study break

5 More Variations of Dance: Their History and Flair

Yes, there are more. Here are five other dances, all of which I have had at least one class in.

Yes, there are more. Here are five other dances, all of which I have had at least one class in.

Lindy Hop

Flair: Bouncy, playful, and fun. Retro and vintage.

History: Shorty George invented and named this dance in 1927, and it quickly became a Big Band hit (though Hollywood was not without its criticisms for stereotyping dancers on screen). With Lindy, you can dance along to legends like Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie. It gave rise to other dances such as its contemporary jitterbug and the modern west coast swing, and is still danced today at studios alongside east coast swing and vintage dances like Charleston, balboa, and shag.

My Rating: I don’t go swing dancing all that often but when I do, I try to advance more in Lindy Hop. I’m better at your basic east coast swing but Lindy adds so much more technique, energy, and versatility to the musical expression.

Scottish Country Dance

Flair: Polite, formal – but the Scottish version of formal, which involves a lot of jumping around to jigs and reels. Or perhaps it can be thought of as the Scottish version of Square Dancing.

History: Engaging in this dance feels like stepping into history. Scottish Country Dance includes reels and strathspeys, and is rooted in Medieval dance forms. There are, as well, ballet influences, with the pointed toes and first/second/etc. position and emphasis on turn-out. Today, the Royal Dance Society publishes a manual containing all the steps of each choreographed dance (with epic names like The Starry Eyed Lassie, Miss Gibson’s Strathspey, and The Wind that Shakes the Barley) so that no matter where you are in the world, if you go Scottish Country Dancing, you can dance the same choreographies with everyone else.

My Rating: I like the emphasis on footwork, with its spritely look and ballet influence. I like that it’s a choreographed cardio exercise that fosters uncontrolled laughter whenever a dancers reels the wrong direction – it’s all in perfectly good fun. And honestly, there’s an aspect that is more social than the social dances; since every formation needs a certain amount of couples, even beginners are partnered up and woven into each dance (at other social dances, it is unfortunate that beginners can sometimes feel forgotten, either not asked to dance much, or uncomfortable asking more experienced dancers.)

West Coast Swing

Flair: Smooth, modern, and incredibly versatile; songs range from old-school swing to bluesy honky-tonk to modern lyrical or R&B.

History: Quintessentially Californian and undeniably modern, West Coast Swing boasts complex footwork, lindy hop roots, and official State Dance status. The dance emphasizes communication, with improvisational Jack and Jill events the favored competition format; the song, the partner, or both are unknown before the dancers perform. It also encourages followers to hijack the lead, taking advantage of various moments to show off and improv without direction. To complete its Californian flavor, it even has roots in Hollywood, where Dean Collins starting smoothing out the Lindy and adding modifications like the whip and sugar-push seen in WCS today.

My Rating: This is one of those social dances I’ve been doing for years, but it’s the hardest for me to actually dance. The basic step is so complicated and I don’t practice consistently enough to really get good. But given the choice, the smooth feel and sheer versatility would make it my #1 choice if I were to pick one to perfect. You can just do so much with it, and dance it to so many different types of music ( . . . kinda like tap!)

Argentine Tango

Flair: Quiet, subtle, with sudden flourishes for showing-off, Tango’s movements require a very solid connection between the lead and follow. Even when it looks like they’re just walking, there’s a lot of conversation going on between the two.

History: This dance comes straight out of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where it is a major part of Argentinian culture. It began in the slums, slow to be accepted by the upper class, but now is a core symbol of Argentinian identity and danced to the country’s national music. It has a strong fandom in Europe and Japan, and has been recognized by the UN as a piece of cultural world heritage. Among the social dances, Tango has a unique culture. For example, no one says “Hi, would you like to dance?” – invitations and responses are all summed up in rules surrounding eye contact.

My Rating: This dance is distinct among the social dances. The Argentine Tango has no basic step. You are simply, walking. You have that much freedom in the lead & follow. At the same time, there are so many technicalities to that walk – then add in all the steps, ochos, and kicks – it feels almost like a high art form. So it has this really cool combination of great freedom and demanding technique, plus the music is classical Argentinian and feels very old-fashioned and regal.

Lyrical/Contemporary

Flair: Honestly the style of this dance feels as if you were reading a high school girl’s diary and saw it expressed as movement. Or maybe, rather, if she decides to vent by dancing instead of journaling.

History: In some ways, Lyrical is a rebellious adolescent. A child of the 60’s and 70’s zeitgeist, it broke ballet’s structure, focused less on dance as an art form, and focused more on dance as expression. It often incorporates the coordination of a team, in which each gesture and even stillness contributes to the story being told.

My Rating: I took one (maybe two?) classes at that studio that offered beginning ballet classes. The warm up killed me (I’m not flexible, remember? And I thought I was strong, but that class proved me wrong). And the dance is just so dramatic and emotional, you have to take it so seriously. I looked in the mirror, attempting to dance the routine, watching my arms and legs move like the limbs of a confused octopus, and I just could not stop laughing at myself. Suffice it to say, this dance falls outside my style.

Photo Credit

References

Fisher, J. (2014). When Good Adjectives Go Bad: The Case of So-called Lyrical Dance. Dance Chronicle, 37(3), 312-334.

Goertzen, C., & Azzi, M. (1999). Globalization and the Tango. Yearbook for Traditional Music,31, 67-76. doi:10.2307/767974

Jakubs, D. L. (1984). From bawdyhouse to cabaret: the evolution of the tango as an expression of Argentine popular culture. The Journal of Popular Culture, 18(1), 133-145.

Kassing, G. (2007). History of Dance: An Interactive Arts Approach. Champaigne, IL: Human Kinetics.

Lavin, K. M. S. (2019). Sugarpush: a history of West Coast Swing, race, and gender.

Stevens, C., & McKechnie, S. (2005). Thinking in action: thought made visible in contemporary dance. Cognitive Processing, 6(4), 243-252.

Toyoda, E. (2012). Japanese Perceptions of Argentine Tango: Cultural and Gender Differences. Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, (30), 162-179.

One comment

  1. I think dance should attempt to convey a message to the times or at least a given milieu which you suggest can do. Individuals who develop dances should ask ‘Would this dance affect people who are not dancing?’ I think swing could. I am not interested in dance as pure form. I am unmoved by ballets with with ridiculous stories, though I can recognize the tremendous athletic skills of the ballet dancers. Dances should have some simple straight forward moves so individuals dancing the dances only from time to time do not just end up flopping around on the dance floor. Disclaimer: I watch very little dance and do not dance.

    Liked by 1 person

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