by Harold & Meredith Sears
4 beats/measure; 26 - 46 meas/min
The term "swing" music, referring to the driving beat of the rhythm section of a jazz band, is thought to have been coined by Jelly Roll Morton in his 1906 composition, Georgia Swing. In 1932, Duke Ellington wrote It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing). By 1936, clarinetist Benny Goodman was being called the "King of Swing."
In the 1920s, swing dancing became big as young people moved to the jazzy, bluesy, big band music of the time, maybe most famously at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. This athletic style of dancing came to be called the Lindy Hop, to commemorate Charles Lindbergh's solo flight or "hop" across the Atlantic in 1927. The Lindy of the '30s gave rise to Jitterbug in the '40s, to Rock and Roll in the '50s, and to East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Jive, Shag, and others.
In round dancing, the dominant swing rhythm is East Coast or triple swing. However, the figures that we use have mostly come from International-style, competition Jive, and most of our cue sheets identify these dances as "jives." Many figures are written to span a measure and a half with a rock, recover, and two triples. Another group of figures span two measures with a one, two, and a triple, one, two, and a second triple.
There has been some effort to distinguish between triple-swing and triple-jive. Swing is slower, and the triples travel more with a side/close, side and a count of 1&2. An "&" divides a beat in half, so the timing of a swing triple is half beat, half beat, whole beat. These triples might make you think of cha cha, but this is rock-and-roll music; the music doesn't say "cha-cha-cha." Swing can be quite easy-going, loose, and rag-doll-like. Jive is tighter, faster, bouncier, has more knee action, and the triples are more in place with a step/close, side and a count of 1a2, with sharper and briefer second step. The timing of a jive triple is 3/4 beat, 1/4 beat, whole beat.
Another view from a ballroom expert and for those who like the picky details says that both the swing and the jive triple really have the timing of 2/3 beat, 1/3 beat (of a triplet musical figure), whole beat. I don't know. My ear is not that good.
Both swing and jive make use of the Latin hip at the end of the triple: step/step, side/hip. Eight steps over six beats of music or ten steps over eight beats always puts you back with your lead foot free, so it's easy to move from figure to figure. Almost any figure can follow almost any other.
When the tempo gets faster, there isn't time to fit those triples in, and we switch to what is called "single swing." Each 6-count figure becomes, rock, recover, step, step (q,q,s,-; s,-,), four steps over the six beats of music. Less common is "double swing" with six steps or actions over the six beats: rock L, recover R, press L, step L; press R, step R, (q,q,q,q; q,q,) (of course, the woman begins with her right).
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