Swing music and dance were all the rage back in the early 20th century. It defined an entire era: historians collectively named the period from 1933 to 1947 the “Swing era”.
One of the more interesting dance variations that emerged during this period was the jive dance. The dance was extremely popular during the 30s through the 40s, but it eventually lost its luster like most ballroom-style dances.
Fortunately, it’s still danced today in many venues. There are even a few jive dance competitions out there.
If you wish to know more about this spectacular form of dance, this article can tell you everything you need to know about it, from its history, and characteristics, to the dance steps and more!
Table of Contents
- What Is A Jive Dance?
- Jive Dance Origin & History
- Jive Dance Characteristics
- Basic Jive Dance Steps
- Some Distinctive Jive Dance Steps
- Jive Dance Attire
- Jive Dance Competitions
- Jive Dance Music & Songs
- Jive Dance Today
What Is A Jive Dance?
Jive dance is a kind of social dance that took its root from ballroom slash swing dancing.
In African-American Jazz dance halls and venues across America, the jive dance emerged as a type of social dance. The word “jive” is a vernacular term that’s used to refer to “foolish or deceptive talks”.
The dance is characterized by its fast, energetic tempo. Since it’s derived from swing dancing, the dance format is the same: dancers will dance in pairs, with one person leading and the other following.
Jive dance makes extensive use of forceful moves like kicking and spinning, making it quite similar to East Coast-style swing dancing.
Jive Dance Origin & History
The jive dance initially appeared in the Jazz dance halls and venues of African-American swing dancers in the early 20th century. The word “jive” came from the slang of the Black community at the time, which means “foolish” or “deceptive talk”.
Like most variations of the swing dance, the jive dance just spontaneously came into being and got popular as words spread around. Nobody knows who was the first to come up with this type of dance or where it originated.
In the 30s, Cab Calloway – a swing music artist – attracted a lot of jive dancers to his concerts at popular dance venues like the Savoy Ballroom in New York City.
However, as time passed, the word “jive” was no longer used to refer to a specific kind of dancing. It became a generic term for various swing dance styles, ranging from jitterbug, the boogie-woogie, to Lindy hop.
From the East Coast, jive dance spread throughout the United States. During that time, the dance further “mutated” and received influences from East Coast and West Coast-style swing dancing.
Eventually, the dance migrated to Europe, gaining much traction. Jive dancing was so popular that “jive” became a generic term Europeans used to refer to swing dancing.
The big break of the jive dance came in 1968 when it was accepted as one of the Latin dances in competitive ballroom dancing, even though jive dancing took its root from swing dancing and not Latin dancing!
Because of this, there has been a lot of confusion over the years about whether it is a Latin dance or a swing dance (most of the records we found put it firmly in the latter camp.)
Jive Dance Characteristics
The jive dance has a lot in common with swing dancing (particularly the East Coast variant.) However, there are a few things that set it apart.
Jive dancing is marked by its fast, extremely energetic tempo.
In competitive jive dancing, it’s not uncommon for contestants to dance to music set at 176 beats per minute (BPM) or more. Typically, the backing track is special jive music or a fast-paced rock track.
Jive dancers are renowned for their lightness.
Compared to swing dancers that follow other styles, jive dancers are far more “bouncy”. Each performance comes with a lot of kicks and small jumps.
The jive dance is a partner dance, like most variants of the swing dance. However, it puts a lot more emphasis on solid partner work than most other variations of the swing dance.
In a typical performance, a pair of jive dancers will perform many sharp direction changes, spins, and lifts.
If you wish to practice jive dancing, it’s best to find a partner to do it with you. Then, work so that you’re “in tune” with one another as much as possible. All these spinning and lifting tricks require technique and a lot of trust to pull off properly!
Use only a small amount of the dance floor
In jive dancing, a pair of dancers will generally stay and dance around a small spot on the dance floor. This is in complete contrast to other styles of ballroom dances, where the dancers will generally sway and move throughout the whole floor.
Basic Jive Dance Steps
The most elementary American jive dance steps have six beats.
The starting position involves the two dancers – usually a man and a woman – facing one another with their arms closed. The man will traditionally be in the lead.
But in this day and age, it’s not uncommon for a woman to take the lead, especially if she is the more experienced dancer out of the two. For the sake of simplicity, though, let’s say that the male partner is the leader, and the female partner is the follower.
Counts 1 and 2: the Rock Steps
On count 1, bring one foot back behind the other foot. Then, on count 2, lift the front foot.
The male partner will usually step back with their left foot and raise their right foot, while the female partner will mirror the movement by moving back their right foot and lifting their left foot.
Count 3 and 4: the leftward chassé
The male partner will move to the left, while the female move to the right.
Count 5 and 6: the rightward chassé
It’s the opposite of the leftward chassé. This time, the male partner will move right, while the female partner will move to the left.
And that’s the basic movements! But there are a few extra moves that we think are worth knowing about.
Some Distinctive Jive Dance Steps
The American Spin starts with both partners facing one another with locked arms. However, instead of the arms being locked in a closed position, the dancers are locked in an open position in the American Spin.
The American Spin is exactly like the basic jive pattern for five counts.
However, on the last count (count 6), at the end of the leftward chassé, the leading partner will spin the following partner. The following partner will let go of the leading partner’s hand in the middle of the spin. They will catch onto their partner’s hand at the end of the spin.
The Throwaway has a similar pattern to the basic jive dance steps. But at the end of the second chassé, the pair of dancers will come to an open position rather than reverting to a close position like in the basic steps.
The Comb is a modern jive move. The five beginning steps will be exactly like the basic jive.
But at the end of the second chassé, the leading partner will initiate a spin, which the follower will perform with one hand clasped in the leader’s.
At the end of the spin, the leader will guide the follower’s arm over their shoulder. The follower will then slowly and sensually retract their arm by running their fingers down the leader’s shoulder and the length of their arm.
That’s similar to a combing motion, hence the name.
The Chicken Walk begins with both partners taking four steps. Both will put their free foot in front, extending toward one another, then swivel their hips.
This move is executed while the partners are still locked in an open-position hold. The leading partner will then make a step backward, with the follower moving up and toward them.
The leader will guide the follower through two spins: clockwise and counter-clockwise.
Then, the leader will bring the follower’s hand – clasped in theirs – toward their chest. At this point, the follower will take a step back to lengthen their arm until it’s straight.
Then, take a few quick steps to the leader’s side and make a turn until they’re facing in the same direction as the leader. The two partners’ hands should still be attached.
As the following partner turns, the leader will forcefully “throw” the arm of the follower (hence the “arm breaker”, but don’t throw with so much force that you’d injure your partner!)
The follower will execute a turn, swinging their arm, which will be caught again by the leader.
In the jig walk, the two dance partners will start facing one another with the leader’s left hand holding the follower’s right hand.
- Count 1: The leader will take a step backward with his left foot while simultaneously pushing his partner away with his left hand holding onto hers. The follower will also take a step backward on her right foot.
- Count 2: The two will shift their weights: the leader onto his right foot and the follower onto her left foot.
- Count 3: The leader will perform a forward kick using his left foot to his follower’s right-hand side. The leader will also lift the right hand of his follower and guide her through a kicking motion. The follower will kick with her right foot through the small space between the leader’s legs.
- Count 4: The leader replaces his weight on his left foot and lowers the follower’s right hand to shift her weight. The follower will then shift her weight onto her right foot.
- Count 5: like Count 3 but reversed. The leader will kick out with his right foot between the follower’s legs.
He will also lower the follower’s right hand and lift her left hand using his upper arm (which should be placed underneath the follower’s left shoulder.)
The follower will also perform a kick to the leader’s left-hand side instead of in between his legs, like in the third count.
- Count 6: The leader will shift his weight onto his right foot, and the follower will also shift her weight onto her left foot. The leader will lower the follower’s left-hand side, completing the pattern.
Jive Dance Attire
In casual dancing or at the studio, jive dance doesn’t require any special attire. But for competitions or for more formal occasions, dancers will typically wear a special dance outfit.
For both male and female dancers, the clothes they choose to wear must be comfortable and don’t limit their range of motion.
Males will typically wear a loose overshirt, an undershirt, comfortable slacks, and a special pair of dancing shoes. Female dancers will wear colorful dresses along with high heels.
Check more: Maypole Dance: Origin, History, Moves
Jive Dance Competitions
The jive dance is a category in many Latin dance competitions worldwide. They can appear in national as well as international competitions.
For example, here is a jive dance performance during the WDC World Professional Latin Championship in 2019.
The jive dance is typically the last category on the docket. Its fast pace and technical demands make it the hardest and most exhausting to perform.
So, dancers will usually try to retain their energy with slower-pace dances before unleashing their full power reserve at the end of the night with a brilliant jive performance.
Jive Dance Music & Songs
Jive dance music is usually swing jive dance music or jump blues. The chosen song must have an extremely fast tempo, usually well over 176 BPM. Some songs can be as fast as 200 BPM!
There are many styles of jive dancing, too. So, depending on the style you prefer, you can choose music in different genres from Boogie-Woogie and swing to rock-and-roll.
If you’re a beginner jive dancer, a pro tip is to listen and dance to the drum line rather than the melody. It’s the drum that serves as the beat.
List of Jive dance songs:
- Runaround Sue – Dion
- Dance With Me Tonight – Olly Murs
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
- Jump, Jive, an’ Wail – Brian Setzer Orchestra
- Runaway Baby – Bruno Mars
- Feel It Still – Portugal the Man
- Stitches – Johny M
- Little Bitty Pretty One – Thurston Harris
- Candyman – Christina Aguilera
- Rock Around the Clock – Billy Haley and His Comets
Jive Dance Today
Though it’s nowhere near as popular today as it once was during the 30s and 40s, jive dancing is still alive and well around the country and in many parts of the world.
You can still see the massive influence of jive dancing in today’s dancing community. It’s now a generic term that is used to refer to many styles of swing dancing. And of course, it has been accepted as a dance form in many dance competitions worldwide!
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Some say the jive dance is nostalgic, harkening back to the “old days” of swing dancing and fancy parties. But in the 21st century, jive dance has renewed itself as an energetic, youthful dance enjoyed by young and old alike!
We highly recommend taking a class and giving jive dancing a shot if you’re interested. It’s a great way to get in touch with your creative and artistic side. Jive dance is also an excellent exercise and helps you strengthen and tone your body.
What’s your favorite part about jive dancing? Have you ever practiced or jive danced before? Tell us in the comment!