Once upon a time the story of the Swing Dances
"It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing", Duke Elllington warned in 1931.
What was Swing? What was shaking the musical life by then so that everything lost its meaning compared to it? At the end of the 20s, jazz, which is a ground for experimentation and development of revolutionary harmonic formulas, was going to be the breeding ground for what was then called “Swing”, balancing.
It is a style of jazz that originated in the United States and immediately became one of the most successful and popular genres of the thirties. Its rhythmic structure is peculiar, and hence the term "balancing", since the swing effect is created from "syncopes", variations of non-binary rhythms that give an effect like oscillation.
The triple step, base of the lindy hop and other related dances is born then to integrate that syncopated step and, from this peculiarity, different styles begin to proliferate, that are adapted, each in its own way, to this harmonic swing.
It should be bear in mind, however, that the term is as elastic as rhythm and that "swing" also refers to all the dances that evolved from other musical styles such as Blues, Ragtime, Jazz, Rock and Roll or even the Rhythm and Blues.
In general, the large family of Swing dances mainly includes Charleston, Lindy Hop, Collegiate Shag, Balboa, Boogie Woogie and Tap.
1.- Lindy Hop is born in New York
Perhaps one of the most emblematic is the Lindy Hop, which was developed in the late 20s and early 30s of dances such as Texas tommy, cake walk, breakaway or black bottom in the 'Savoy Ballroom' of Harlem, New York, which was the first ballroom that admitted black dancers.
The Lindy combines improvised movements of African dances with the discipline of the structure in 6 and 8 times of European dances.
2.- The closed position of the Californian Balboa
At the same time, the Balboa was born on the Balboa Peninsula in California, United States, a dance whose performance requires less space on the dance floor and it arises precisely because of that: because there was little room to dance. It is a contact dance, which runs mainly in a closed position and whose dancers, they say, feel similar sensations to those of tango.
The Blues is an African-American musical style that is developed in the Mississippi at the end of the 19th century from prayer and work songs and that later is mixed with Scottish, English and Irish melodies. From these rhythms the ‘blues dances ’are born and evolved; they are characterized by the richness of movements and a depth that reaches the levels of body expression dances.
At the beginning of the century, around 1903, on the US East Coast, Charleston dance arises, initially a folk dance that in the 20s begins to be practiced as a form of entertainment, From 1947, it begins to decline due to the fashion of tight skirts, which limit the movements of the happy 20s, and years later, it became one of the dances that Lindy Hop's father, Frankie Manning, and his contemporaries, adapt to the music of the 30s.
5.- Collegiate Shag, the dance of the university students
The Shag is another style that, like balboa, is danced mainly in a closed position and also spreads in the United States, especially in the university environment, in the 20s and 30s. It includes jumps, kicks and footwork, that give it an aerial and sporty look and it is danced especially with fast tempo.
Also called Collegiate Shag, this dance became extremely popular among the students of the beginning of the century, who organized competitions between universities, to the point that practically each establishment came to have its Shag division.
Its popularity preceded that of the lindy hop, and throughout the 30s, it evolved, giving rise to several variants such as Arthur Murray Shag, Carolina Shag or Saint Louis Shag.
6.- A base of piano and vertigo speeds to dance Boogie Woogie
The Boogie woogie has a confusing origin, but it seems that it emerges from a mixture of jazz with blues and country, and seals the foundations of what will later be the Rock and Roll. It was very fashionable in the 20-30s, but at the end of 1929 practically disappeared, after the Crash in New York, and was replaced by Rock and Roll, until recently, when it resurfaced with the new heyday of Swing.
Although the 6-beat rhythms dominate the current Boogie, the Lindy has also integrated 8-beat patterns, while, in turn, the Boogie has enriched the Lindy with figures and patterns of fast tempos that hoppers have incorporated into their repertoires.
In addition to a dance, for many the Boogie also defines a music style, with a faster tempo, a rhythm often marked by the piano, and the formidable particularity that you can dance it on other music, not necessarily Boggie, and that dancers can incorporate elements of other styles as well.
7.- Instrument and dance: the cinematographic tap
The Tap is the oldest of all styles. It arises in the 18th century from the fusion of clogs dances from England, Ireland and Scotland with some African-American dances, such as juba, which date back to the 17th century. The slaves began dancing it and it arrived in the United States during the secession war, where the posture was relaxed and the American tap emerged, which left more room for improvisation. This style entered fully into the era of the 30-40s, where it became a hallmark of Hollywood musicals, and then disappeared to resurface strongly forty years later.
All these dances fell into oblivion, some more than others, after World War II, until the 80s, when they were rediscovered and popularized again in what some call the "second golden era of Swing", and today they live an exceptional boom.
Although we have classified them based on prevailing opinions, the truth is that the definitions and historical versions are endless depending on dancers, musicians, historians or theorists, which continues to enrich the exceptionally rich culture of SWING.
Its unclassifiable and free nature could be exemplified in the following conversation. It seems that someone asked the great dancer Frankie Manning:
- Can you tell us how does the ‘Savoy style’ of Lindy Hop look like?
- From which Saturday night? - he replied.