Home // Uncategorized // The Evolution of Swing Dance (in a flowchart)

The Evolution of Swing Dance (in a flowchart)

From my lindy hop population post I discovered the swing dancing subreddit. During a discussion about a swing dance evolution infographic someone threw down the gauntlet to make an improved evolutionary tree and I (perhaps foolishly) picked it up.

Here’s the result (click on the image to load a viewer for the chart – complete with hyperlinks for most of the dances):

Swing Evolution

Click on the pic to launch the launch the viewer

I’ve got mixed feelings about this chart. Whilst it’s an improvement over what’s currently out there it’s still rather reductionist. I know the real Lindy Hop historians are unlikely to be impressed, hence one of the reasons why I’ve gone to some lengths to emphasise on the chart it’s inaccurate nature.

Truth be told I’m not sure you could ever draw a decently accurate evolutionary tree. Even if you could pin down dates and names there are two obvious problems:

  • Firstly there would be way more edges in the graph. All the dances being danced by the same people at the same time in the same place would have obviously influenced each other and movements of people around the United States and the world would have moved them around. How would you measure the influence of one dance on another – what would qualify as a link?
  • Much of what’s written down and documented (aside from folk like Mura Dehn and Marshall Stearns – and even they aren’t necessarily 100% reliable) comes from (white) dance teachers who often invented simplified versions of steps that they saw in the ballrooms, gave them fancy names, and got their picture in the newspaper – but it’s unclear how many people actually danced these forms. What’s the criteria for including a dance in the first place? EDIT: I also don’t think I make clear that many of the ‘evolutions’ of dance forms involved the appropriation of Black vernacular forms by white dancers for profit – making them less cultural evolution and more cultural theft. The lines in the infographic should in no way be interpreted as neutral or natural – they obscure what was often dastardly conduct.

But enough from me – I’m no historian. So I’d welcome comments from those who are, tearing this apart. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in Uncategorized


  • You must be a redditor, seeing as you used the antiquated term “whilst” over the perfectly acceptable and widely used “while.”

    • ‘Whilst’ is a perfectly acceptable use of a word it is still commonly used in the English commonwealth countries. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Hello, if this is like wikipedia I would like to make a few additions. Your graph shows that Lindy had no influence on Balboa or Bal-swing for 70 years. Dean Collins brought Lindy to LA in 1936. You might want to connect Lindy to LA Swing(Calswing). You should also add Jig-trot as an influence too. Maybe check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-OHZ5FHHls Thanks. Please let me know if you make changes because I would like to share it with the Bangkok swing scene.

    • Of course there was cross pollination between Lindy Hop and Balboa/LA-Swing (that almost certainly pre-dates Dean Collins’ move) but I haven’t found any evidence of LA Swing being a descendent of Lindy Hop.

      I’ll add something in on Jig Trot once I can watch all of Peter’s talk.

      Changes might need to wait until after Herrang – unless I have some time during. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I am impressed. Finally somebody noticed that rock and roll and acrobatic rock and roll are two different things.
    Thanks for all acrobatic rock and roll dancers that are very often struggling to explain it to non-acro-rock dancers.

  • Hi,
    I would like to seek for your permission to re-post this article with Chinese translation to our website. With your permission, the translation will be limited to the article and the notes only. I intend to leave the names of the dances as they are.
    Triple step,
    Orchid Bae

    • lindypenguin

      July 10, 2014 at 16:31

      Hi Orchid

      I’ve licensed it under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike license so you’re totally free to do this (and change the Justin Bieber reference to something more appropriate if you wish). However you may want to wait a little while. I plan on updating the chart at some point in the next several weeks with feedback and further research (based on that feedback). However I’m off to Herrang tomorrow so I can’t guarantee when that will happen.

      Alternatively if you provide me with the text of the translation I can host the graphic in the graphml viewer on this website.



    • Hi Orchid

      As promised I’ve made a round of changes based on the feedback I’ve received – there will probably be more, but as I mentioned before you’re welcome to use the image within the bounds of the Creative Commons License.

  • Chicago Steppin’ is swing-derived (ish), right? I’m not up on it, but maybe worth looking into and seeing where it fits.

  • Finally got around to making the first round of updates based on feedback received here and in other places.

  • Hello! Could you add rockabilly jive to the chart?

  • It’s my understanding that Carolina shag did not evolve from what we call collegiate shag. It evolved from a dance called the Little Apple. And that in turn descended from the Big Apple. And I’m not an expert on St Louis Shag, you’ll have to ask Christian Frommelt about that one. But I’m fairly certain it didn’t show up until the 1930s.

    • I am a Carolina Shagger and Lindy Hopper from South Carolina. Ryan is correct in that Carolina Shag did come from a dance called the Little Apple. The Big Apple evolved in a venue called the Big Apple in Columbia, SC in the late 1930s and a “Little Apple” developed quickly in tandem with the Big Apple along the coast. I haven’t found any information on the Little Apple other than small sentences on it deriving from the Big Apple and leading to the “Early form of Carolina Shag,” you have listed.

      Old Timers around the Carolina’s often refer to the dance following the Little Apple as as Carolina Jitterbug* (basically Lindy from what I can tell, the older dancers here just call it Jitterbug. I’m not confident in the difference it had from Lindy.) which developed and then died off as it turned into Carolina Shag as we know it in the late 40s and 50s on the coasts of North and South Carolina. The Carolina Jitterbug was danced by some dancers to the faster music while some preferred the slower music. So Carolina Shag kind of developed from/in tandem with Carolina Jitterbug until the latter was no longer danced.

      So if I was to make a graph, the best way I could think of it would be Big Apple->Little Apple->Carolina Jitterbug (probably lindy)->Carolina Shag.

      *Yes, I understand the word Jitterbug is attributed usually to dancers themselves and not the dance styles, but the Carolina Shaggers I’ve personally talked to often refer to the dance as such.

  • Also, I believe there were at least two strains of early shag that evolved apart from one another. The ‘original’ shag, the one that developed into the “collegiate” shag we do today, most likely (from what I could gather from my research) came from a very simple vaudevillian step that was called the “flea hop”, which was a solo dance. The second strain of early shag has pretty much died out. But it was thought to have been highly influenced by foxtrot, though that wasn’t exactly it’s predecessor either. This strain of shag was separate from what we do as “collegiate” shag today, though.

  • Wonderful diagram – thank you, and thank you for the liberal CCSA licensing!
    Can you provide it in a convenient PDF form with good resolution? Or can you make the underlying input for the GraphML Viewer available so we can make our own versions?
    Printing this version produces ugly text, even when I blow it up to a huge web page (over 2000 x 3000) first.

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