The History of Swing is a long and illustrious one…
Although ‘swing’ dancing is now considered to be just one style of many types of modern dance that are related to ‘ballroom dancing’, its origins could not be further from this current reality.
At the peak of its popularity Swing dancing was performed in hundreds of styles. Only a handful of these styles are still practised today but it’s where these styles originated that is most interesting. The Lindy Hop, Collegiate Shag, Charleston and all the other styles of Swing have their roots in African American culture. The originators of swing dance were recent descendants of slaves and former slaves; so, much in the same way that blues music had its roots in the tribal music of Africa, you can draw a straight line between the ritualistic vernacular dances of Africa and swing as it appears today.
As with all movements, Swing’s existence today is thanks to a number of innovators who exemplified the very best of the style:
“Shorty George” Snowden
One of two famous Georges associated with Swing dance, George Snowden was bequeathed his nickname due to his diminutive stature, he stood at just over 5 feet tall. ‘Shorty’ danced with Big Bear, a similarly talented dancer who was much taller than him, their act would often end comically with Bea lifting Shorty over her shoulder with ease. Snowden was considered to be the top dancer at the Savoy from its opening in 1927 until his ‘dethroning’ in 1935 by a man who would revive Swing for a new generation altogether.
Alongside ‘Shorty George’, Frankie Manning is often considered to be one of the founders of the Lindy Hop and although it would be impossible to credit him completely with its beginning we can certainly thank him for contributing to its revival and continued popularity. Frankie wrested the title of top dancer from ‘Shorty George’ in 1935 when he debuted the ‘air-step’ to a packed crowd at the Savoy. After spending three decades working for the Postal Service he was coaxed out of retirement in the 80s and helped revive the movement.
An unsung hero of Swing, Jack Carey was born in 1927 in South Carolina. He learned to dance swing at a very young age which allowed him to purse a career in show business. Amongst a slew of successful competition runs with his wife Lorraine, the pair also performed in movies, most famously appearing in the Jerry Lewis picture Living It Up. Jack would later go on to promote Swing by organising his own competition and coining his very own style: West Coast Swing.
Leroy “Stretch” Jones
Often considered to the flipside of ‘Shorty George’ Snowden, Leroy Jones stood at over 6 feet tall and danced with a much shorter partner, Little Bea.
Despite being a huge influence on the likes of Frankie Manning and other Lindy Hoppers, Leroy Jones’ career was blighted by repetition. His fellow dancers noted his lack of enthusiasm as the years went by and he grew tired of dancing the same routine for the enjoyment of others.