THE ORIGIN OF WEST COAST SWING
For those in a hurry, West Coast Swing was bred in the Califonia night clubs (bars) during the late 30s and early 40s with the musicians leading the fray. Hollywood captured some of the best dancers and musicians for all the public to see in the movies. The dance took root all over the U.S. during the 40s via the soldiers and sailors dancing in the night clubs (bars) and was tamed by the dance studios for the general public's more genteel ballroom consumption.
For those not in a hurry, take some time, pick out your favorite tunes from the 20s through the 50s, put them on the turntable, and read all about the origin of West Coast Swing as we tour memory lane.
In order to understand the dancing factoids surrounding the origin of West Coast Swing, the following definitions taken from Swing Styles (Version 1.06) in Swing Dancer (Version 1.13), will be used.
Lindy Hop A dance performed in a circular area to Jazz music by two people coupled together as leader and follower using predominately eight-beat rhythms with moves between a variety of positions incorporating nimble footed hops, skips, bumps, grinds, squats, and acrobatics.
Jitterbug A dance performed in a circular area to Jazz music by two people coupled together as leader and follower using predominately six-beat rhythms with moves between a variety of positions incorporating nimble footed hops, skips, bumps, grinds, squats, and acrobatics.
Lindy A synthesis of Lindy Hop and Jitterbug danced in a circular area using both eight-beat and six-beat rhythms without the acrobatics.
Swing A synthesis of Lindy Hop and Jitterbug danced with the follower traveling back and forth on a fixed straight track (slot) and the leader moving off and on the center of the track or trading places with the follower on the track.
Now lets look at the dancing factoids!
1. In the 20s the black community discovered and developed a dance called the Charleston while dancing to their contemporary jazz music.
2. In the late 20s the black community discovered and developed a dance called the Lindy Hop while dancing Charleston as couples to their contemporary Jazz music.
3. In the mid 30s a bouncy six-beat variant was named the Jitterbug by the band leader Cab Calloway when he introduced a tune in 1934 entitled "Jitterbug."
4. In the mid 30s the young impressionable white community discovered the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug and started dancing to the contemporary Jazz and Swing music as it was evolving at the time with Benny Goodman leading the action.
5. During the 30s the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug dancers watched what the tap and jazz dancers were doing for additonal movements to incorporate into their dancing.
6. In the 30s the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy and Swing were bred and developed in New York City's Harlem with the Savoy Ballroom leading the melee.
7. In the mid 30s Herbert White, head bouncer in the New York City Savoy Ballroom, formed a Lindy Hop dance troupe called Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.
8. In the mid 30s Hollywood started capturing the better (local competition winners) Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy, and Swing dancing on film.
9. The Whitey's Lindy Hoppers were showcased in the following films: 1937 "A Day at the Races," 1941 "Hellzapoppin'," 1942 "Sugar Hill Masquerade," and 1948 "Killer Diller."
10. During the late 30s Whitey's Lindy Hoppers toured the U.S. and Europe.
11. Frankie Manning, Lion James, and Al Minns, stalwarts from the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, were featured in a number of movies and provided at least a 30-second clip of some of the best Savoy black dancers performing Swing. (To name a few of the movies: 1938 "The Prisoner of Swing," 1938 "Everybody Sing," 1943 "Cabin In the Sky," 1943 "Stormy Weather,") In the dance clips one can see at least some form and style of a whip and pass.
12. In 1938 the Harvest Moon Ball included Lindy Hop and Jitterbug competition for the first time. It was captured on film and presented for everyone to see in the Paramount, Pathe, and Universal movie newsreels between 1938 and 1951.
13. In early 1937 Dean Collins moved from Newark, NJ and arrived in Hollywood, CA in early 1938 via New Orleans. Dean Collins learned to dance the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy and Swing in New York City and spent a lot of time in Harlem and the Savoy Ballroom.
14. Between 1941 and 1960 Dean Collins danced in or helped choreograph over 100 movies which provided at least a 30-second clip of some of the best California white dancers performing Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy and Swing. (To name a few of the movies: 1941 "Buck Privates," 1943 "Stage Door Canteen," 1943 "Young Ideas," 1944 "Groovie Movie," 1946 "Junior Prom," 1949 "Lets Make Music," 1954 "Living It Up," 1956 "Rock Around the Clock," 1957 "Don't Knock the Rock.") In the clips one can see at least some form and style of a whip, pass, and push.
15. In the late 30s and through the 40s the terms Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy, and Swing were used interchangeably by the news media to describe the same style of dancing taking place on the streets, in the night clubs, in the contests, and in the movies (which were capturing some of the best dancers at the time.)
16. In the early 40s (war years) Dean Collins toured all over the U.S. performing in major cities and many USO clubs.
17. In the 30s and 40s the people between the ages of 16 and 24 spent a lot of time going to the movies and saw what dancing was going on in the bars as depicted by Hollywood.
18. In the early 40s the U.S. soldiers and sailors when not working spent a lot of time watching the dancing in movies and USO shows, dancing, and traveling between Army bases, Navy bases, and home.
19. The dance schools, such as The New York Society of Teachers and Arthur Murray, did not formally begin documenting and teaching Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy, and Swing until the early 40s. (The ballroom dance community was more interested in teaching the foreign dances such as the Argentine Tango, Spanish Paso Doble, Brazilian Samba, Puerto Rican Merengue, Cuban Mambo/Cha Cha, English Quickstep and Austrian Waltz with an occasional American Foxtrot and Peabody mixed in.)
20. In the early 40s the Arthur Murray studios looked at what was being done on the dance floors in each city and directed their teachers to teach what was being danced in their respective cities. As a result the Arthur Murray Studios taught different styles of undocumented Swing in each city.
21. In the early 40s Laure Haile as a swing dancer and competitor documented what she saw being danced by the white community (Dean Collins leading the action with Lenny Smith, Lou Southern, Jean Veloz, and Jeannette Phelps) in the night clubs and competitions in Southern California and gave it the name "Western Swing." She began teaching for Arthur Murray in 1945.
22. In the late 40s and early 50s Dean Collins taught Arthur Murray teachers in Hollywood and San Francisco.
23. After the late 40s the soldiers and sailors return from overseas and continued to dance in and around their military bases.
In order to continue understanding the dance factoids surrounding the origin of West Coast Swing, the following additional modified definitions of Swing style variations taken from Swing Styles (Version 1.05) in Swing Dancer (Version 1.12), will be used.
Savoy Swing A style of Swing popular in the New York Savoy Ballroom in the 30s and 40s originally danced to Swing music.
West Coast Swing A style of Swing emphasizing nimble feet popular in California night clubs in the 30s and 40s and voted the California State Dance in 1989.
Whip A style of Swing popular in Houston, TX emphasizing moves spinning the follower between dance positions with a wave rhythm break.
Push A style of Swing popular in Dallas, TX emphasizing moves spinning the follower between dance positions with a rock rhythm break.
Supreme Swing A style of Swing popular in Tulsa, OK.
Imperial Swing A style of Swing popular in St Louis, MO.
Carolina Shag A style of Swing popular in the Carolinas (the South Carolina State Dance) emphasizing the leader's nimble feet.
DC Hand Dancing A Washington, DC synthesis of Lindy and Swing.
East Coast Swing A style of Lindy popular in the ballroom dance school organizations.
Ballroom West Coast Swing A style of Swing popular in the ballroom dance school organizations and different from the style performed in the California night clubs and Swing dance clubs.
Country-Western Swing A style of Jitterbug danced to Country-Western music in Country-Western bars and popularized in the 80s.
Cajun Swing A Louisiana Bayou style of Lindy danced to Cajun music.
Pony Swing A Country-Western style of Cajun Swing.
And now for some more dance factoids:
24. As the music changed between the 20s and 90s (Jazz, Swing, Bob, Rock 'n' Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Disco, Country), the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy, and Swing evolved across the U.S. with many regional styles.
25. In Texas, the Houston Whip and Dallas Push began evolving in the late 40s to slow Rhythm & Blues music. It was originally called the Cat Dance because the cool cats (returning GIs from overseas and around the U.S. hanging out in smoky crowded bars with small dance floors) were the guys doing the dance.
26. In St. Louis the Imperial Swing began evolving in the late 40s to black Rhythm & Blues music. Again returning GIs from overseas and around the U.S. were hanging out in smoky crowded bars with small dance floors.
27. In Washington, DC the DC Hand Dancing began evolving in the late 40s to black Rhythm & Blues music. Again returning GIs (black and white) from overseas and around the U.S. were hanging out in smoky crowded bars with small dance floors. The 50s Rock 'n' Roll music and Buddy Dean Show fueled the fires.
28. In the Carolinas and Norfolk, VA, the Carolina Shag began evolving in the late 40s to black Rhythm & Blues music. Again returning GIs from overseas and around the U.S. were hanging out in smoky crowded bars on the beaches with small dance floors.
29. In 1951 Laure Haile first published her dance notes as a syllabus, which included Western Swing, for the Santa Monica Arthur Murray dance studio. In the 50s she presented her syllabus in workshops across the U.S. for the Arthur Murray Studios. The original Laure Haile Arthur Murray Western Swing Syllabus has been taught by Arthur Murray studios with only minor revisions for the past 43 years.
30. From the mid 40s to the present the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy, and Swing seen in the movies and danced in the bars was stripped down and distilled by the ballroom dance studio teachers in order to adapt what they were teaching to the less nimble footed genteel public who paid for dance lessons. As a result the ballroom dance studios bred and developed ballroom East Coast Swing and ballroom West Coast Swing.
31. In the late 50s television brought "American Bandstand," "The Buddy Dean Show" and similar local television programs in the major cities to the teenage audiences and the teenagers were Rocking 'n' Rolling with Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry leading the fray.
32. In 1959 some of the California dance organizations with Skippy Blair setting the pace changed the name of Western Swing to West Coast Swing so it would not be confused with country and western dancing.
33. In 1964 the Buddy Dean Show was taken off the air for refusing to integrate the show with black and white dancers dancing together.
34. In the 80s dancers in Sweden and England started watching the old Hollywood movies and groups such as Sweden's Rhythm Hot Shots led by Lennart Westerlund and England's Jiving Lindy Hoppers led by Warren Heyes were formed. They recreated the Lindy Hop with the help of Al Minns, Frankie Manning, and the original movies, and are now selling the Lindy Hop back to the U.S. (A similar group, the New York Swing Dance Society, formed out of Frankie Manning's classes in the Sandra Cameron Dance Center.)
35. In the 90s dancers over 60 years of age are still moving their Lindy Hoppin', Jitterbuggin' Swingin', and Shaggin' feet in the vicinities of American Navel bases and Army bases (San Diego, San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Virginia Beach, and Charleston to name a few).
36. In the 90s the new general Country Western dance community discovered West Coast Swing, Push, and Whip and are bringing these classic dances out for everyone to see adapted to Country Western music and cowboy boots & hats.
37. In 1994, 99% of the U.S. dance teachers under 45 years of age bred by the National Dance Council of America ballroom dance studio industry have not seen the origin of American Swing as documented by the Hollywood movie industry and its 50s aftermath as documented by the Hollywood movie industry and television programs.
Now for a relationship and embellishment of the factoids.
TWENTIES LINDY HOP
For mainstream America, Lindy Hop dancing originated with Jazz and Rhythm & Blues music during the late 20s as an outgrowth of the Charleston. Initially, Lindy Hop dancing was a wild combination of rocking and turning movements with a Charleston foundation that black dancers performed in New York City's Harlem. The dance consisted of improvised steps and figures generally using eight beats of music. This style of dance was named Lindy Hop after the first trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh.
During the early 30s, the Lindy Hop spread throughout the country via dance contests. With the inclusion of elaborate twirls, acrobatic moves (aerial or adagio flips, jumps, etc.), and breaking away from your partner with exotic jazz steps (Black Bottom, Fishtail, Shimmy, Snake Hips, Squat, etc.), the character of the dance changed. A bouncy six-beat variant was named the Jitterbug by the band leader Cab Calloway when he introduced a tune in 1934 entitled "Jitterbug." Music played by Calloway's orchestra was popular in such hot spots as Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. The Jitterbug's style of violent and frenzied athleticism was hazardous for performers and other dancers, and a Jitterbugger with fast feet was called a flash dancer at the black dance clubs. In 1936, the Jitterbug became popular with the whites when Benny Goodman brought swing music to New York's Paramount Theater.
The desire to perform the Jitterbug while dancing around the radio and juke box spread from coast to coast. It could be danced on a spot or take up the entire floor. It was a dance for attractive, young, and lithe beings who enjoyed flaunting their bodies. Kids hooked on Jitterbug were called "jive addicts." One faster version, called Shag, had a characteristic kick backwards and forward stomp. Movies which popularized Jitterbug included "Swing, Sister, Swing," "The Prisoner of Swing," "Groovie Movie" and a cartoon called "I'm Just a Jitterbug." Herbert White, head Savoy bouncer, formed Lindy Hop troupes such as The Savoy Hoppers and Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. The 1937 movie "A Day at the Races," and the 1941 movie, "Hellzapoppin'," provided a glimpse of the Lindy Hop with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (including Albert Minns and Frankie Manning) performing the dance. An electrifying exhibition of couples Lindy Hopping and Jitterbugging at the 1939 World's Fair topped the 30s off.
Another dance, Shag (alias Collegiate Shag), was bred in the 30s while dancing to the faster Jazz and Swing tempos. It consisted of hopping and flicking the legs predominately in some form of a closed dance position. See the 1937 movie short "How to Dance the Shag" by Arthur Murray, as well as the 1952 movie "Bells on Their Toes." The Balboa is a smoother California style of the Shag. You can still find a few dancers over 70 years of age still hopping and flicking their legs in Torrance, CA, St. Louis, MO, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA.
Another dance, The Big Apple, was born in the 30s in a small abandoned church in South Carolina. The blacks converted the church into a night club and called it The Big Apple. The dancers developed a group circular dance and it was named The Big Apple. The dancers danced in a circle performing such figures as the Charleston, Suzi-Q, Spank the Baby, Boogie Back, Shorty George, Dusty Dusty, etc. An individual or couple would solo in the center of the circle performing their own unique moves. You can see the dance in action in MGM's 1938 movie "Thrill of a Life Time."
The Swing sound appeared in the 30s when bands substituted bass and guitar for tuba and banjo in their rhythm sections. As a result of the change in the sound of the music, the Jitterbug's wild movements disappeared. The smoother style was given the surname Swing and the Christian name Savoy in the Savoy Ballroom where it was conceived, born, baptized, and developed. The term "hepcat" was used to describe a Swing addict. (Check the Swing Dancer movie list for a review of the movies that were produced.) The American GIs took the Swing dance to Europe where it developed into various styles and become known as Jive (English), Rock 'n' Roll (Swiss), Ceroc (French), and Boogie Woogie (German).
Swing dancing was finally recognized by the organized dance associations in the early 40s. In 1943 the New York Society of Teachers of Dancing was one of the first associations to recognize the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug as formal dances. The Lindy Hop and Jitterbug had been essentially street dancer phenomena and were not allowed in many dance halls. In the early 40s the dance schools' refinement for upper-class social and competitive dancing eliminated the bumps, squats, grinds, and acrobatics so clients could dance with each other without getting hurt or offended. They called the dances Jitterbug and Lindy Hop; however, the name Swing came to be popular in the streets. (Note: It is part of the dance schools' task to translate what clients saw performed on the street, into teachable, leadable, and sociable dancing.)
Laure Haile of Arthur Murray Studios was one of the first teachers to document what the Southern California Swing dancers were doing in the early 40s. She watched first-hand what the solders, sailors, and Hollywood background dancers lead by Dean Collins were doing in the night clubs. She provided the Arthur Murray Schools with the first syllabus and gave it the name Western Swing. The syllabus has been in effect with very little change in the Arthur Murray System for over 43 years. However, the style of the syllabus taught over the years changed for 1) lack of original models for the teachers to follow, 2) development of the dance by other teachers, 3) refinement of the style for students who were not as nimble as the original dancers from which is was derived.
In the 40s the soldiers, sailors, and movies carried the latest Swing moves across the country and around the planet. Dean Collins brought the Savoy Lindy to the West Coast and Hollywood movie industry and was the backbone of most of the swing dancing performed by whites in Hollywood movies. It was a contest between the dry, unruffled, and smooth Swinging cool cats and the sweaty, ruffled, and rough Jitterbugging jivers. Swing flourished in such areas as, San Diego, San Francisco, Houston, Norfolk, Charleston, etc., where the U.S. had military installations. In the wake of its popularity, the West Coast Swing style became the "Swing Dancer's" dance.
FIFTIES ROCK 'N' ROLL
Bill Haley's record, "Rock Around the Clock," brought the black's Rock 'n' Roll music to whites in the 50s, while movies, such as "Rock Around The Clock" in 1956, which featured Bill Haley, and "Don't Knock the Rock" in 1957, which featured Little Richard, popularized the dance. Rock 'n' Roll dancing (named by Bill Haley) took off, like Jitterbug did 20 years earlier, with the music of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, etc. Rock 'n' Roll became as popular as Jitterbug had been 20 years earlier, and history repeated itself. The desire of the young to dance Rock 'n' Roll spread from coast to coast. The music was a combination of black Rhythm & Blues and hillbilly Country and Western. The blacks had given birth to Jazz and Rhythm & Blues and Elvis packaged it all in white skin with a bow of sex appeal, i.e., Elvis was a white boy singing black music. The strongest influence for spreading the dance, however, was "The American Bandstand" television program which started in 1957. Adults claimed that Rock 'n' Roll was ruining American youth and banned the music and dancing in public places. The dancing was a little slower and bouncier than the 30s Jitterbug, and regional styles of Lindy, Jitterbug, Swing, Carolina Shag, and Bop developed in addition to Rock 'n' Roll. During the 40s and 50s the track style was the most popular among the serious Swing dancers and was called Western Swing in California, Whip in Houston, Push in Dallas, and Carolina Shag in the South East. In 1959 the California dance organizations led by Skippy Blair changed the name of Western Swing to West Coast Swing so it would not be confused with country and cowboy dancing.
As a result of the music, movies, refinement in the dance studios, outlawing of Jitterbug in social clubs, and creativity of individual dancers, a straight tracked (slotted) form, today called West Coast Swing, Dallas Push, Houston Whip, Supreme, Imperial, and Carolina Shag, evolved from the circular Lindy Hop and Jitterbug forms, today called East Coast Swing. No one individual can be credited with discovering the West Coast Swing tracked form. Via Hollywood, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers brought the black's Lindy Hop and Dean Collins and his disciples brought the white's Swing to the movie screens for the general public's consumption. With the dancing public clamoring for instruction and filling the dance halls to capacity, the tracked West Coast Swing developed simultaneously in different regions throughout the United States. The Arthur Murray studios with Laure Haile's dance notes, helped further its development in California and across the U.S., and the New York Society of Teachers helped further its development in New York City. Distilling what was seen performed on the movie screens, the ease of teaching many couples at once, dancing on crowded dance floors, and the appeal of the Swing music all played a role in the development of dancing on a straight track.
(Please note: for those of you who plan to obtain instruction from your nearest dance school, only 1% of present day United States bred dance teachers under 45 years old (those affiliated with the National Dance Council of America) have seen (been breast fed) the origin of American Swing as documented by the Hollywood movie industry. The majority, only 99%, have only seen (been bottle fed) English Jive (with a foreign bottle at that) for an example as to what American Swing dancers, as well as world class Swing dancers, should look like.
Each region developed its own style with help from the movies and dancers traveling back and forth across the United States. The present forms of Swing dancing on a straight track such as California West Coast Swing, Houston Whip, Dallas Push, Carolina Shag, and St. Louis Shag are the children of Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Lindy and Swing popularized by the Hollywood movie industry with Frankie Manning and Dean Collins setting the pace. In the 90s, the retired 40s generation is still dancing its Swing heart out to the Jazz, Swing, Bop, Rock 'n' Roll, and Rhythm & Blues, music it loves in Swing clubs across the U.S.
Ernie Smith during the late 1970s in New York City, documented the black swing dancing highlighted in the movies and his work now resides in the Smithsonian Institute. Rudy Linan in Las Vegas, a Dean Collins protegee, is currently documenting the white swing dancing highlighted in the movies with the help of Walter Rose in Afton NY.
With the help of the: musicians and disk jockeys continuing to fill the air with the sounds that call us to move, U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships, National Shag Dance Championships, World Swing Dance Championships, American Swing Dance Championships, National Jack 'n' Jill & State Swing Dance Championships, State Swing Dance Championships, Dallas DANCE, San Diego Swing Fling SOS. Spring and Fall Migrations, Buddy Austin Competition, National New Year Dance Championships, St. Louis Swing Invitational, Seattle's Easter Swing Convention, Boogie On The Riverwalk, Phoenix Convention, Lets Dance Swing Jams, Boppin' On Beale Street, San Francisco Swing Conventions, Capital Swing Fling, Can't Top the Lindy Hop, International Swing Dance Festival, "Dancing USA" magazine, "Jitterbug" magazine, "The Scoop" magazine, Feather Awards, and all those affiliated with and supporting the events/magazines and similar events/magazines around the country - you know who you are - American Swing Dancing is alive and flourishing!
There are over 300 Swing dance organizations in the U.S., and if you think it is flourishing in the U.S., note there are over 400 European Rock 'n' Roll, Boogie Woogie, Lindy Hop, and Ceroc Clubs.
Now that we have toured and/or experienced the 30s youthful Jitterbug explosion, the 50s youthful Rock 'n' Roll explosion, (and don't forget the 70s youthful Hustle explosion), what is going to be the 90s youthful explosion???
Keep On Dancing! Hutch.
For more of the history of Swing (which also includes Hustle) and a bibliography plus a detailed list of movies, Swing dance definitions, and Swing Dance Clubs across the United States pick up the latest version of Swing Dancer, A Swing Dancers Manual by Craig Hutchinson, published by the Potomac Swing Dance Club, 3409 Silver Maple Place, Falls Church, VA 22042-3545 for only $20 without binder and $25 with binder plus $3.50 postage and handling. For additional info call 703-698-9811.
Footnote. June, 12, 2000
The 90's youth rediscoverd the Lindy Hollywood Movies via Frankie Manning, the Swedish Rhythm Hot Shots, Steve Mitchel and their desciples
and the Swing via Hollywood Movies, Jean Veloz., Marcus Koch, Eric & Sylvia Robison, David Frutos & Kim Clever and their disciples.
The bottom line is to have fun putting on the music you enjoy and mixing up the moves you enjoy doing to the music on the dance floor.
And if you are up for it, strutting your stuff in a public venue for others to enjoy.
The Virginia State Swing Dance Championships attempts to offer specific catetories for each of the individual styles of the Lindy, Jitterbug, and Swing skeletons to shine and enjoy each other.