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Swing Music Essay, Research Paper

Swing Music

During the nineteen thirties and nineteen forties a certain style of music became very popular. This style of music became known as “swing”. It was performed using rhythmic ‘riffs’ and is referred to a style of dance and band arrangements. America maintained swing’s popularity throughout the World War Two years when both large and small ensembles toured Army and Navy camps both at home and abroad. At home, swing was heard at bond sale rallies and community concerts. The new sub-culture of women workers also adapted boogie-woogie and other novelty and jive styles.

There are two forms of swing; performed swing and recorded swing. Recorded swing was stricter, and performed swing allowed much more improvisation. Recorded swing songs were composed of tightly written 3-minute arrangements. Performed swing songs were heard at live performances, like dances or over the radio. They allowed for open-ended arrangements, which accustomed more improvisations. These two forms, although both swing music, are very different in the ways and techniques they are performed and heard.

Dancing is a very big part of swing music. A person rarely ever thinks of swing music without swing dancing. Swing music became popular at every event from New York’s swankiest nightclubs to school proms. Every portion of society found some form of swing music suitable for their dancing.

There are many types of swing dancing. One type is Lindy Hop. Lindy Hop is swing dance full of fancy kicks. It is swing dance that is in clubs and now advertising in Gap commercials. Swing got started in Harlem in the late 1920’s. It features plenty of high-kicking Charleston steps, hopping and high-flying lifts and air steps. They were developed by dance legend Frankie Mannigan in the 1930’s. It is danced with an eight- count basis, which means that patterns occur in series of eight steps, although six-count patterns crop up. A popular form is the Smooth Lindy, which is basically a Lindy with no kicking patterns or Charleston.

East Coast swing, otherwise known as the Jitterbug is another type of swing dancing. It is more social and less acrobatic. Although this style of swing is what most people learn at first, it is not really a swing-era dance. (This dance is learned as, “One and two, three and four, rock-step.”) Most swing dance had an eight-count rhythm. (Counting to eight, with each beat equal to one step.) With the evolution of the 12-bar blues, however, the jitterbug lost two counts and became the dance of early rock-and-roll. It is taught as a swing dance, however, because it is much easier to grasp than the Lindy. This dance was not created until the 1950’s. The version that is taught most often is done to fast big-band music and is also called East Coast Swing.

Another type of swing is West Coast Swing. It is a six-count or eight-count dance where the man moves the woman in a straight line, “the slot”, while he steps out of the way, instead of the circular patterns of the Lindy Hop. The dance is also danced to much slower music than East Coast which allows for more time for intricate steps and synchronized movements between partners.

Hand Dancing is another type of swing dancing. This dance developed in the D.C. area in Wahsington’s African American community. It was developed in the 1950’s and is still primarily danced by African Americans. It is actually closer to the West Coast Swing than Lindy, because hand dancing’s turns and movements are more elegant looking than its fast-paced relatives. Most patterns, including turns, are done while holding hands, hence, which gives this dance its name.

One other type of swing dancing is the Hustle. This style of music is a combination of pumping disco with flashy moves. Many people relate this style of music with the Travolta time era. Although this type of swing dancing was developed after the main swing years, it is what kept swing dancing alive during the 1970’s and early 80’s.

There are many forms of swing dance and people choose the style that appeals to their tastes and where they live. East Coast Swingers seem to think that West Coast Swingers are over sexual, while West Coast Swinger aficionados find New York’s traditional Lindy to be too wild. There is “bad blood” flowing between the two styles because each fears losing dancers to the other side.

Swing dance music etiquette is very important. First, when dancing the outfit and accessories should be comfortable, safe, and also reflect the culture and level of formality of the dance group. Also, make sure to wear comfortable dancing shoes. Dancers should not dance with one partner the whole night, but instead ask many people to dance. Beginners should be treated nicely and be asked to dance with. A dancer should also dance the same level as their partner, as to not make them feel uncomfortable. Do not decline a dance unless absolutely necessary, and if so, do not dance with someone else during the same song. Always be considerate of other dancers on the floor as to not cut off other couples. The most important etiquette is to smile, be nice, warm, and personable.

Along with swing etiquette there is also swing slang. While dancing and listening to swing music people talk differently. Swing dancers refer to themselves as “alligators”. An “angel cake” is a girl, and “jackson” is a male friend. “cement mixer” is a bad dancer, “clambake” is a jam session, “cut out” means to leave, and “drag a hoof” means to dance. These are only a few of the many slang words a swing dancer may use.

While swing dancing, there are certain clothes that a person should wear. The clothes should be comfortable and allow for much movement. Many older people wear very casual dress, but younger dancers look great and think it fun to wear gabardine suits known as “zoot suits”. They should also wear fedoras and ties. The girls look great in crepe and lace dresses. These outfits look wonderful while twirling and moving on the dance floor.

Swing music has had a great effect upon its era. The dancing, clothing, and dialogue of the time reflects the music. Its popularity through the 1930’s – 1940’s helped many people through World War Two and other times of hardship in America, such as the Great Depression. The music has taken on many forms and styles of dance. They were originated to benefit the person who listens to

Austin, William W. Music in the 20th century, from Debussy

through Stravinsky. [1st edition.]. New York, : W.W.

Norton, (1996).

Sterfeld, Frederick William, 1914-. Music in the modern

age. New York, : Praeger, (1973).

Sorell, Walter, 1905-. The Dance through the ages. New

York, : Grosset & Dunlap, (1967).

Switzer, Ellen Eichenwald. Dancers! : horizons in American

dance. (1st Ed.). New York : Atheneum, 1982.

Swing-Music.com. www.swing-music.com/articles.html.

December 12, 2000.


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