In the late 1930s and early 1940s, only the music was called "Swing" but the dance paraded under various names.  News reporters called all of the dancers "Jitterbugs".  There was no desire and no need for anyone to define what was being done - it was all just dancing.


Different styles were emerging from all over the country.  They had similarities because they all danced to the same MUSIC!   Music is the key word here.  Dancers have an instinctive response to sound, tempo, and musical interpretation - influenced by the social customs, style of dress, and moral code of the day.  Wherever we were - and whatever we called our dancing - it was compatible from coast to coast!


As the years flew by, this very unique dance started developing into specific styles with special, identifiable characteristics.  On the East coast, there was the New Yorker and the Lindy.  The New Yorker grew to be known as Eastern Swing - and eventually East Coast Swing.  In the South, dancers on the beach started developing what would one day be known as Carolina Shag.  In Texas, the dance was developing into Push and Whip.  In California, as well as a few other places across country, there was a slower form of sophisticated Swing that had dancers traveling in the same direction on their “double rhythm”.  Arthur Murray’s adapted this style to their curriculum and dubbed it “Western Swing”.


Years later - with a few years of the US OPEN under our belts - Swing dancing started taking a turn that made the dance hard to define.  Hustle music brought variations into the Swing world that confused the judges and blurred the lines of "What is Swing?"  Time for a definition.  

This is t
he first Definition
of "Swing" as approved by the original Swing Dance Council in 1985 (I was there, attended all the meetings and personally recorded this tidbit of history):


"Swing" is an all-American couples rhythm dance consisting primarily of 6-Beat and 8-Beat patterns that cover either a circular or slotted area on the dance floor.  Swing incorporates the use of underarm turns, side passes, push breaks, and whips -- plus "4-Beat" rhythm beaks, syncopations and extensions of the same."


In 1994, an amendment was added by the World Swing Dance Council based on the percentage required in specific Swing competitions.  The amendment - added to clarify what Swing is NOT - read as follows:


"If you can identify the dance as something OTHER than Swing, it cannot be considered part of the required percentage of Swing." 


Examples of what is NOT Swing are: Hustle, Hip-Hop, Charleston, Balboa, Jazz, etc. 


In 1999, an attempt was made to define the various forms of Swing, placing each in a "family" of either "West Coast" Swing (both partners travel same direction) or "East Coast" (partners have opposition moves of a back-rock).


Stated at the WSDC Meeting in Atlanta in 1999, the following dances were designated as being included in an "open" Swing competition:

  • Carolina Shag

  • Classic West Coast Swing

  • Dallas Push

  • East Coast Swing

  • Funky West Coast Swing (added in July, 2000)

  • Hand Dancing

  • Houston Whip (Traditional & Contemporary)

  • Imperial Swing

  • Lindy

  • West Coast Swing (both Classic and Funky)

The story continues.  Heated debates occurred over what was Swing and what was NOT Swing.  I personally did a full year of research before coming up with something that 100% of those involved agreed with. The criteria for "Is it Swing?" - even on a social basis - is this: 


"If a Leader doing one form of Swing can dance with a Follower doing another form of Swing -- with only slight adjustments in style and tempo -- then it is Swing."


That last statement is the one that finally removed "Hustle" from the arena of Swing dancing. 


People still ask for clarification and, fortunately, the above definition takes care of the problem.  Further clarification includes that Hustle has 2 changes of direction in one 6-beat pattern.  One of these changes takes place on an "a" count prior to a Downbeat and the other takes place on an "a" count just prior to an Upbeat.  This unique characteristic takes place in no other social dance to date.


We have come a long way toward defining our dance.  However, "defining" should not be confused with "regulating".  Freedom of interpretation is one thing, but it should be noted that a great orator once said, “Without discipline, there is no freedom”.


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Editor's note: Skippy Blair is fondly referred to as the "First Lady" of West Coast Swing.  In addition to being the co-founder of the World Swing Dance Council, she has been a dance competitor, performed in Hollywood movies, written books, taught at her renowned "Intensive Study" seminars, judged at every major Swing dance event in America, and served as coach and mentor to hundreds of Swing dancers, past and present.