The first time I saw swing dance in person, I was at a 1920s party where a live band played songs from the era. Just over the heads of the mesmerised onlookers, I spied a pair of stockinged legs. I wove through the crowd to get a closer look. A man in a white shirt, slacks, suspenders and a fedora was spinning a woman in a vintage polka dot dress and high heeled shoes across the shiny wood dance floor. It was like no dancing I had ever seen. He guided her spins and twists with just a light touch of his hand. They swivelled, kicked and jumped to the swinging tunes. Then, he bent down low and she flipped over his back, her legs were propelled into the air – I was hooked.
I just had to learn those moves.
Swing dance originated in the 1920s with the big band jazz music that was popular at the time. The roots of swing can be found mostly in African American communities, with different regional interpretations of some of the moves. The genre has come to refer to a whole series of partner dances that are now widespread. These include the Shag, Balboa, Jitterbug, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing and the popular Lindy Hop.
The Lindy Hop is at the heart of the genre. Named after the aviator Charles Lindbergh after he flew over the Atlantic, it developed from a combination of the Charleston, jazz and even tap dancing. Starting right from opening day, the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem had the best lindy hoppers of the era.
At the Savoy, it didn’t matter who you were or the colour of your skin, all that mattered was if you could swing.
In the 1930s, when swing started incorporating aerials and tricks, the Savoy floor manager, Herbert White scouted the place for his group “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers” who toured and performed professionally, even dancing in the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’.
Later, as the big bands became smaller, the dance form evolved into boogie-woogie, jump blues, and into the jive moves of rock-and-roll dancing of the 1950s. But since the 1980s, swing dance has seen a revival with musical groups such as the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy taking up traditional swing music and modernizing it to have a rock, ska or rockabilly sound.
Today, in Vancouver, the swing dance scene is vibrant with many regular dances, competitions, and classes. For all you hepcats out there wanting to shake-a-leg at a wingding, sign up or drop in for one of Gustavo Ferman’s classes at the Roundhouse. His current sessions run on Fridays until June 13th from 7:15-8:15pm.
Or, dance the night away at Hot Club Swing at the Roundhouse. Every second Saturday, the evening starts with a lesson at 8:00, then a Dj or a live band provides the tunes so you can practice your moves. The next scheduled date is June 21st before the summer break.
By Lindsay Glauser Kwan, Roundhouse Blog Team. Lindsay is a creative writer and blogger specializing in arts, culture, fashion and lifestyle. She has written for Vancouver Is Awesome, emerge, The Liar, The Blind Hem, and various blogs. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU and a member of Pandora’s Collective, she features regularly at local events.