Swing is not a single dance. It is a family of related dances. Swing dancing originated in Harlem during the 1920s. The dance developed alongside the jazz music of the day. In Swing music, the musicians play (or sing) some of the notes late, and then catch up in the next beat or two. They referred to this as “swinging the beat” and hence the name was born.
For a long time, the dance itself had no special name. Then, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh crossed (“hopped”) the Atlantic. A dancer, when asked what the dance was called, remembered the headline and replied impishly, “the Lindy hop”. For whatever reason, the name stuck.
When Rock & Roll came along, swing dancing adapted. Jive became the dance of the 50s. When R&B music came out, swing adapted again, turning itself into a variant called initially western swing or later, West Coast Swing. Through the intervening years, swing has moved around the world and evolved. Versions of swing have sprung up in many places – Carolina Shag, St. Louis Shag, D.C. Hand Dancing, Chicago Stepping, Houston Whip, Texas Push, Balboa, Smooth Style Lindy (midwest), and Western or West Coast Swing (California).
As swing travelled around Noth America, it took on distinctive regional traits. Lindy (New York) can be slow and cool or hot and heavy, West Coast (California) is slow, sexy and laid-back, Smooth Style Lindy (middle of the continent) is somewhere in between in styling. Carolina Shag is done on the beach with a beer in one hand. Long-time Toronto dancers have their own distinct style, a cross between shag and smooth Lindy.
Swing is the ideal social dance – easy enough that you can be having fun the day you start, rich enough to interest and captivate for a lifetime!