The terms swing dance and swing dance era are very often mentioned in the lexicon of American dance history. The swing dance era refers to the period from the 1920s to the 1940s. When talking about the swing dance era, the song "In The Mood" composed by by Glenn Miller in 1939 comes to mind. "In The Mood" has remained one of the most popular and iconic songs of the swing dance era. The term swing dance can however mean different things depending on whether you are referring to American swing dance or International (ballroom) swing dance.
When you talk of the International swing dances you are referring to the ballroom dances where there is a sway (and therefore swing) action. The 4 ballroom swing dances are the waltz, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. Tango is not considered a swing dance as there is no sway in Tango. I have always wondered why the ballroom swing dances are not called the sway dances instead.
The American Swing dances generally refer to dances that are danced to a swing rhythm. They include the lindy hop, jitterbug, east coast swing and west coast swing. These dances are more similar to rock & roll and jive and which are sometimes also broadly categorised as swing dances.
In the United States there is a style of dances known as the American Smooth dances. These are the waltz, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and tango. Unlike the International (ballroom) dances which are danced in closed body positions, the American Smooth dances can be danced in closed hold, open hold and shadow positions. Variations like underarm turns and lifts are also permitted.
There is also another style known as the American Rhythm dances which are the cha cha cha, rumba, mambo, east coast swing and bolero. The bolero is a slow, sensuous and romantic dance combining the rhythms of rumba and the rise and fall techniques of the waltz.
The various classifications of the dances can be confusing sometimes. We should however not be overly concerned with the different genres of dancing. What is most important is for us to get on to the dance floor, enjoy ourselves and have a swinging good time. Happy dancing!