Jump Swing History

Kurt Lichtmann
Faculty, Ithaca College, Ithaca NY
Founder: Cornell University Swing Dance Program 1997-2011
"The opinions expressed are my own, and not to be construed as official posiitons or opinions of the above institutions."

Skippy Blair, ever observant and creative, saw young dancers jump around in Southern California during the post-rockabilly swing revival of the mid-late 90s. She noted the common practice jumpy 6-count kick pattern, made adaptations, and arranged a syllabus for her teacher workshops. In the early 00s, Skippy adopted the name JUMP SWING for her classes, abandoning the original homegrown name RETRO SWING. She has helped to spread the dance around the USA. Her video on this topic is currently out of print. Skippy Blair has trained and adjudicated numerous USA top dance champions. She pioneered her own exceptional instructional approach, popular with many top teachers.

Sonny Watson compiled some of the Retro Swing repertoire, with additions, in his Retro Swing video. Sonny's Swing History website is the international standard. Every known style and variation is represented in detail. Sonny Watson is a successful competitor, choreographer, top teacher and swing VIP in California.

Joyce Marks Codner & I had been teaching the usual regional approaches to swing at Cornell since 1997, but we were unsatisfied with Triple-Step, Touch-Step, or Single-Step 6-count patterns to rockin' uptempo music, the kind that our students loved. DJing on campus, I observed totally untrained students doing various improvised bouncy kick patterns. I wondered, what kind of dance groove could be made out of this natural response to the music? Something that could easily segue in and out of charleston patterns would be nice..... I saw the amazing Nathalie Gomes perform before she discovered Lindy Hop. I noted the extreme European "rock 'n' roll" kick basic. In Europe, "Acrobatic rock 'n' roll" is an entire genre, and Nathalie was 5 times French National Champion. Hmmm... More research... Admittedly, I was intrigued by the idea of creating a dance style that jived with the music I liked, and could share with others.

Greg Avakian, one of Skippy's students, and a successful competitor / instructor himself, posted a description of a kick 6-count pattern in a web article. I played with it, and liked it. It rocked. It segued easily in and out of kick charlestons. I freely added more and more fun stuff, drawing on Lindy, St. Louis Shag, Collegiate Shag, anything and everything, etc. Then followed years of experimenting, cutting through pre-conceptions, exploring basic movement, reflecting on learning psychology, evolving better dance teaching methods that drew on developments in music education by Koday, Dalcroze, etc. Long time pedagogy partner Iska Ziver contributed ideas.

The name Retro Swing? I wasn't crazy about it: what about all the great modem rock&roll and R&B swing? Well, the editors of the comprehensive Swing: The New Retro Renaissance were calling the music Jumpswing. Historically, dances have often taken the name of their musical styles. Joyce and I had been using the name Jump Jitterbug, but it really didn't tell the whole story. And the dance certainly does hop and skip at faster grooves.... I wrote to Skippy in the early 00s, and was surprised to discover her almost simultaneous and independent decision to abandon the term Retro Swing in favor of Jump Swing, Talk about being on the same page….

Cornell Rooftop Mayhem Jumpswing Club enthusiasts and teaching assistants have been coming up with plenty of new ideas. Of course, aerials galore. One of our students, Mike Goldberg, founder of the club, went on to study with Nathalie Gomes, and perform with her troupe on TV. Voila: a 24 week Ithaca Jumpswing syllabus, and a growing set of possibilities.

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