kurt lichtmann

OVERVIEW - East Coast Swing, most commonly known in its simplified 6-count triple step form, is not a street dance - it is a ballroom studio adaptation, derived from various street swing dancing patterns and styles (especially LINDY HOP) at the height of the Swing Era. The American Society of Dance Teachers, a group of independent instructors (many of whom were former Arthur Murray teachers) debuted the Jitterbug aka Lindy aka American Swing syllabus in 1942. East Coast Swing is its most modern name, appearing on the scene decades later than the dance itself, as it was being taught to movie dancers quite a bit before 1942. Since its inception, this ballroom-style dance been variously called, by ballroom studios: Eastern Swing, American Swing, Lindy, Jitterbug, and Western Swing. And in various quarters, ALL those names are still used today to refer to the same. (The modern related ballroom style, INTERNATIONAL JIVE, is a British Ballroom Studio creation.)

It is worthwhile to note that during the swing era, street dancers used the names Jitterbug, Lindy, and Jivin' (UK) as umbrella terms to refer to any kind of swing dancing - they did not refer to any specific style or step pattern. In fact, a lot of dancers did not use ANY kind of step pattern. Just like today, the average unstudied swing era dancer (the majority) was not even terribly concerned about moving with the actual rhythm of the music. Big Band members had a name for dancers that danced in the rhythm they were playing - "Rhythm Dancers." This information comes from my own conversations with numerous old timers.

SIX COUNT? - East Coast Swing's 6-count basic pattern has 3 variants: Triple Step, Touch Step (double Lindy), Single Step (Single Lindy). Ballroom instructors tend to favor the triple step pattern, hence that is the most common form seen in the ballroom, and at swing dances attended by some ballroom-trained dancers. But note: 8-count patterns, with Lindy footwork, make up over a third of the Bronze East Coast Swing Syllabus (see below).. Most beginners in ballroom, as with other dances, don't continue with lessons beyond basics, and hence never get to the 8-count patterns. They may enjoy dancing, and show up at dances, thus contributing to the false impression, especially among many Lindy Hop enthusiasts that East Coast Swing is a 6-count dance.

The Triple Step itself is derived from the Chassé or Chase or Sashay Step, also used in Polka - it moves freely around the floor; it is not stepped in place, nor is it a line-of-direction dance. However, if space is tight, it can morph into a virtual spot pattern, but that is only out of bare necessity of the moment.

MOTION - The triple step East Coast Swing basic pattern moves smoothly either forward and back (in closed conversation partner position), or side to side (in closed facing partner position, and open partner positions). It also naturally circles freely around the floor. It is meant to mimic the "all-over-the-floor" characteristic of what we now call Lindy Hop. A not uncommon dumbing-down of Triple Step Swing makes its default pattern into a tedious spot dance (Rock Step - Step three times - Step three times) - beginners look like they are squashing grapes, pumping the legs up and down in place. The side to side or forward and back variants are actually much easier to learn at the outset than stomping in place, and have a natural rhythmic emphasis of the even beats, because of the strong weight shift at the change of direction.

L and R are not just "feet" - they are directions of motion
"&" = continue in same direction with other foot
Bold = strong weight shift
count position Leader's Footwork, Weight Shift
1&2 - 3&4 - 56 1. closed, facing partner
2. open, 1 or 2 hands
L & L - R & R - Rock Step
1&2 - 3&4 - 56 promenade (conversation) Front & Front - Back & Back - Rock Step
1&2 - 3&4 - 56 - 7&8 closed, facing partner, turning L & L - shift: LR - R & R - Rock Step
1&2 - 3&4 - 56 - 7&8 promenade, turning Front & Front - shift: Front Back - Back & Back - Rock Step

TRIPLE STEPS have a long ancestry. The triple step is a type of “chassé step,” developed in BALLET, hundreds of years ago. (Ballet dates to the 14th century!) In popular partner dance, the POLKA (created in 1830 by a Polish country girl) has an alternating triple step as its basis, with a strong lift of the leg into each triple. The “sashay step” (a kind of Anglicization of the word “chassé”) of contradance and square dance has the same root. CHACHA has triple steps too! The 3rd beat in the triple receives the strongest weight, and this is perfect for Swing music with a backbeat – an emphasis on the even beats. Many dancers fudge and fake triples. But triple steps have a character, they are not just something dreamed up by an evil dancemaster. Firstly, Triple steps have a pulse, they don’t just glide along. Top Dance Pro “Swing Daddy” Mario Robau said that even in West Coast Swing, usually thought of as a smooth dance, there can be as much down-up-down pulse with the beat as in Balboa or Lindy. And there is a well-defined “push” into the beginning of each triple. Dances like JIVE (International Ballroom) extravagantly emphasize that push with a Polka-like lift of the leg on the upbeat (“and triple step”). Boston West Coast Swing Pro Jennifer Lyons likes a small abdominal tuck on the upbeat (“and triple step”) before each triple to help define them - I found that her method really works great and feels great! In this way, rather than have triple steps make you lose the beat, fudging your way through them, triple steps can actually become an expressive and pleasurable part of your dancing.

East Coast Swing is upright, and Lindy is bent over, correct? Please! East Coast Swing, a ballroom dance, certainly has the characteristic "Tuck-Suck-Blossom" upright posture. But is there really a "Lindy Hop posture"? You can see old videos of social dancing, with black dancers quite upright, as well as in the highy energized "squat" posture, favored by hot 1930s African-American performance dancers such as Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. WIth Lindy Hop, some postures are going to work better than others depending what you are trying to do at the moment. Since it is a street dance, Lindy Hop is danced in a posture you feel comfortable with, varying it to suit your mood, or amusement.

HIPS - In the ballroom, East Coast Swing is categorized as a "RHYTHM" (as opposed to "SMOOTH") dance, hence there is plenty of hip movement for both men and women the hips relaxing into the weight shift, as in Mambo, Cha Cha, and Samba, but even more so. Ballroom hip movement in "Rhythm" dances tends to be far greater than that of street dancers - swing, as well as latin. Many street dancers feel that too much hip motion, especially for guys, looks like a parody of the dance style. As an aside, the term "Savoy Style" came about to distinguish street dance African-American swing style from ballroom swing style - yet "Savoy Style" is a very big window, not a narrow opening.

PRE-HISTORY - Prior to the introduction of Triple Step Swing into the ballroom repertoire, FOX TROT was the ballroom dance for swing music. According to Arthur Murray, Foxtrot was the most popular of the studio dance styles in the late 1930s. Foxtrot glides along the floor, and employs a traveling 6-count slow-slow-quick-quick pattern, as well as an 8-count box step. Arthur Murray's 1937 book "Let's Swing It" is a foxtrot manual.

HISTORY - The contribution of Arthur Murray instructors to the development of East Coast Swing is significant. Arthur Murray (born Moses Teichman, 1895-1991) spent considerable effort investigating popular club dance styles, and distilling them into pattern dancing teachable in the Arthur Murray Studios. Some of these styles remain in today's American Ballroom Syllabus, and some fell by the wayside, notably Collegiate Shag (Murray Shag) and the Big Apple.

In the '30s, the American Society of Dance Teachers threw up their hands at the possibility of teaching any of the types of swing dancing being done in the clubs (ballrooms) of the time. They tried at first to ignore it, hoping it would go away, then to denigrate it, hoping dancers would shun it. 70 years later, entrenched in-the-box "leaders" of modern dance organizations might take a cue from history: instead of "New? No!" a more practical negative is "Adapt or face extinction." A positive might be, "Maybe there is something good here. Let's look into it."

However, just like his teachers Vernon Castle (Vernon Castle Blythe, 1887-1918) and Irene Castle (Irene Foote, 1893-1969) , the father and mother of modern ballroom instruction worldwide, Arthur Murray thought of how to tame the wild street dancing for white ballroom consumption. Regionally, there was already a proliferation of styles of swing dance. His first attempt to incorporate the varied Lindy/Jitterbug street dancing into the studio was to tell his instructors nationwide to go to the clubs, and see what people were doing, and to put together something that reflected it in their own locales. In each city, Arthur Murray studios were teaching different swing styles. There was no national syllabus. By the mid-1940s this was no longer the case, as one can see from reading Arthur Murray's books published at the time. Finally, from her dance floor observations, swing competitor and Arthur Murray instructor Lauré Haile codified and unified Swing for Arthur Murray in her 1951 syllabus. That syllabus is virtually unchanged today.

Profoundly influential Dean Collins (born Saul Cohen, 1917-1984), through his dancing and instruction, had a significant role in the development of East Coast Swing. A top dancer and competitor, he also taught for Hollywood and choreographed over 100 movies. In addition, he taught Arthur Murray instructors in Southern California through the late '40s to early '50s. He even gave Arthur Murray private lessons!

THE 1950s - East Coast Swing (and ballroom dance) proliferated through the popularity of the Murray Studios. At its height, there were over 3560 Murray studios (In 2003, there are less than 200 Murray studios worldwide). As a marketing ploy, during the 50s, Arthur Murray tried to rename the dance Rock 'n' Roll, to capitalize on the new popular music of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, etc. But the teenage public was not fooled. Crazed, hoppin' wild and free rock 'n' roll music and ballroom dance, with all its rules, reside at opposite ends of the universe. America's new dance models, the American Bandstand kids, were obviously not dancing triple steps - and they called THEIR dance "rock 'n' roll." The re-naming attempt was soon abandoned.


Basic Step
Open Break
Lady's Underarm Turn
Gentleman's Underarm Turn
Tuck-In with Underarm Turn
Tuck-In with Free Turn
Double Tuck-In
8-count Basic in Place
8-count Basic Turning
8-count Basic with Open Break
8-count Variation
8-count Underarm Turn L
8-count Underarm Turn R
Simple Sugar Push
Turning Sugar Push
Circle Swivel
Kick Ball-Change
Shoulder Spin
Toe Heel Spin
Lindy Variations
Promenade Walks
Back to Back Swivel
Swing Hop
Lindy Whip
Swing Slide
Kick Breaks











"How to Become a Good Dancer," Arthur Murray, New York; 1938

swing dance - author with Heather Carlsen