Swing dance is everyone's favorite for wedding first-dances this year
If early indicators are anything to go by, swing is the dance style that everyone wants for their wedding in 2018. However, before you go to an instructor, you should probably know that there are nearly ten different varieties of swing! While it’s certainly not required, being familiar with some of these sub-genres before booking your wedding dance lessons can certainly make your first lesson smoother.
Single Time Swing, aka the Jitterbug, is a great multi-purpose dance. It works well for individuals using fast songs that either have mobility limitations or for brides in restrictive dresses. When I choreograph dances using Single Time Swing, I often use the simplified footwork as a way to incorporate spins and patterns that would otherwise be more complicated.
East Coast Swing, aka Triple Time Swing, is one of the six beginner dance styles taught in most American based dance studios. With a slower tempo song, it allows for a pleasing bounce and easy movement. It does require three times the steps as the simplified Single Time Swing, hence the name, so it works best for dancers that can move quickly on their feet and brides that have unimpeded movement, especially around the knees and heels. In general, swing is not advised for any dress with a train or a bustle that is not completely off of the floor.
Jive is not a dance for the faint of heart. It is characteristically very fast and very technical. As an instructor, I do not recommend using Jive as the basis for a wedding dance unless the couple has previous dance experience, the bride will be wearing a knee-length dress that allows for movement, and/or the couple can dedicate at least 15 hours to learn the routine. That’s not to say that you can’t incorporate the feel of a jive into other swing styles with a little creativity.
Lindy Hop, now commonly referred to as Lindy Swing is currently experiencing a re-emergence as more and more people take up the dance style as a hobby. Lindy originated in Harlem in the late 1920s and known for its blend of athleticism and musical improvisation. For the beginning wedding student, plan to allow plenty of time if you want to use Lindy as the basis for your dance. Similar to Jive, Lindy requires a fair amount of stamina, balance, and coordination, and isn’t something that can be properly learned in 1 hour. Taking elements and modifying them to use in a different swing variation can be a great alternative to getting the look and feel of a Lindy, while still staying be achievable.
With the revival of all things 1920s, Charleston has also become very popular in recent years. While the Charleston dance can be danced in partner, similar to a salsa or mambo, it is most often used as tandem solo choreography, with dancers positioned side by side facing the same direction. This dance style can be adapted to work for a wide range of ability levels, and is a great way to create mid-song pizzazz for couples looking for something more performance based. For anyone planning on using a song from the 2013 remake of The Great Gatsby, expect to use a Single Time Swing as your base and then add elements of Lindy and Charleston to highlight certain sections of the music.
Country Swing, also referred to as Western Swing, is heavily defined by the region it is danced in. In my experience, there are two main varieties that fall under the umbrella of “country swing”, with the identifiable difference being the timing of the rock step. Similar to Hustle, Country Swing can either be danced using straight, all quicks, even count with the rock step falling on 3,4, OR it can be danced as a Single Time Swing with each side step taking two counts and the rock step being syncopated on quick, quick. In either case, the region you are located in, and the music you are using will be a determining factor in which timing you use for the dance. Otherwise, the advantages and disadvantages are the same as if you were using a Single Time Swing.
West Coast Swing is unique from all the other swing varieties we’ve discussed so far in that it is a slotted dance. Where as the other styles are typically danced side by side moving with your partner, West Coast Swing partners rubber-band away from each other to maintain a narrow dance space, otherwise known as a slot. Turns move along this slot and are often called “passes” as the partners pass each other, with whips or baskets allowing partners to turn together before once again separating. West Coast Swing’s key feature is its unique opportunity for improvisation on the spot, especially from follows (ladies), which is great for couples willing to put in the time to learn the dance itself, rather than preset choreography.
Now that we’ve discussed swing from a dance perspective, let’s talk music. The term swing can be applied to music from many different genres, crossing many different decades. Big Band
Let’s start at the beginning, the early 1900’s. Big Band music first appeared in the 1910’s and gained in popularity until the 1940’s when jazz hit its peak. Popular songs recorded in the era include In the Mood by Glenn Miller, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by The Andrews Sisters, and Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway. In recent years, the Big Band style has gone through a renaissance with artists such as Parov Stelar, Scott Bradley’s Postmodern Jukebox, and Caravan Palace, mixing the iconic 1920’s swing sound with current pop hits and/or electronica style. When working with a Big Band style song, I tend to lean heavily on Single Time Swing and add in elements of Lindy and Charleston if the dancers want a showstopper dance.
Rock & Roll and swing dancing go hand in hand, although it may not be a bride’s first thought of music genre for her wedding dance. However, for someone looking for a non-traditional first dance or parent dance, this high energy style may be just the answer. Songs such as You Really Got Me by the Kinks, How Sweet It Is by James Taylor, Are You Going to Be My Girl by Jet, Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen are great alternatives for couples looking for an upbeat dance. When working with Rock & Roll, I generally start with Single Time Swing as a base and, given enough time, work up to Triple Time Swing if the couple is up for the challenge. By keeping the footwork on the simpler side, I can incorporate more dynamic spins and turn to match the exciting tempo.
Country songs for weddings have a very special place in my heart. For our wedding, my husband and I chose Lee Bryce’s I Don’t Dance for our first dance, which was a wonderfully meaningful rumba, but that’s a story for a different post. Some of the most dynamic and interesting dances I’ve worked on for weddings over the last few years have been using Country songs, especially swing songs. From Brad Paisley’s He Didn’t Have to Be, to Smile by Uncle Kracker, to Sugarland’s Stuck Like Glue, Country music can be a great choice for a wedding dance. I use a combination of Single Time Swing and Country Swing for most songs in this genre, and even lean heavily on swing in place of what would normally be a Nightclub tempo.
While Rhythm and Blues (R&B) and current Pop music are technically separate genres, from a dance perspective, they tend to fall under similar umbrellas. Both are usually in 4:4 tempo with the odd exception, and both are more often than not either Rumba or Swing timing, except for most Ed Sheeran songs. Examples of popular wedding songs that work perfectly for Swing based routines include Lucky by Colbie Callie and Jason Mraz, Marry You by Bruno Mars, and Stevie Wonder’s iconic Isn’t She Lovely. R&B especially can provide a great soundtrack for West Coast Swing, with songs like Closer by The Chainsmokers, Latch by Sam Smith and Better Together by Jack Johnson.
So now that you know a little more about the different options out there when it comes to all things “Swing”, what is your favorite version or variety? What styles of dance or music did I miss? Are you an East Coast girl or a West Coast guy? Share your questions and comments below, and I’ll try to answer them in a follow-up blog post where I’ll be sharing a few client clips of the swing wedding dances I’ve choreographed so far for 2018!