East Coast Swing

East Coast Swing

The History

For many people, “swing dancing” is synonymous with East Coast Swing danced to the big band music of the mid-twentieth-century. The history of this dance begins with the Lindy Hop. After the Lindy Hop had swept the nation in the 1920s and 1930s, dance instructors became interested in adding the popular dance to their curriculum by standardizing the steps and reducing its complexity. East Coast Swing grew out of this interaction between early Lindy Hop and dance studios in the 1940s. Arthur Murray and his studios were especially instrumental in breaking down the dance into teachable patterns.

This movement from the wilds of Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to dance studios across the nation reduced the exuberant freedom and soulful complexity of the dance, but it also allowed for broader dissemination. Standardization by the National Dance Council of America also meant that East Coast Swing or the Jive began to appear in NDCA dance competitions.

The 1980s and 1990s swing revival saw East Coast Swing, set to the music of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, again gaining popularity.

 

Characteristics

 In the dance community, the major divide in swing dancing is between East Coast Swing (ECS) and West Coast Swing (WCS). While both forms often combine a double step and two triple steps, the overall aesthetics of each dance form are strikingly different. East Coast Swing draws on the groundedness of the Lindy Hop and the jubilant playfulness of big band music, and West Coast Swing emphasizes gliding and remaining in a slot on the dance floor.

Known for its step pattern, East Coast Swing often makes use of a set of two triple steps followed by a rock step; however, the triple steps may be replaced by single or double steps.

East Coast Swing step patterns have less complexity than Lindy Hop, and this makes it ideally suited to the beginning dancer. Often, new dancers will be able to pick up the basic step within one lesson. The flexibility of the form and its ability to be combined with Charleston, Lindy Hop, Collegiate Shag, and Balboa also means that it’s a dance that can keep the attention of the advanced dancer by always offering new combinations and challenges.

Musicality

East Coast Swing is typically danced to swing and big band music. It is also often paired to 1950s rock and roll. As in Lindy Hop, hits and breaks are an essential part of the swing music East Coast Swing grew up with, and these spaces for improvisation are echoed in the dance. East Coast Swing is danced in six-count step patterns, but it is often combined with eight-count Lindy Hop and Charleston. It can be danced at a wide range of speeds because the triples steps can be added for slower songs and removed for faster songs. East Coast Swing is often danced to songs between 130 to 200 bpm, though it can be danced at faster speeds.

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