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Swing is initially the name for the well-known music by Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. Then swing is also the name for a whole family of dances, among which Lindy Hop is a kind of royal discipline.

Lindy Hop

Lindy Hop is the couple dance from the "black afro american vernacular jazzdance tradition" and is danced to "Swing", for example to the music of Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Glen Miller, Ella Fitzgerald.


Lindy Hop reached its peak in the forties and is therefore the grandfather of Rock'n'Roll and the father of Boogie Woogie. Lindy Hop means freedom in movement, improvisation and dancing to music. Lindy Hop is a couple dance in which the guided dance partners can also become leading dance partners, and thus make leading a real challenge for both. Lindy Hop experienced an enormous boom in the so-called "Ballrooms" such as the Roseland Ballroom, Apollo Theater, Savoy Ballroom and Cotton Club in "Black-Harlem", New York. 


The dance was named after the famous aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, who made the so-called "Hop over the Atlantic" flight over the Atlantic in 1927 with his "Spirit of St. Louis". This alludes to the breathtaking acrobatics, which later could not be found in a single dance, as was the case with Lindy Hop in the form it was performed on stage in the nightclubs at the time. In addition, Lindy Hop developed into a "social dance" that roused the masses. The ballrooms were filled with thousands of dancers.


So it's no wonder that Lindy Hop is experiencing a real boom again today, especially in Europe. Every summer, for example, over 1500 dancers make a pilgrimage for four weeks to Herrang, a small village in Sweden, where the former "Rhythm Hot Shots" – the world's top professional dance group in Lindy Hop – dedicate a dance camp just to Lindy Hop. Also in London and New York there is already an insider group of several thousand dancers, not to forget the "Swiss Swing Dance Society" in Switzerland, which grew rapidly with several hundred members. Already at all Boogie Woogie tournaments there is almost not a single couple on the podium that does not have at least one typical Lindy Hop figure in their program.


It should not be forgotten that almost every step in hip hop, funk and street dance was copied from Lindy Hop. To see Frankie Manning, who was born in 1914 and died in 2008, on the floor when he was bursting with joy and "Swing", is quickly reminiscent of the scene in the film "Hellzapoppin", where he cast a spell over the audience with breathtaking acrobatics pulls. Lindy Hop owes its name to Charles Lindbergh, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday on February 4, 2002.

Big Apple

Big Apple is a group participation dance that uses swing dance as a base and a host. The Big Apple has some roots in the white Square Dance as well. Sometimes a solo or couple would perform in the center of the circle (like today’s modern jams) as the rest of the dancers would dance in a circle around them.


Most people think of the City of New York - which sometimes was called the Big Apple as a Nickname - when they hear the name, but the Big Apple actually originated around 1936 at the "Big Apple Night Club" in the Palmetto state of Columbia, South Carolina. The night club was actually a abandoned african-american church converted into a nightclub. The club used a "Nickelodeon", a sort of a jukebox, for its music and had a balcony around the floor.

The Big Apple then quickly spread all over the states and soon the smaller taverns and dance halls were posting some apologetic signs: "Sorry, No Big Apple. Not enough room". Some ballrooms who had balconies or dance floors on the second story even collapsed due to the weight of the people doing the Big Apple. Many people where hurt in the collapse and some establishments refused to allow people to do the Big Apple due to the difficult insurance situation - again due to the american law system - and fear that someone might get hurt - or even worse: claimed large indemnities.

Some of the names of steps were called "Spank The Baby, Praise Allah, Rusty Dusty, Charleston, Suzy-Q, Pose & A Peck, Boogie Back, Shorty George, Truckin, The Little Apple., The Little Peach" -- (Little Peach-Invented by Collage Kids in So. Carolina) and more, were all swing type fad dances of the time, these fad dances lasted only a couple years. Over time most of these steps have resurfaced as the same dance or a variation of the dance.


The book "Swing As Away Of Life" states the following about this dance: The Big Apple started when the band leader (or any dancer) cried out, "Cut The Apple!" and dancers formed circles of 8 to 10 people each. At the callers cry of "Come on and swing," the dancers would break into the Charleston swing (Lindy Hop?), a more violent version of the previous decades Charleston. Each dancer would step forward on his left foot and kick the right foot up, then step back on the right foot to the rear. Soon the whole circle would be a flurry of flying feet and counter-flying arms and elbows. When the caller yelled "Truck To the Right"!, each dancer would face right, raise and admonitory index finger, step forward and pivot...

Another Book called "Down Memory Lane" stated: The Big Apple was a group participation dance that included all the earlier swing steps and required a caller. The dance started off with a march; as the couples formed into a ring, the caller would shout "Shine" and ask for one of the swing steps. A single couple would take the initiative, step into the center of the ring, and perform the Jive gyrations. During the "Shine" episode the on-looking dancers remain in the circle, clapping hands, beating time, and shouting and catcalling in loud enthusiasm.

Cake Walk

This dance originates in the 19th Century, when black people on the plantations imitated their white folks, how they walked up and down the alley with canes and parasols, and they were betting for a cake to the one, who did the best imitation, in other words, looked most close to their white folks. While performing this originally social game, the ladies came dressed in wide white dresses and a wide brimmed hat or parasol, the guys in black tuxedos with top hats and canes.


Tap Dance

Tap Dance sprang from U.S. soil and would be made popular by dancers like "Daddy Thomas Rice" (white) and "Zip Coon" who started the popularity of Negro-Minstrel dance with his dances of "Jump Jim Crow" and Zip Coon. Before these dancers offered their renditions of these dances, Master Juba (William Henry Lane) who was known as "the dancinest fellow ever-was" and is described as doing a tap type dance (but was more of a clog.) Later, the great minstrel man Barney Fagan is often times referred to as the "Father of Tap".

Tap dancing started with the Negro slaves who would beat out rhythms and dance on river boats. Plantation owners called these dancers Levee Dancers thru out the south, these levee dancers would wear shoes as well as not. Levee dancers would find fame with the minstrel shows around 1830 and would hire them to perform to the Negro ditties, however, most of these Negro performers were actually white men who would wear face paint, (known as "Blackface") and perform these dances. The Black Bottom has been credited to contributing to the "Modern Tap Dance Musical Phrasing", with it's "Off Beat" rhythms.

Tap dance and Clog are very similar, mainly because Tap has deep roots into Clog dance. The most difficult of the Irish clogs are the Irish Jigs, Hornpipes and reels. In some of these the feet can tap the floor more than seventy times in fifteen seconds. In Clog dancing, no thought is given to facial, line expressions and the arms are kept motionless. The Clog dance almost came to oblivion because of the mixing of the Clog and Shuffle dances of the African-Americans today known as Tap by the end of the 19th century. 1900 to 1920 were the years modern tap had evolved.

In 1866 the Black Crook, considered to be the first musical, which featured, Burlesque, Minstrel and Clog dancers who danced very stiffly and gave rise to the term Pedestal dancer. In 1902, Ned Wayburn who created a theater play called "Minstrel Misses" coined the term "Tap and Step dance" in this musical play. This was the first time these names had been used professionally.

The misses used light clogs with split wooden soles because aluminum heel and toes taps did not appear till a decade later. The Pedestal dancer would climb upon a marbled or gilded pedestal (24 inch base) and basically clog or tap out a routine while posing as motionless as a statue. Henry E. Dixey who used to whitewash himself, was one such dancer that was known as a pedestal dancer, he would be presented to the stage as a statue on a pedestal in the likes of Apollo or Discobulos and when the curtains parted he would start dancing on the pedestal in a statue like motion.

The Lancashire Clog, which is a more complicated dance than that of the levee dancers, made some contributions to Tap as well. Especially when George H. Primrose (Cotton Coons Minstrel Company) danced the clog without the wooden soles and invented the Soft-Shoe routine. Barney Williams was the first professional clog dancer to come to the U.S. in 1840. The first professional dancers (troupe) in the U.S. were the Irish Clog dancers (traced to pre-Christian Ireland.) These dancers that followed were called "Song and Dance Men" in the Minstrel-Vaudeville shows. Clog contests in the 19th century would have the judges sit behind a screen or under the dance floor, judging the sounds rather than the body movements of the dancers. This dance also is performed in wooden soled shoes. For several decades Tap and Clog would flourish successfully.

The Soft Shoe is a form of tap only done with soft soled shoes without metal taps attached, first introduced by George Primrose on the Minstrel stage in the early 1910s. Performers originally wore all kinds of shoes to perform the Soft Shoe and as time went on the term soft shoe was applied to many eccentric styles of tap. The characteristics of the soft shoe however was the humour, wit, and delicate nature of the tapping performed with a very smooth and leisurely cadence. Occasionally this is referred to as the Sand Dance.


The Buck and Wing was adapted to the Minstrel stage from the recreational clogs and shuffles of the African-American. The Buck and Wing is said to be a bastard dance, made up of Clogs, Jigs, Sand dance etc. The Hornpipe of England was an elaborate Pantomime of English sailors, mimicking their duties while patting the feet to a tune. The Shout (or Ring-Shout) was a union of dance and song. This gave birth to what was called "Darkie dialect and rhythms" from "de camp meetin’ hymns" and "work hollers" of the old south.

The fast Step dance, once popular and is the forerunner to the slower Soft Shoe style of Tap dancing done in 3/4 time. Originally came from Ireland around 400 A.D. and is often times called the great Grandaddy of Tap dancing. The early Irish dancers wore hard shoes designed to protect the feet for the weather in the British Isle. It was here these dancers created the Jig’s they used in step dancing. These dancers would keep their arms perfectly still and at their sides, ignoring the more flashier arms movements of other dances. This dance would later become popular in England. For the Shim Sham or Shim-Sham Shimmy, the Guinness World Book Records shows the following: Roy Castle - January 14, 1973 -- 1,440 Taps Per Minute (24 per second).


The Balboa is another form of the Swing Dance family. The original Balboa is a sort of hybrid of the dances Charleston, Jig Trot, Swing and appropriated steps from the Collegiate Shag (1920's), which later possibly Arthur Murray would try to refine in the mid 1930's thru his studio chain (Even if we know swingers don’t like to hear Arthur Murray, but that's the way history possibly went) but his version became stale and way to boring. Later, many dancers started to add steps and twist and kicks back into the dance at Balboa Island in Newport Beach, California (Balboa Pier), with a new Balboa being born out of this Shag, Jig Trot/Walks, Charleston and Swing mixture, as well as very tight dance space and a chance to catch your breath (Jockeying) while dancing fast. It had finally come full circle and was getting very popular with the swing dancers in Southern California.

The Newport island's clubs in California, such as the Rendezvous Ballroom started having swing dance nights in the early 1930's that continued well into the mid 1980's. Over the years the dancers who did shag, charleston, Jig Walks, Foxtrot, and Lindy merged the dance into a more energetic style. Most of the Balboa dancers were of today’s older West Coast Swing crowd, with a few newer Lindy dancers finding the beauty of this dance as well today.

After a while the newer swing dancers coming on to the scene, not aware of the Balboa, would refer to the Balboa as "The Shag" since most of the swing dancers that knew how to do the Shag also went to "Balboa Island - Swing Nights", and these swing dancers would be called "Balboa dancers". The Balboa became a dance of the Swing dance family and was reported many times as a new dance. Basically the dance evolved thru crowded dance floors and high tempos. A dancer getting tired would pull his partner close and do Balboa to catch their breath, then swing out again or it was just plain to crowded to dance.

Balboa is mainly a closed position swing form, that uses very little break-away's, only a few turns, and usually fast footwork. Most written articles of the time report that the Balboa was replacing the Fox-Trot in swing circles. Most of the larger Ballrooms were so crowded that they had signs posted "No Breakaways" (such as the Paramount in L.A.) and the Balboa worked real well for overly crowded dance floors.

There are quite a few different styles of Balboa, amongst others such as the:

  • Swing-Bal (with some swing steps thrown in, uses swing timing, to be clear not shag timing, but does have some converted shag movements).

  • Slow Balboa (similar to Rhumba), that is very, very smooth!

  • Fast Balboa that is any style you happen to know, done real fast.

  • Plus there is Single Bal, Double Bal and Triple Bal (Swing Rhythm) to mix.


The origin of the Balboa (not the Shag) can be said to be The "Rendezvous Ballroom" on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, CA. around 1934/5 to about 1941. Some original music was p.ex. Dorsey's "Melancholy Baby" or Artie Shaw's "Begine The Beguine" (as reported by a Photo Play article). Jackie Cooper and Bonita Granville were very known avid Balboa dancers.


Shim Sham

The "Shim Sham" or "Sham" was originally a tap dance routine done by Vaudeville performers (mainly black dancers) in the early 1900's and is still taught in most tap dance classes today. The Shim Sham-Shimmy is said to be the creation of Willie Bryant and Leonard Reed and was changed to accommodate a large group in 1927.

The Shim Sham was changed somewhat by Bryant and Reed over the years into the Shim Sham Shimmy by swing dancers and is done by swing dancers, similar to a type of a Line Dance today. Originally the Shim Sham-Shimmy could be done as a solo, couple or group dance (2 or 3 couples up to the whole room), and as a group each person's arms were around the next but today is done apart. The Sham was done at one time at the Savoy ballroom to the original song entitled "The Song of the Freaks", written by Luis Russell. The music usually builds in intensity as do the dancers making a sort of Crescendo and Diminuendo.

The Shim Sham's basic is the “time step that is done by tap dancers, except the dancers use a more shuffled rhythm than lifting of the feet. The Shim Sham also incorporates the "break" (or stop-time) which can be as short as 3 beats and as long as a minute. Usually the dancers would sing along with the music, such as "Oh, Shim-Sham - Shimshamshimmy! - shim - sham - Shimshamshimmy!" When the dance would end everyone would "truck" back to their tables etc. Around the early 1930's the Shim Sham Shimmy became a favorite Finale on the Vaudeville stage.

Cab Calloway's "Jittering-Jitterbugs" musical short clip has the original group form of the shim sham shimmy routine and is led by Calloway. Dean Collin's can be seen doing it on the Marv Griffin Show as well.

Today, the Shim Sham is mainly performed to the tune "T'aint what’cha do is the way how you do" by Jimmy Lunceford, of which different actual bands recorded new versions, though without gaining or adding really to the original song. Hellzapoppin' Disaster's Boys will perform it for you to a completely unexpected tune - stay tuned!

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