This is a very good question :-), but unfortunately one that required a bit of research on my part…so please bear with me as I give you guys a brief history/background of the swing dances.
First things first: all of the above dances are related, and evolved from one another, so that’s why they all look so similar to the naked eye. Even I often have a hard time discerning between them, especially within the context of DWTS, where I think sometimes even the pros themselves aren’t quite sure about some of these dances – especially the Jitterbug & Lindy Hop. The lines between them are very blurred, because there’s often a lot of overlap in terms of steps, timing, & styling.
Charleston was the earliest of the swing dances, originating in the speakeasies during the 1920’s, and is usually associated with the “flappers”, who danced it alone or with each other to mock the “drys” – people who supported Prohibition. At the time, it was considered to be a pretty provocative dance. It has a bouncy feel to it, and the basic step does have the backward rock-step characteristic to almost all of the swing dances. Here’s a good example of some other Charleston steps – note how it also has some twisting movements, high kicks, and very jazzy arm styling. The music was a swing beat, with perhaps a bit more of a ragtime feel than other swing styles to follow – think “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago. These days, it more often lends steps to jive & quickstep, rather than being danced as its own, exclusive dance – my boyfriend’s studio doesn’t have an official Charleston syllabus (just not enough steps), but he does often incorporate Charleston steps into other dances. One example many of you may have noticed is that funky leg flick that the pros often add to their quickstep routines – Mark does it at about the :55 mark of he & Chelsea’s quickstep. Yep, Charleston moves fit Mark’s jimmie legs perfectly :-) Which is probably why he & Melissa’s Charleston in season 9 sticks out to me as the best representation of the dance on the show – it has the characteristic steps, and they stuck with the 1920’s flapper theme.
Out of the Charleston came the Lindy Hop, which had its heyday in the big band era of the late 1920’s-40’s. It was a product of the Harlem Renaissance, and was born in traditionally black clubs like The Savoy & Cotton Club in New York. Its footwork was similar to the Charleston, but it had elements of other vernacular/folk dances (such as the cakewalk and Texas Tommy) and also included a breakaway/throwaway step, which allowed the couples dancing it to do more open work than in the Charleston. It was also quite a bit more daring – when wealthy white patrons descended upon Harlem clubs to watch the black dancers, the dancers themselves upped the ante, and began doing increasingly more dangerous & eye-catching lifts, flips, and tricks (“air steps” or “aerials”) to entertain them. This often resulted in the dancers being hired to perform or teach Lindy Hop to the patrons. I would say it’s definitely the “showiest” of all the swing dances, due to all the tricks that have come to be standard fare in the Lindy – and with the pros on DWTS, nothing seems to scream “Lindy!” more than some crazy lifts. In terms of said lifts, I would say that Melissa & Tony’s Lindy in season 8 is the best example; but in terms of overall “feel” (and good use of basic steps), I’d say that Ty & Chelsie’s Lindy is the best example. Read more..