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... page updated:  September 7, 2000

WHEN ONE THING ISN'T...    Most people new to Swing are surprised to discover that there are, in fact, several forms of this dance.    In smaller centres, public perception is unavoidably constrained when local instructors know or teach one style only -- by default, that one becomes the regional 'norm'.    For example, for the longest time, Shag was the only style to be found in the southeastern US.    Similarly, prior to our classes, London was restricted to versions of 'ballroom' and/or 'studio' swing... NOT styles preferred by "Swing dancers" elsewhere.    (Note: By "Swing Dancers", we mean the thousands of people who focus on one or more styles of Swing dancing rather than treating it simply as an alternative to foxtrot, waltz, Country 2 step, etc. and trying to make it conform to those 'genres'.)

Not surprisingly, the various kinds of Swing which have emerged over the past 75 years are all related to each other.    Indeed, they share any number of common characteristics.    Nevertheless, each version exhibits and utilizes its own distinct combination of footwork, 'moves', body stylings, 'attitude', etc..    And each thrives on its own 'signature' brand of up-tempo music -- ie. the music that stimulated it's birth.

AN ANALOGY    One approach we find helpful in illustrating the world of Swing to non-dancers is to use the analogy of a forest.    At a distance, a forest looks like a single item... a green 'thing' that fills the horizon, arises beyond a nearby field, etc..    Closer examination, however, reveals a collection of separate entities (eg. maples, pines, oaks, etc.).    While noticeably different from one another, all share several common characteristics (eg. each has a trunk, green stuff at the end of branches, roots, a need for water, etc. etc. etc.).    Such is Swing!

It is often said that people "can't see the forest for the trees".    In the context of Swing, however, it might be more relevant to reverse this phrase -- i.e. most casual observers "don't see the trees for the forest".

DANCING TO THE MUSIC    As popular music evolved from the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s into successive generations of Be-Bop, Rock n'Roll, R&B, Motown, etc., so did the forms of partnered 'fast dancing' that accompanied each derivation.    Today, most Swing Dancers associate each style of Swing with a particular kind of music.    That's not to say it's "wrong" to mix music and styles... unless you're a self-appointed member of the "Swing Dance Police" (just kidding!!).    Nevertheless, 'purists' in each form of Swing generally prefer dancing to the music that spawned it.    In addition to the phrasing used in different kinds of music, the tempo (as measured in 'Beats Per Minute' or 'BPM') will also "feel" better in most instances.

For example, true Lindy Hoppers usually want to swing to the big band 'jazz' of the 1930's and 1940's (generally 135-170 BPM), while Jitterbuggers prefer faster Be-Bop and 'Jump Jive' from the late 1940's-early 1950s (170-220+ BPM).    Meanwhile, Shaggers in the Carolinas thrive on the slower (110-125 BPM) "beach music" rhythms found in southern R&B and big-band fox-trot tempos -- Shaggers call these 'smoothies' -- although they often enjoy using faster music too (up to 150 BPM+).    Finally, devotees of the 'classic smooth' version of West Coast Swing now found on both coasts -- and most large cities between -- gravitate to any mid-tempo music (100-130 BPM) that lets them spotlight the 'sexy, funky' stylings of this California-based Swing.

THE SIMPLE FORM of SWING (a form of 'simple swing'?)    The easiest form of swing to learn and do socially is one known today as "East Coast Swing" (ECS) -- although it is sometimes given other names depending on where one learns it and/or the background of the instructor (eg. 'Jive' in ballroom, 'Triple Swing' at some studios, etc.).    What makes ECS/Jive so easy is that the footwork avoids the 8-count foundation of the original Lindy Hop in favour of a simpler 6-count scheme. As well, it uses body-styling that is unusually erect and bouncy compared to ALL other forms of swing -- more akin to the relatively 'military' bearing of ballroom and C&W dancing than it is to the relaxed posture and smooth movements of Lindy Hop, Shag or WCS.

In some instances (generally found outside the Swing Dance community in studio or recreation classes taught by instructors for whom 'Swing' is NOT a priority) ECS/Jive is simplified even further in order to facilitate the "mainstream market" (i.e. middle-aged, middle-class dance hopefuls) ...a point made elsewhere in historical accounts of Arthur Murray and dance studios.    This additional simplification involves dropping the 'triple-step' action that was so intrinsic to the "look and feel" of this dance when it first started back in the big band era.    Instead, these 'non-swing' sources substitute 'double' or even 'single' steps for the triples.    While each is progressively easier for non-dancers to learn, each further abandons the basic concept of Swing.    Indeed, since ECS/Jive is already simplified, this kind of 'studio swing' amounts to "a watered-down version of a watered-down version".    Stated simply, it is just NOT true "Swing"!

'SWING', LONDON-STYLE    Nevertheless, it is this upright, bouncy ECS/Jive (single, double or triple-step) that has -- up to now -- been the sole reference point for most people in London, Ontario.    Unfortunately, that's were things stop locally.    Elsewhere, ECS/Jive tends to be an 'entry point' to learning other, more rewarding types of Swing -- not the final objective itself!!    And in this respect, we find London has not only fallen behind other large North American cities, it seems blissfully unaware of it's own tunnel vision.

Not that any of this is particularly surprising to us.    The public can't learn what isn't taught, and instructors can't teach what they don't know.    (So, ask us again why we travel?)

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