What is Swing Dance?
“Swing” describes both a type of music and a type of dance. It’s about a rhythm that gives you the irresistible urge to start bouncing and moving. Swing music is music that you have to dance to! It awakens the senses, makes your ears tingle and vibrates through your entire body. In its sublime mixture of tension and release, it’s like a musical heartbeat that carries us into a euphoric state. In fact, it is often said that Swing simply makes people happy.
The various styles of Swing dance taught at Cat’s Corner come from a narrative that is much more elaborate than the one we offer you here. The story that we tell at Cat’s Corner is of the most readily recognizable style that originated in one of the most famous ballrooms uptown, in Harlem, New York: the Savoy Ballroom, also known as the “home of happy feet.”
“unless you know rhythm, unless you like music, unless you keep dancing,
oh babe you can’t live in Harlem”
The first racially integrated ballroom in the United States, it was the staging ground for some of the biggest concerts of the time, and enjoyed the patronage of thousands of dancers from all walks of life. All of these dancers came to dance to the beat of the same bands. And not just any bands! The biggest jazz acts played for these dancers: Ella Fitzgerald, backed by Chick Webb, faced off against the Benny Goodman orchestra. Count Basie was a regular, as were Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, Al Cooper, Lucky Millinder, and many others. This unique interaction between dancers and musicians was behind some of the great musical innovations of the time, and this in turn fed dancers’ desire to innovate in turn.
It’s here at the “House of Joy” during the late 1920’s that the Lindy Hop – also known as the Jitterbug – quickly became the dance of the Swing Era. This was the proving ground for such dance prodigies as Frankie Manning (our modern day Ambassador of Lindy Hop) and Norma Miller, the “Queen of Swing”, who is now in her 90’s. You can watch both of them perform in Hellzapoppin (1941) and A Day at the Races (1937). This style of dance that they both had a hand in creating, became a powerful symbol to the American youth of the Interwar period, up until the 1950’s.
Lindy Hop also inspired other dance styles, such as East Coast Swing, Boogie-Woogie, Rockabilly, West Coast Swing, even Hip-Hop, Breakdancing, and others.
Like Jazz, it was a synthesis of European folklore dancing, ballroom dancing (e.g. Waltz, Polka and Schottische) and traditional African dancing (identifiable by its polyrhythmic character, its emphasis on improvisation, its grounded feel and its cultural, social and allegorical dimension.)
Swing experienced its rebirth during the 1980’s in North America and around the world. Today, in places like Montreal, Seattle, Austin, Toulouse, Barcelona, Stockholm, Kiev, Seoul, Osaka, Melbourne and Buenos Aires, Lindy Hop is rediscovered by a new generation. Its influence is seen in movies like Midnight in Paris and The Artist, and in TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars.
Aside from Lindy Hop, the Swing Dance family includes other couple dances like Balboa, Shag, Charleston and East Coast Swing, as well as dances more focused on the individual, grouped together under name of Solo Jazz, or Vernacular Jazz. These styles are all danced to Swing music and are all taught at Cat’s Corner. Cat’s Corner also offers couple’s Blues classes.
Social Swing dancing
During classes, as during dance nights, the focus is on social dancing. The main objective is to meet new people, dance with everyone and enjoy oneself. There is therefore no need to already have a partner for either classes or Friday Night dances. These events are designed to be as welcoming as possible. During classes, partners are rotated on a regular basis to ensure that you have an opportunity to dance with everyone. During dances, men ask women to dance, women ask men, women ask women, and, of course, men invite men. Swing dancing is about freedom! Big and small, young and old, newbie or pro, solo or in couple, Swing dancing is for everyone, and is open to everyone. Come and experience for yourself how great it is to have Happy Feet!
A Partner Dance
In this space, where people of many different levels meet and where cooperation with your partner is as important than technique. Dancing with a regular partner allows you to play, learn. Dancing with beginners allows you to work on technique and improving your basics, while dancing with advanced dancers allows you to try more complicated or new moves and allows you to improvise.