Dance styles

Learn about the dances that are offered within our thatswing community.
Read about their background and history and find the according classes.
Description/history source mostly from: Rock That Swing Festival dance dictionary

Swing was originally a term for a music style that is characterized by a specific type of syncopation emphasizing the off-beat, giving the music a bouncy, lively feel. It also was the pop music of the 1930’s.

Nowadays Swing is an umbrella term for the different swing dance forms. It can be used in a narrow meaning – dance forms of the swing music era – or in a broader context – including all later and modern progressions.

Lindy Hop and the other swing/blues dances are a social dance. Dance parties are also referred to as “social dancing” or “social”. Here you dance with many different partners – everyone can ask everyone else to dance. A joint dance is then created spontaneously to music without a predetermined pattern and is not choreographed.

Lindy Hop

Willa Mae Ricker & Leon James,
original swing dancers in the Savoy ballroom dance troup “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers

Considered the grandparent of most swing dances, the Lindy Hop originated in Harlem (New York) ballrooms such as the famous Savoy in the late 1920’s and evolved later into many forms as Rock’n’Roll, Boogie Woogie, and Jive.
It was danced to big band music and was characterized by “breakaways” in which partners in a couple separated and improvised steps individually and the Swing Out, where partners were swinging around each other, opening up at the end. The dance can be wild and spontaneous, with frenzied kicks and body movements, or it can be cool and sophisticated. Later called the “Jitterbug“, it exploded in popularity across the USA throughout 1930-1950 and has been brought into the world mostly through the American soldiers and the Hollywood movies.
The Lindy Hop owes much to African American influence, particularly Charleston, Jazz and Tap steps. In 1943, Life Magazine characterized Lindy Hop as “America’s National Folk Dance”. There exist many different styles of Lindy Hop. The most well known are Savoy and Hollywood Style.

Frankie Manning was one of the people who was there when the Lindy Hop became famous for the first time and had a comeback when in the late 1980’s swing dancing once again became popular. Click on the picture to enlarge the article.


Juke joint dancing in Mississippi

Blues is a music, a dance, a feeling. It can express pain, it can celebrate, it can tease and seduce, it can liberate from the burden of everyday life. It is a very personal and intimate, stylish and expressive form of dance. It is very suitable for slow music, particularly jazz and blues. Blues dancing remains strongly entrenched in African principles of movement.

Blues music originated in the culture of African Americans, more specifically in the southern states of the USA. With roots in African rhythms from religious ballads and folklore. Together with jazz, blues is the American expression of how African and European music merge.
Blues dance developed in parallel with the music. It combines elements of African dance as well as European partner dance. Both in the countryside and in the city, the dance spread and developed differently together with the music in many regions.

Since the revival of swing dance in the 80s and 90s, blues dance has also celebrated a comeback. Its characteristics are its strongly interpretative and improvised basic idea and the connection between the two dance partners and the music.

Juke joint dancing in Mississippi photo source: wikipedia


  • BLUES Workshops (BWC)


Crowley street dance 1938

Balboa is known for its smooth, tight footwork with a lot of shuffling, and “chest to chest” close dancing position. It is said that Balboa dancers were not allowed to break-away from the closed position and that they were the ones who dressed up and didn’t want to sweat. The Balboa has an 8-count basic and is well suited for fast tempos, though it was said a good Balboa dancer could Balboa at any tempo. It is probably based on the Foxtrot and/or the Charleston and was born in the 1930’s in Southern California, on Balboa Peninsula, due to crowded dance floors. The Pavilion and the Rendezvous Ballroom were the hot places.

When the hot swing music really hit the scene some of the younger dancers added break-aways, swing turns and drops to the Balboa. This dance was simply called Swing, but is nowadays referred to as Bal-Swing. The term, Balboa-Swing, didn’t actually come around untill the 70s refering to the style being like traditional Balboa intersperced with some swing elements. This increased energy level was made famous by “Ray Rand Swingers” of Southern California and dancers like Maxie Dorf and Lolly Wise.

Street dancing at National Rice Festival, Crowley Louisiana, 1938, photo source: wikimedia


Stanley Catron & Kaye Popp
by Gjon Mili for life magazine, 1943

Shag is one of the classic three major Swing Dance forms (Shag, Lindy Hop, Balboa). It even was spread all over America some years before Lindy Hop became popular. It consists of a lot of hops and kicks and is danced a lot in closed positions but also has open elements. It can be danced from medium to very fast music.
Different styles were popular in different regions. The different forms of Shag are referred to as Single, Double, and Triple Rhythm Shag. The different names describe how many slows will be danced. Single Rhythm Shag has been a very dominate style in the Swing era. Nowadays the most common form of Shag is the Double Rhythm Shag. It’s based on 6 counts (like Boogie Woogie) and with a simple Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick this form of Shag is very easy to learn. Shag was the hottest dance among the college kids in the 30s, that’s why some styles were called “Collegiate Shag”. Shag is not to be mixed up with Carolina Shag or St. Louis Shag.


  • COLLEGIATE SHAG, 2 levels (BWC), Nürnberg

Boogie Woogie

from the movie “Untamed youth”
USA, 1957

Boogie Woogie is the name for a music style and different dance styles. In the USA Boogie Woogie is used as a term for Vernacular Jazz Steps. In Europe Boogie Woogie is a 6-count dance style that is a progression of the Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, and Rock’n’Roll of the 50s which were brought to Germany after the war with the GIs. It is famous for its spectacular and fast footwork. There is a large number of social dancers, but also high-class international competition couples. Boogie Woogie is danced mainly to music of the late 40s and 50s (e.g. Boogie Woogie, Rhythm’n’Blues, Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly, Jive). Boogie Woogie allows a lot of space for free styling and improvisation. It is rich in typical figures and steps and many other dances have “borrowed” steps from Boogie Woogie. On the other hand many moves of other swing styles have been incorporated in Boogie Woogie in recent years too.


  • BOOGIE WOOGIE, 2 levels (BWC), Nürnberg

Juke joint in Mississippi 1939

Vernacular / Authentic Jazz

Vernacular refers to indigenous dance forms created within a community and derived from native traditions, common social exchanges and a familiar culture. American Vernacular Jazz dance (also called Authentic Jazz) traces its origins to the rites of early African communities. These rites continue to evolve through social traditions danced primarily within African-American communities. Examples include Cakewalk, Charleston, Tap, Swing, Mambo, Blues, Break Dance, Salsa and Hip Hop.

Frankie Manning

Shim Sham

The Shim Sham originated as a tap dance choreographed by Leonard Reed (1907-2004), and Willie Bryant in 1928. Intended for a show finale that could be done by all the performers it had to be easy enough for all artists to learn. From there on the Shim Sham started its triumphal procession and became one of the most well-known and wide-spread routines of all times.
Originally called Goofus it was later named after the Shim Sham Club in Harlem. Nowadays many various tap and non-tap versions are an integral part of big shows. The Shim Sham is the national hymn of the tap dancers. Leonard Reed later created the Shim Sham “Freeze Chorus“, “Shim Sham 2“, and “The Revenge of The Shim Sham”. Frankie Manning spread a non-tap version in the Swing community.

Josephine Baker


Charleston is a fun, flamboyant and very energetic dance from around the 1920s that can be danced with or without a partner. Despite its black history, Charleston is most frequently associated with white flappers and the speakeasy.

20s Charleston steps are often incorporated into Lindy Hop, later variations are sometimes called “Lindy Charleston” or “Savoy Charleston”.

Code of Conduct

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