Our guide to swing dance

Our guide to swing dance

First published date April 02 2014 Amended date May 27 2014

Picture yourself in the USA during roaring 20s era when America was emerging as the world’s dominant superpower. People were wealthy and enjoying the economic boom of the time and it is from this that dances like the Lindy Hop, the Charleston and the foxtrot sprung to the forefront of American musical culture.  The ‘swing era’ was prominent in the period between the end of World War One and start of World War Two and is synonymous with what we think of the US back in those days. So whether you’re a dance enthusiast or a 1920s US nostalgist, one of the many swing dance courses available may find you swinging to the sounds of those times like someone out of The Great Gatsby.


What is swing dance?

Swing dance incorporates high tempo, fast jazz, popular back in the 1920s in the ‘Big Band’ era. If you listen to Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing, it will give you the perfect idea of the type of music people would swing to back then with the powerful brass instruments played with great energy. Swing dance isn’t a dance in itself; it is an umbrella in which many other dances such as the very popular Lindy Hop or the Jitterbug among others come under. Swing dance courses may cover a few of them generally but others may be specific to a certain dance like the Charleston solo. 



Swing dance really came to prominence during the 1920s where the most popular form of swing, the Lindy Hop is said to have come about in Harlem, New York in 1927. From then, swing dance took off across the US but different social groups in various parts of the country had their own forms of swing which would vary from north to south. As it further evolved in the prosperous times of the 20s, it became an important part of society, particularly on the nightlife scene, even after the 1929 Wall Street Crash.  Certain communities, particularly African-Americans in Harlem  would use dancing as the main means of socialising and having fun and would often have dance offs in bars and clubs.


I have two left feet...

You don’t have to be a seasoned dancer to get in the swing of things. Most courses are designed for beginners looking to try something new and have a bit of fun too. So it doesn’t matter if you feel dance isn’t one of your strengths, courses will happily take you on board and show you a great time!


What will a course involve?

For one, you’ll be reliving the roaring 20s! There are many forms of swing dance around and its lasting legacy can be seen in the range of swing dance courses available. Whether you fancy learning the foxtrot or Lindy Hop specifically, or want a course that covers a broader spectrum of dance varieties, there will be a course that suits your personal needs. Beginner courses will tend to start off at a slower pace to get things started before things go full swing. There are also courses for those who may already have experience with swing dancing and who want to further develop and improve their skills.


Course benefits

It’s of little doubt that by the end of your first session you’ll be raring for another go at swinging to the sounds and themes of the roaring 20s. It’s a unique and exhilarating experience and a whole lot of fun too. It will make an excellent and original evening out with friends, family or that special someone and there is no real commitment to a course needed, as some of them are available to book one session at a time. It’s also a great way to keep fit and active, if that’s what you want from a swing dance course; the quick footed motions to the fast beat of the music keep the energy levels right up.


Old school American slang terms

If you’re going swing like they did last century you may as well learn how they used to talk. Here are some bizarre phrases used back then that you may or may not know.

Scram! – To leave immediately

Upchuck – To be sick after drinking too much

Balled up – To be confused

What’s eating you? – What’s the matter?

None of your beeswax – None of your business

Juice joint – An illegal bar or speakeasy

Dead soldier – An empty beer bottle.

Handcuff – An engagement ring

A sap – A fool

To beat one’s gums – To have idle chatter.