big Bands and Great Ballrooms America I - Jack Behrens
ISBN: 1425969771
Publication Date: 2006-11-01
Where did big bands and swing music go? They didn't leave. . . but many Americans actually believe they disappeared along with ballrooms, jukeboxes, bobby sox and zoot suits decades ago.  Band leader Brooks Tegler, who has recreated the great music of World War II with his Army Air Corps Review Big Band, offers a good response.  "In order for something to come back, it needs to have gone away.  Big bands have wrongly been put in that category.  They never went away." And that's the essence of the chapters of my  book about America's big bands, ballrooms and dancing's past and present.  And there's a good look at the future through the eyes of a number of young bandleaders from the east to west coast who carry on in the tradition of Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington and a host of other music legends in their own distinctive way. The struggle to survive in the music business hasn't been without losses and a need for life support.  It did when Miller, Benny Goodman, James and Ellington were in their heyday.  It's a financially precarious business regardless of your talent. Inevitably, music and dancing evolved and matured.  The reasons are numerous and linked to our heritage.  But like marching bands on the 4th of July, imagine a country club new year's eve without live dance music and a big band.  Think about the many community social events and high school and college proms let alone wedding receptions that still insist on having live bands to play the foxtrots and swing numbers people enjoy.  My research shows that while there were approximately 800 big bands on the road during the swing era of the 1940s, today there are nearly 1,300 big bands, according to a Google search and  a review of hundreds of territory bands.  Consequently, neither the bands nor the music vanished. . . they scattered throughout the American countryside.

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Swing Dancing - Tamara Stevens; Erin Stevens
ISBN: 0313375178
Publication Date: 2011-03-01
Telling a riveting true story of the emergence and development of an American icon, this book traces swing dancing from its origins to its status as a modern-day art form. * Contains insights from personal interviews with a variety of prominent dancers, scholars, and historians * Presents a chronology of the emergence of vernacular American dancing and the development of swing, from colonial times to the present day * Includes numerous illustrations and photographs depicting the diverse influences on the genre, from legendary musicians to iconic swing dancers and more * Contains a select bibliography of diverse source material, such as books, films, and magazine and newspaper articles * Provides a helpful index offering access to names, places, people, and all important subjects

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The Dance Band Era - Albert McCarthy
ISBN: 0801956811
Publication Date: 1982-01-01

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Early Jazz - Gunther A. Schuller
ISBN: 0195040430
Publication Date: 1986-06-19
This classic study of jazz by renowned composer, conductor, and musical scholar Gunther Schuller was widely acclaimed on its first publication in 1968. The first of two volumes on the history and musical contribution of jazz, it takes us from the beginnings of jazz as a distinct musical styleat the turn of the century to its first great flowering in the 1930's. Schuller explores the music of the great jazz soloists of the twenties--Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and others--and the big bands and arrangers--Fletcher Henderson, Bennie Moten, andespecially Duke Ellington--placing their music in the context of the other musical cultures and languages of the 20th century and offering original analyses of many great jazz recordings. Now reissued in paper, Early Jazz provides a musical tour of the early American jazz world for a new generation of scholars, students, and jazz fans.

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The Swing Book - Degen Pener
ISBN: 0316698024
Publication Date: 1999-11-04
Swing is king again and this complete guide to the history, music, style, lingo and dance steps, gives everything you will need to know about what to listen to, how to dress, and, of course, how to move.

Swing evokes memories of elegant era, but it has a dark side. - Robin Taylor
Call Number: 0027-8939
Publication Date: 12/04/98
This journal article explores the turn of the century resurgence of jazz and swing. it delves into the darker side of swing dancing- modern black youth aren't as encouraged as their white counterparts to learn the key instruments of jazz- the trumpet, the saxophone. Though jazz and swing started with African Americans, the author wonders if the future will include them.

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A Short History of Jazz - Bob Yurochko
ISBN: 9780830413317
Publication Date: 1993-01-01
This textbook is intended for both beginning and advanced students of jazz. Bob Yurochko presents a chronological history of jazz, from early West African and New Orleans roots to the Jazz Age, to the Swing Era, to the Bebop Era, through the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s, to the contemporary scene. The comprehensive coverage of the contemporary jazz scene includes Latin influences, funk, rhythm and blues, new age fusion, and mainstream styles. The book synthesizes a vast amount of material into a concise history, allowing for more listening time in the classroom. A Burnham Publishers book

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American Allegory - Black Hawk Hancock
ISBN: 022604310X
Publication Date: 2013-05-27
“Perhaps,” wrote Ralph Ellison more than seventy years ago, “the zoot suit contains profound political meaning; perhaps the symmetrical frenzy of the Lindy-hop conceals clues to great potential power.” As Ellison noted then, many of our most mundane cultural forms are larger and more important than they appear, taking on great significance and an unexpected depth of meaning. What he saw in the power of the Lindy Hop—the dance that Life magazine once billed as “America’s True National Folk Dance”—would spread from black America to make a lasting impression on white America and offer us a truly compelling means of understanding our culture. But with what hidden implications? In American Allegory, Black Hawk Hancock offers an embedded and embodied ethnography that situates dance within a larger Chicago landscape of segregated social practices. Delving into two Chicago dance worlds, the Lindy and Steppin’, Hancock uses a combination of participant-observation and interviews to bring to the surface the racial tension that surrounds white use of black cultural forms. Focusing on new forms of appropriation in an era of multiculturalism, Hancock underscores the institutionalization of racial disparities and offers wonderful insights into the intersection of race and culture in America.

The Habitus of Dancing Notes on the Swing Dance Revival in New York City - Randal Doane
Publication Date: Febuary 2006
This article uses Bourdieu’s cultural framework to analyze the social determinants and internal logic of a swing dance field in New York City. Using habitus, field, hexis, and cultural capital, the author offers an ethnographic analysis of how former members of punk subcultures transposed their durable, familial-based dispositions into the swing dance field.

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Jazz Dance - Lindsay Guarino (Editor); Wendy Oliver (Editor)
ISBN: 0813061296
Publication Date: 2015-04-14
The history of jazz dance is best understood by thinking of it as a tree. The roots of jazz dance are African. Its trunk is vernacular, shaped by European influence, and exemplified by the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. From the vernacular have grown many and varied branches, including tap, Broadway, funk, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean, Latin, pop, club jazz, popping, B-boying, party dances, and more. Unique in its focus on history rather than technique, Jazz Dance offers the only overview of trends and developments since 1960. Editors Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver have assembled an array of seasoned practitioners and scholars who trace the numerous histories of jazz dance and examine various aspects of the field, including trends, influences, training, race, aesthetics, international appeal, and its relationship to tap, rock, indie, black concert dance, and Latin dance. Featuring discussions of such dancers and choreographers as Bob Fosse and Katherine Dunham, as well as analyses of how the form's vocabulary differs from ballet, this complex and compelling history captures the very essence of jazz dance.


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