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In Step’s ‘Spring into Swing’ month

In Step Dance’s March lineup features four very popular social dances: Slow Dance, Salsa, Jitterbug and Country Western Swing.

On Sundays, March 4, 11, 18, and 25, starting at 2 p.m. we will be learning some fun and easy patterns for Slow Dancing. Our Latin pick is Salsa ,starting at 3. Jitterbug will kick off the swing class of the month at 4, and Country Western Swing will start at 5. The level of all classes will depend on the dancers attending.

Slow Dance never has to be unattractive or uncomfortable again. As long as popular hits have been recognized, there have been love songs, many of which have topped the charts, and at least 80 percent of melodies for Slow Dance are comprised of these ballads.

Without some alternative, couples had resorted to a high school technique of dancing, where they sort of huddled in place, flopped over each other, rocking back and forth. Maybe the movement, romance and elegance of ballroom dancing was in the back of their minds, but they simply didn’t know what to do ... until relatively recently.

Dance organizations recognized this scenario as a problem, so they took some of the basic figures of many of the more popular dances, and adjusted them to the slower tempo, creating an easy, but elegant style of dance that is well suited for slower music.

But is Slow Dance the same as the Waltz? Since dancing to very slow ballads had no formal name, the term “waltzing” had often been used to mean the same thing, becoming an idiomatic expression. The two cannot be the same, simply because Waltz is danced to a 3/4 time, while Slow Dance is always to 4/4 rhythm.

Salsa is the direct descendant of Mambo, a dance that evolved from the blending of European and African music in the Caribbean. Mambo was first known as “danza,” and by 1898 Latin music was brought to the U.S. by servicemen who helped take over the Spanish colonies from Spain. In 1900, W.C. Handy visited Cuba and brought home Latin Jazz.

In the meantime, another style of “danzon” was being originated in the Province Oriente in Cuba, which developed into Mambo. Then in the 1930s, both “son” and “mambo” found their way from Cuba to Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. Latin band leaders in New York amalgamated the two styles to create Salsa. It has become one of the most popular club-style or social dances in the U.S., and is a must-know if you like Latin dance. The music has a sound of its own, and is so compelling, you won’t want to just sit and watch.

Jitterbug, on the other hand, is an American couple dance that was originally a spin-off of the Lindy Hop. It first became popular in 1934, when during a national tour, Benny Goodman established the “swing craze” and made the word “jitterbug” a household name. Even though Goodman is credited for establishing the swing era, the term originated when famed trombonist Harry Alexander White used the word while playing with trumpeter Edwin Swayzee, who then wrote a song for Cab Calloway called “The Jitterbug.” Calloway recorded this in January of 1934, and the sound took hold.

During WWII, the USO spread the Jitterbug all over the world, and the dance has become one of the most versatile of all swing types. It’s simple “rock-step, step, step” footwork can easily progress from the most basic patterns to more difficult, even acrobatic moves.

“Jitterbug” is an umbrella term for what we call swing dancing today. It has also been referred to as: Hollywood style, Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Push, Whip, Jive, Shag, New Yorker, The Bob, Ceroc, Leroc, Rock & Roll, etc. Depending on where and when you danced, each swing dance was probably called Jitterbug at one time or another. Many have asked what style of swing dancing is the best. That depends on the type, theme and speed of the music, geography and the dance knowledge of you and/or your partner. So, if you swing dance, whatever style, it may be that you are a jitterbug… believe it or not!

There are several theories of how Country Western Swing got started. When swing dancing to the big bands was the thing in the ’30s, Bob Wills from Texas formed his own western big band called the Texas Playboys and helped create a genre of music known as western swing. It was a Saturday night type of music which combined the culture of the SW with a blend of big band, blues, Dixieland and jazz. It added the drums and Hawaiian steel guitar, giving it a sound of its own.

The Jitterbug, with its elaborate spins, twirls and turns highly influenced the CW Swing and is danced worldwide, both socially and competitively. It really doesn’t matter how or when it got swinging; what counts is that it’s so easy, fun to do and can be danced to virtually all your CW music favorites that have a slightly slower tempo than 2-Step or 3-Step.

In Step classes take place upstairs in Room 3F at 450 Lewis St. downtown. You do not need a partner, and anyone 16 or older may attend. The donation is only $5 per person per class, which covers studio rent and provides bottled water and refreshments. Classes start on time, so please come a few minutes early to register and get ready to dance. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that have smooth or suede leather soles and do not leave black marks or mud.

For more information, call Deb at 731-3338.

Special note: Mark your calendars for April 21. Arthur Murray National Champions, Bob and Cindy Long from Albuquerque will be here to teach two workshops. Stay tuned to The PREVIEW in subsequent weeks for more information.

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