How Can You Tell One Swing Dance from Another?


Swing Dancers do a lift

What Swing Dance is This?

Swing is a broad category that includes many different dances.  If you’re a novice, it’s hard enough telling completely different genres apart let alone the variations in one category.  And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are different styles within the same dance!

I’m going to keep it relatively simple in this post, however.  I’m going to focus on 3 different types of Swing:  Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, and Boogie Woogie.  Boogie is a European dance that you are unlikely to see in this country, but I fell in love with it and spent 8 summers in Sweden and Norway studying it.  People ask me about it, so I thought I’d include it here.

All three dances have their roots in the same place and share much in common.  They’re all jazz dances, which means there is room for freeplay within the context of the lead and follow.  You play with the music, do jazz variations on the breaks, and converse creatively with your partner in the language of dance in all three.  There is also cross over in a lot of the jazz variations.

Boogie Woogie bears a lot of similarity to West Coast Swing.  It’s danced in a slot, but while 8 count moves are allowed, it’s primarily a six count dance.  If you slow it down, it can look a lot like West Coast Swing and you could borrow a lot of the moves and adapt them.  So what’s the difference?

There are differences in the rules of the dances, but a lot it comes down to style.  The look and feel of each dance is unique.  Lindy was the first swing dance, so it’s not surprising that you see a lot of Lindy in every dance that came later.  But Lindy is not slotted.  The steps can go off in any direction and the dance has a wild crazy attitude and can get downright silly.  You have to be willing to let go of your dignity to really get into this dance.  In this clip you can see some different styles of the dance as the teachers from a dance camp jam with each other.  This is social dance, not choreographed performances.  There is one aerial, which would not happen on a social floor, and they do break into a spontaneous shim sham (a line dance that Lindy Hoppers do) but you get the idea.

[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”” standard=”″ vars=”ytid=AaSnEUysanQ&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5109″ /]

West Coast has a much more sophisticated style.  It’s danced to contemporary music and has a slick, sexy look.  It is danced in a slot and your dignity is never compromised in this dance.  Lindy is danced to a variety of speeds but West Coast is almost always relatively slow.  In this clip you can see different styles, all social like in the lindy clip, but very distinctly all West Coast Swing.  Can you see the difference?  You may not be able to figure out why they look different, but see if you can get a feel for how the two dances differ.

[embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”” standard=”″ vars=”ytid=iu-ch4FbxEk&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7125″ /]

Boogie Woogie is danced to fifties rock and roll and piano boogie.  It has lots of room for play and creativity but it also has very distinctive footwork that gives it an unmistakable look.  While it’s steps are closer to West Coast Swing , it’s attitude is closer to Lindy.  In this jam, you can once again see different styles of Boogie.  Can you see how they are similar to each other and different from the other two dances?  Boogie is considered a competitive dance in Europe and is danced competitively much more than socially, so that’s why the Boogie examples are full of air steps.  This is not a demonstration of social dancing, but people do dance it socially.  They just don’t put it on youtube when they do!  By the way, I once entered a Jack and Jill (random partner contest) and drew Jorgan (second couple in the boogie clip) as a partner.  He politely asked me how long I’d been dancing Boogie.  I told him 6 years but only for one month a year.  “In that case,” he qualified, “you’re very good!”

[embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”” standard=”″ vars=”ytid=-WyUyN4cd20&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep4773″ /]

There are lots of other swing dances, and it’s not really necessary to be able to analyze what sets them apart from  each other.  The important thing, if you are interested in learning to swing dance, is that you have a feel for the essence of each dance so that you can make an educated choice about which one to choose.  The three dances I showcased in this article are all about equal in difficulty, so you may not want to choose any of them if you are just starting out.  Part of your criteria should be your ability to pick up complex dances easily.  If you are challenged by the idea of learning to dance at all, I recommend starting with an easy one, like East Coast Swing.  And of course also the availability and how far you are willing to travel to learn it.

You get good by dancing socially, so I also recommend choosing a dance that is convenient to do socially as well as to learn.  For most people, not a good idea to pick a dance you have to travel to Europe to do!  Have fun, you all!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

Like this post?  Use the form at the right to subscribe!