“Swing dance” (sometimes called “Jitterbug”) is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1940s, with the origins of each dance predating the popular “swing era”. During the swing era, there were hundreds of styles of swing dancing, but those that have survived beyond that era include: Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Lindy Charleston. Today, the most well-known of these dances is the Lindy Hop, which originated in Harlem in the early 1930s. While the majority of swing dances began in African American communities as vernacular African American dances, a swing era dance, like Balboa, developed outside of these communities.
Somewhat surprisingly, “swing dance” was not commonly used to identify a group of dances until the latter half of the twentieth century. Historically, the term “Swing” referred to the style of jazz music, which inspired the evolution of the dance. When referring to the dance, most of the participants of the original swing era would have used the term “jitterbug.” Jitterbug is an umbrella term that denotes all forms of swing dance, though it is often used as a synonym for the six-count derivative of Lindy Hop called “East Coast Swing,”. It was also common to use the word to identify a kind of dancer (i.e., a swing dancer). A “jitterbug” might prefer to dance Lindy Hop, Shag, or any of the other swing dances. The term was famously associated with swing era band leader Cab Calloway because, as he put it, “[The dancers] look like a bunch of jitterbugs out there on the floor due to their fast, often bouncy movements. The Jitterbug consists of a bouncy six-beat rhythm.