East Coast Swing is often the first swing dance that people are introduced to. The advantage of learning East Coast Swing before other swing dances is its simplicity making it easy for new dancers to learn the dance basics needed for the more complex styles of swing. Because of this, many people regard it as a beginner's swing dance. However, a disadvantage to learning ECS first, particularly the ballroom version, is the need to unlearn some habits which do not work well in the other dances, especially the heavily grounded Savoy style Lindy Hop.
The Origins of East Coast SwingWith the sudden popularity of swing music in 1936, the Lindy Hop was spreading across the United States. The dance instructors at the formal dance studios felt very negatively towards the Lindy Hop, many believing it was nothing more than a very short-lived fad. In 1938, the president of the American Society of Teachers of Dancing said that Lindy was "a degenerated form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability."
At this time, dance schools were mainly teaching foreign dances such as the Spanish Paso Doblé, Meringue from Puerto Rico, the Tango from Argentina, the Cuban Mambo and Cha-Cha, and European dances such as the Quickstep, Waltz, and Fox Trot. The dance schools, in the mean time, ignored swing dancing until the beginning of the 1940s.
Despite earlier predictions, the Lindy Hop, and swing jazz music, continued to grow in popularity as the years went on. In 1942, six years after the dawn of the Swing Era, the New York Society of Teachers of Dancing conceded that the Lindy Hop was here to stay and was to be taken more seriously. In response, dance instructors attempted to "refine" the "cavortings" of the Lindy dancers into something that could be easily taught in the dance studios.
Arthur Murray Studios began to document what dances were popular on dance floors in each city and directed their teachers to teach what was being danced in their respective cities. The initial result was that studios in each city taught a different local variety of Lindy Hop. During this inital process, the Lindy was stripped down and simplified and adapted to be more closer to the ballroom dances they were already teaching. This made it easier to teach the often older and less skilled public that were often their customers. Some basic patterns from the Lindy Hop remained, but the footwork was made to more closely resemble the Fox Trot and Cha-Cha. Latin hip movement was added due to the popularity of latin dances at the dance studios of the time. In the end, the dance they created only vaguely resembled Lindy Hop.
If this was not enough, the dance studios conspired to decieve their customers. The instructors would go out to a public event and perform the Lindy Hop. At this point, the Lindy Hop was also known by the name "Jitterbug." So, when the spectators asked what they were dancing, the instructors would tell them it was the "Jitterbug" or that it was the "Lindy Hop." This part was true — the instructors had been performing Lindy Hop. However, when those spectators signed up for the Lindy Hop classes, they would be taught, instead, this new ballroom swing. This ballroom swing would later become known as East Coast Swing, with some people still referring to it as "Jitterbug."
In the 1950's, American Bandstand — hosted by Dick Clark — was considered the television show to go to if one wanted to learn the latest "in" dances. Because the music played on the show was too quick for the Ballroom Swing's triple-steps, and because of censorship issues with "wiggling hips," the street version of Ballroom Swing -- popularly also known as "Jitterbug" -- was what teens saw, and emulated. Because American Bandstand was a nationally broadcast show, this "Single Time" East Coast Swing (the street version of Ballroom Swing), became popular among teens nationally, and the stolen name "Jitterbug" was applied to it by most of the nation. Because two different dances now shared a common name, the Lindy Hop would later regain its original name so as to clarify the confusion.