Swing dancing originated in the first half of the 20th century, beginning in the 1920s in New York, and continuing to gain popularity throughout the 1940s. Since then, it has evolved and adapted, with countless variations that include the Charleston, Lindy Hop, and Balboa. But do you know two of the most well-known spin-offs of the original swing dancing style? In modern day dancing, The East Coast Swing dance and its counterpart the West Coast Swing dance have claimed their popularity title in many dance lessons across the world!

The Shared History 

For both the East Coast Swing dance and West Coast Swing dance, it all started in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in the 1920s. The city was alive with the cultural and intellectual movement that became known as the Harlem Renaissance, which would of course revolutionize American culture forever.

Just as disco and rock ‘n’ roll would do in the decades to follow, the Jazz music that was invented and popularized during this era of culture gave way to a shuffling movement that would become nearly synonymous with its time: Swing.

No matter the style or the specific dance steps, each swing dance shares slight shuffling movement, the rhythm of 4/4 time, basic patterns to follow, and the same basic six-count timing of 1,2,3-and-4, 5-and-6.

however, let’s take a deeper look at how good swing dancing can differ in style.


The Steps

The most basic difference between these two styles is in the steps, the building blocks of the dance itself. 

The East Coast Swing style involves a circular pattern, taking up a pretty large area of the dance floor. One partner mirrors the other’s movement’s: when one of the dancers moves to the right, the other moves to the left. It usually consists of two triple steps and one rock step. To break that down even further: 

  • A “triple step” is three steps made on two beats of music. When counting out loud, that might sound something like “quick-quick-slow”.
  • A “rock step” is a two-step sequence. Here, you “rock” by placing one foot behind the other and putting your weight on the ball of the back foot, then transferring the weight back to your first foot and bringing the other back to its original position. 

The West Coast style of Swing is more controlled. Here, partners move back and forth in their “slot” on the dance floor, with one partner spinning as they move up and down the slot, while the other partner moves around them.

The Style 

When it comes to style, East Coast Swing dance and West Coast swing dance can be described as two very different sides of the same coin. 

East Coast swing is, as you might have guessed because of the region it’s associated with, more closely tied to the original dance style it evolved from: energetic, lively, and exuberant. With a faster shuffling movement, usually the pace is around 140 beats per minute, with some of the most popular examples being the Lindy hop, Jitterbug, and Jive.

The West Coast swing evolved later, in the 1950s, and can best be described as sensual, sophisticated, and sexy. It is more restrained than its counterpart, at 115 beats per minute or less. Here, the focus is on careful attention to detail, smooth footwork, and upper body sway as can be seen in popular examples like the Push, Shag, and Whip. 


The Sound

If the style and steps are different, then one would guess the sound must be too.

East Coast Swing is, as the original was, often done with the accompaniment of big band Jazz. However, like all art forms, it has shaped and been shaped by plenty of music and styles since then. Now, East Coast Swing and its’ triple rhythms can be danced to anything with a bit of bounce, from Disco to Pop to Rock. 

West Coast Swing was also originally closely associated with Jazz, but is now most often seen paired with Blue. It can, however, also be paired with genres like R&B, Hip-Hop, and Adult Contemporary. 

The Setting 

So where might you most commonly see each of these dances? Don’t worry, no one’s going to stop you from breaking out your best Triple Time Lindy Hop in Los Angeles, or your sultriest Shag in Charlotte; there are just some events where you’re more likely to see one than the other. 

The East Coast Swing dance style is more likely to be seen at weddings, music festivals, concerts, and parties. 

West Coast Swing style is perfect for socials and competitions — or even just any place where the music slows down, and invites those who are skilled in this more difficult dance out to the floor. 

No matter what style of swing you’re looking to learn, whether it’s East, West, or maybe something more in line with the Waltz or Salsa, Fred Astaire Dance Studios has a class for you right here in Raleigh, North Carolina. Call (919) 872-0111 or click below to learn more and reserve a spot in our next class!

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