History of Swing

Swing dance originated in the 1920’s during the Harlem Renaissance.  However, Swing reached its peak of popularity in the 1930’s.  The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great change for African Americans.   Black Writers, artists, musicians, and dancers were recognized for their talent for the first time.  Swing was just one of many art forms to prosper at that time.

            After many African American farmers were forced to leave their small farms in the south, many found themselves in the Harlem district.  Due to the cheap housing, Harlem quickly became a magnet for migrating African Americans.  Parties and clubs were the birth place of swing dance but in 1926 swing dancer performed for the first time at the Savoy on Lenox Avenue.  The Savoy, unlike segregated clubs, saw not the color of the performer but the talent.

            Not everyone took a quick liking to swing.  Most dance teachers across the United States had a very negative opinion of the dance.  In 1936 Philip Nutl, president of the American Society of Teachers of Dancing, expressed the opinion that swing “would not last beyond winter.”  In 1938 Donald Grant, president of the Dance Teachers’ Business Association, said that swing music is a “degenerative form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability.”  Most dance schools did not formally begin to teach swing until the early 1940’s.

            As the years went by, music evolved and so did swing dancing.  Variations of the dance arose based on different forms of music and even geographical location.  Savoy swing was a style of swing popular in the 30’s and 40’s.  Savoy swing got its name from the Savoy Ballroom where it was first performed.  This specific style of swing is quick, jumpy, and more casual in appearance.  Another form of swing dance is the West Coast Swing.  This type of swing was most popular in California night clubs in the 30’s and 40’s.  It was voted the California state dance in 1989.  The Pony Swing is a country western style of swing.  The list of variations goes on and on but it all began in the poor districts of Harlem, New York.  



I chose this dance because not only does it represent fun entertainment, but a strong movement in history.  At this point in time, African Americans did not have equal rights.  They were not even allowed in white night clubs.  It was inspiring for me to see that such a movement could come out of a poor community of belittled people.  I chose this dance not only because of the interesting history of it, but also because of the shear excitement of watching it performed.

            When watching the scene from Hellzapoppin, I am fascinated by the physical strength and precision it takes to simply not injure yourself.   It is most definitely a daring form of dance.  The performers in Hellzapoppin throw their partner around as if they are weightless.  Swing dance in my opinion appears to be almost a combination of dance, and a gymnastic like style.  The dance is so upbeat that it cannot help but entertain you.  This dance was even invented to be humorous.  There is a scene in Hellzapoppin where one of the female performers mocks a kick in the rear to one of the male performers and he leaps across the room as if from the force of the kick.  This obviously causes uproar from the other performers and the audience as well.  Overall this dance is energetic, daring, and extremely entertaining.

            After learning more about this dance, I have a much better understanding of the people who invented it.  These people pushed the limits of cultural norms.  They were risk takers who did not conform to the standards of their time.  At this time in history society did not want to recognize creativity of African Americans.  The swing dance left them no option.  Through swing, African Americans were finally allowed to perform at places such as the Savoy.  Not only were the inventers risk takers because of the time period of segregation, but simply look at the dance style and the danger is reflected there as well.  Timid individuals would not voluntarily plunge themselves over their partners back hoping to land on their feet.  The tasks involved in this dance are risky and could result in injury.  Swing dance is a dance meant for those not afraid to take dance to a new level.

            Swing dance had a slow start and took some time to be recognized as a valued form of dance.  Now there are competitions where performers strive to be the best swing dancer in the country.  No matter what the thoughts about the dance where in the past, swing dance is now and will forever be recognized as a dance that changed history.