A brief essay of swing dancing

Swing and Big Band The Counter Culture of the Modern Era

There is always a culture, and a counter culture. The counter-culture usually challenges the ideas prevalent in the culture and very often, leads into the next cultural movement. During the Modern era much of the culture was based around the first world war and the horrors that the people had seen. Yet there was this other aspect of the culture growing. The Harlem Renaissance brought Jazz music to the foreground and with the discovery of the Charleston and the Lindy Hop, Swing Dancing was born.

The Lindy Hop was named after Lindbergh, the man who flew across the Atlantic to Paris in 1927. “Shorty George” Snowden, who was a dance enthusiast, gave the dance the name when a newspaper reporter asked him the name of the dance. “It just so happened that there was a newspaper with an article about Lindbergh’s flight sitting on the bench next to them. The title of the article read, ‘Lindy Hops the Atlantic,’ and George just sort of read that and said, ‘Lindy Hop’ and the name stuck” ( Swing History).

While Artists and writers focused on the horrors of what they had seen, swing dancers celebrated that they were alive. Teenagers in Harlem danced to Jazz and it eventually it moved to the Savoy ballroom in New York City. The Savoy opened in 1927, it had a dance floor that covered nearly a city block. “Entertainer Cab Calloway helped make swing dancing a national favorite when he created a six-beat version of the Lindy Hop that he named The Jitterbug” (Swing Dance History).

Part of the proof that swing was the counter-culture is the initial reaction to it. Dance teachers refused to teach it as a dance, In 1938 Donald Grant, president of the Dance Teachers’ Business Association, said that swing music ‘is a degenerated form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability’” (Swing History. But swing dancing was on the rise, and soon could no longer be ignored.

Long before the teachers and dance schools would recognize swing as a dance the lindy hop had already swept through the united states. Despite the predictions that the craze would not last beyond the winter. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the Arthur Murray studios instructed the teachers to teach what the students were dancing in their respective cities. These studios ended up teaching an incredibly wide-ranging style of swing in each city. There are dozens of types of swing dancing now, because it took so long to be formalized and taught in dance schools it was possible for different styles to appear whenever someone introduced it.

Movies and film reels featuring swing dancing played a huge part in the popularization of the dance movement. Hollywood films like Hellzapoppin’, A Day at the Races were some of the first films to feature scenes with people dancing the Lindy Hop. Dean Collins learned how to do various styles of swing dancing in Harlem and the Savoy Ballroom, and up until 1960 either danced in or choreographed over a hundred swing dancing scenes in movies (Swing History)

When soldiers came back from World War Two they continued to swing dance at home and on their respective bases. The trend has survived and influenced culture—particularly american culture—up until the present times. It went from being an aspect the modernist counter-culture to a very prevalent aspect of the post World War Two culture. It helped springboard the United States and a good percent of the world into a culture of optimism again.

Works Cited

“Swing Dance History – Life123.” Articles and Answers about Life – Life123. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

“Swing History Origins of Swing Dance.” Central Home Learn to Dance Videos, Exercise Videos, Fitness Videos, Sports, Music and Educational Videos DVD CD Books. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. 


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