April 18, 2012

The Tenets of Swing©

The Tenets of All Swing Dances
The Tenets of Swing is part of the collection of groundbreaking articles found in Telling the Truth, available in both print and Kindle. Grab your copy today on Amazon.com.

The saying "Swing is Swing" has wreaked some havoc on our community. In 2009's US Open 7 out of 10 Classic Division finalists were violated for swing content.

The US Open, instead of taking a stand, wiped their judging slate clean and hired all new judges. Unfortunately, all of these "newer" judges had definite ties to each of the repeat finalists. And just to be sure, they picked a completely new scrutineer - a name-dropper with absolutely no spine... and of course, as expected, gave no violations himself.

But when the 2010 US Open took place, several of the new judges, who weren't used to judging for the Open, were extremely concerned with what they'd seen on the floor. NO ONE had swing, of all 30+ couples, except for a tiny little handful. And I do mean tiny.

So in the scoring room they asked, "What do we do about swing content??? Do you want us to leave non-swing out of finals... or in... or???" And Jack Carey's response was, with a big wave of his hand, "Swing is Swing," meaning... it's all swing. Keep putting my people in. Because none of them had done a lick of swing that year.

I came to find out just a few months later that Jack Carey was complaining about the competition floors - saying that he had no clue what he was watching anymore. He thought none of it was recognizable.

So. Swing really is swing. Unless it isn't. I have no idea why he is using the term "swing is swing" to do it, but he has used it to wipe out any definition of swing whatsoever lately.

But when I heard it used to justify the refusal to violate anyone on swing content on that very day in 2010, it made me wonder...

Exactly what IS swing?
What is its definition?

I don't just mean West Coast Swing. I cover that in West Coast Swing Essentials. I mean, what is it that makes a dance a "swing" dance, instead of a latin, smooth or folk dance? I began thinking. And I thought about all forms of swing... Balboa, Shag, Lindy, East Coast, West Coast... all of them.

And the more I studied, the more inventors I interviewed, the more legends I talked with and the more videos I watched (oh! the enormous amount of videos I watched!), the more settled I became upon the following points below. Once I had them, they locked in. I see them everywhere. No matter who I talked to, watch or see - they stand the test of swing.

I call them The Tenets of Swing©.

The Tenets of Swing Dancing©

#1. It's Lead and Follow

It may sound obvious, but a slew of teachers worldwide are telling students to "improvise" and "suggest" instead of actually leading and following. All swing patterns, no matter what form of swing you're dancing, require a leader who decides what moves take place and when, and a follower, who is responsible for following these leads.

2. The Follower Orbits the Leader

The different styles of swing have different types of orbits. Some have a circular orbit, some have a slotted orbit and some orbit in a nice tiny square. But any way you slice it, the man navigates the women around himself in some form of an orbit. Click here to see a video of the variety of swing orbits.

3. It has Fancy Feet

Rock steps, kicks, heel-toe action, shuffles, slides... oh my! You'll never see anyone call swing dancers "lethargic" will you? Nope. All the dances have quite a bit of energy, because they all require quite a bit of footwork. Every style has a totally different kind of footwork, but none of the styles are without it. If you have studied any of the ballroom dances, you'll know that they are all almost exclusively comprised of Single and Double Rhythms (Slows and Quick Quicks, etc, etc). Not so with the swing dances. On the whole they are comprised of rather complicated rhythms. The dancers are still on top and active on the bottom. In swing, it's the feet that do the talking.

4. It's Positive

I've said it before and I'll say it again: swing music, no matter what style you're dancing, will make you "check in." It makes you alive. It makes you want to live. To expand. To get out of your seat! Some forms of swing celebrate passion and some forms of swing celebrate life... but either way, it makes you feel brighter. It highlights the good things in life. It's not dark. It's not depressing. It's not degrading and it's most definitely not designed to make you "check out." I saw a routine recently that was so sad that it made you want to cry... and I felt my bones breaking a little. Swing shouldn't make anyone cry. Swing makes you... SWING!

And there you go! They've been in my head for six months now, and the more I study our history and watch our videos, I can see them all... over and over again... throughout the decades.

We are a passionate people, we swing dancers. But I believe that true swing dancing brings out the best in us... and when it brings out the worst, then perhaps the dance has lost it's way.

Let's start listening to our music again, and seeing if it really makes us want to live, to expand, to grow and to move... and let's look down at our feet and rediscover what they are made for... and let's rediscover the joy of true leading and true following.

Let's rediscover... swing. All of it. Far and wide. 
And let us, when we can, enjoy celebrating it together.
It certainly deserves at least that much.

Katherine Eastvold