How to Dance the Jitterbug

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The jitterbug is a dance style that was popularized during the 1930s by jazz great Cab Calloway. Calloway thought dancers looked similar to hyperactive bugs on the dance floor as they adjusted to the ebb and flow of music. The resurrection of swing music makes the jitterbug a popular trend in dancing for people of all ages.

  • Work with your partner to find the right balance of power and grace in your collective learning. The jitterbug features forward and backward motion by both partners that are coordinated with complex footwork. Partners should apply firm pressure against one another, but should avoid overpowering the other person.

  • Lead your partner in rotations and switches by using the palm of your right hand. The leader directs his partner around the dance floor by using his hand as a guide to the next series of steps.

  • Understand that most steps in the jitterbug are slides or taps instead of conventional steps. The quick movement in this dance requires both participants to keep their feet ready for the next move, precluding a lot of complete steps.

  • Challenge yourself on the dance floor by adding in different dance steps to the jitterbug. The dance style has evolved from its original frantic nature into new techniques like West Coast swing and a variety of two step dances. You can gradually add new steps to spice up your jitterbug routine.

  • Add a new wrinkle to the jitterbug by increasing the complexity of your arm movements. Traditional jitterbug movements involve the use of flattened hands to help partners move quickly, based on applied pressure. Crossed arms or exaggerated hand movements can add a flourish as you become a jitterbug expert.

  • Sign up for an introductory course on the jitterbug to get acquainted with its variations. The high energy and fast movement involved in the jitterbug dance need to be seen before you commit fully to the style. The Arthur Murray International Dance Studios have hundreds of franchises in the United States that teach jitterbug classes from beginner to advanced (see Resources below).

Tips & Warnings

  • Dress in the proper attire while performing the jitterbug. The popularity of the dance was at its peak in the 1920s and 1930s when dancers would wear casual suits and dresses. Work with your partner or a friend to find clothing that is comfortable and stylish.

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