What types of swing dance styles are there, from Lindy Hop to Jive?

swing dance styles

Seriously high energy swing dance originated in the 1920s. You don’t need to wear vintage to dance vintage…

What Types of Swing Dances and Rhythm Dances Are There?

Swing and rhythm dances are a diverse group of dance styles united by their high energy and strong emphasis on prominent body movements, including movements of the arms, legs and/or torso. If you’re interested in learning how to dance, or just have an interest in dance history, you may want to know about each type of step in the swing and rhythm category. You may also want to know what distinguishes each of these steps from the other. Let’s take a look at both of these partially overlapping questions.

What Is a Swing Dance?

You might think that swing dances get their name from their common reliance on swinging or rhythmic body movements. This makes sense, but it’s not quite the case. Instead, these dances get their name because they originated during the Roaring Twenties, when a form of ballroom jazz called swing music captured the attention of people of all ages throughout America. Swing dances evolved along with swing music, and although many generations of musical style have since passed, the dances remain popular.

The Lindy Hop

Perhaps the pinnacle of the swing dance world is a very high energy step called the Lindy Hop, also known as the Lindy.

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers from the 1941 film Helzapoppin.

This dance, which first appeared in the African-American community of 1920s Harlem, combines European ballroom formality with elements from several previously existing non-ballroom styles, including the Charleston and tap dancing. It’s also a direct extension of a slightly older, much less well-known swing dance called the Breakaway.

The Lindy is a slotted dance, which means that the following dancer moves to and from the leading dancer inside a thin rectangle of space known as the dance slot. It builds from a basic step called the swingout, and features a mixture of solo and partnered movements that are partially improvised. Advanced performers rely on extremely acrobatic maneuvers, often performed at a breakneck speed.

The West Coast Swing

The West Coast Swing, a well-known descendant of the Lindy Hop, was actually partly created by dance instructors at Arthur Murray. Although it’s a swing dance, you can also adapt it to virtually any musical setting.


The West Coast Swing shares several features with the older Lindy style, including steps pulled from tap dancing, and the use of a dance slot to define the space between the leading dancer and the following dancer.

The East Coast Swing

The East Coast Swing is another Lindy Hop descendant. It also incorporates elements of the ballroom dance called the Foxtrot.

The style features a six-beat rhythm that forms a distinctive contrast to the 4/4 time count typical of swing music. It also features an upbeat tempo, sometimes reaching up to 170 beats per minute.

The classic maneuver of the East Coast Swing is a combination that includes two triple-step movements, and a move called a rock step. Many people interested in learning how to dance to swing music begin with this style. Some dancers stick primarily with the dance as their skills progress, while others use their East Coast Swing skills as a springboard for the exploration of other swing styles.

The Jitterbug

The Jitterbug is another child of the original swing jazz era. Some dancers call it the Single-Time Swing.

Early on, the term Jitterbug was used loosely to refer to any kind of swing dance, including the still-popular Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, and Jive. The style now known by that name, however, features a basic four-step pattern performed to six counts of music. After mastering this pattern, Jitterbug dancers can personalize the dance by adding a range of other steps to their routine. Common options include Jitterbug turns, the triple step, and the cuddle step. You can think of the Jitterbug as a faster West Coast Swing, or as a less physically demanding version of the Lindy Hop.

The Jive

The Jive was created later than other swing dances. It has its origins in a swing movement created in England in the 1940s, and knowingly combines features from two of the original swing styles: the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug.


There are 20 core moves to the Jive, which act as a platform for improvised moves that dancers can link together according to their personal preferences. Like the Lindy Hop, this exuberant style often features a breakneck pace. Dancers only move on the even counts of its eight-beat pattern.

The Hustle

The Hustle is the only rhythm dance that doesn’t also qualify as a swing dance. In fact, while the swing dances have their roots way back in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, the Hustle only came into existence in the 1970s, when disco music captured the tastes of the nation.


Originally, the style developed as a solo dance performed at clubs; however, enthusiasts eventually created a partnered version of the dance as well.

The Hustle combines a three-beat count with a four-step pattern of movement. Dancers perform the first two of these steps quickly, then slow down for the next two steps. While dancing, they move back and forth on the floor. People commonly include the Hustle in the swing and rhythm category because, like the swing dances, it places an emphasis on limb and torso movement. In this case, movement centers on the knees and hips.

Learning Swing and Rhythm Dances

There are plenty of resources available for learning swing and rhythm dance styles. Some people learn best from videos, which include professional productions with detailed directions from trained instructors, as well as amateur productions made by dance enthusiasts who want to share their skills with others. Typically, however, the most foolproof way to learn how to perform any style of dance is to get in-person instruction at a professional dance studio.

Most dance studios feature group classes, as well as individual classes that provide one-on-one instruction. However, not all studios hire trained instructors who thoroughly know the dances they teach, and also know how to convey their knowledge in a fun, exciting environment. Before choosing your instructor, make sure that he or she really understands the mechanics of swing and rhythm dances. In addition, make sure that your instructor has sufficient teaching experience.

Author Biography

Steve Platt is the proud owner of five Arthur Murray franchises including Arthur Murray Torrance.  Do you want to get motivated? Go to your PC and print out calendars 2016. Then, write out some goals of what you want to do with your life. Write in the goal dates of when you want to take your first dance lesson, perform your first routine, and compete in your first competition!


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