There were basically three
styles of swing done in the movies of the time:
1) Lindy Hop
2) East Coast Swing
3) West Coast Swing
Although the Sugar push is said to have existed before it was not portrayed in the other styles on film (actually it was the 'Sugar Foot' that existed before which helped give birth to this step when mixed with 'switches'.) If you see swing dancing in old 1940's / 1950's movie scenes and the (Caucasian) dancers do a "Sugar Push" you are watching them do West Coast Swing which was obviously done to faster Big Band or Rock and Roll music of the 1940s and 1950s rather than the music used today. Many dancers still love doing this faster form of West Coast we call 'WCS Flying Lindy' however these dancers were NOT doing the Lindy Hop or Jitterbug!!! (because the music, title or Lindyites might suggest it to be so,) they were doing West Coast Swing. During the 1940's basically all swing dance styles were under an umbrella term called the Jitterbug, so we could call them West Coast Jitterbugs.
The Savoy was
known as the "Home Of Happy Feet" and had the best Lindy Hop
dancers in the Nation with the Lindy Hop being said to originate at the Savoy. The
best of these dancers would hang out together in the N/E corner of the Savoy, known
as "Cats Corner." The Savoy was allowing inter-racial dancing of Blacks and
Whites, and was widely done, which was really frowned upon by both races at the
time at other night spots such as the 'whites only' policy of the Cotton
Club, but not at the Savoy. Some Clubs such as the Roseland Ballroom
would put a rope down the middle of the floor, Blacks on one side and whites on
the other on their mixed nights. The Savoy hardly had any problems with fights or trouble makers
due to racial issues.
The roots of the Lindy Hop was the Breakaway and the Breakaway was the main dance of choice in the mid 1920's and somewhat still in the early 30's with a few. The Break-away's main exponent was "Shorty George" Snowden. Shorty was to name the Breakaway the Lindy Hop in 1927, but a slower, smoother version, bred out of the Savoy would soon take over in popularity ... being called the "Savoy Style Lindy," (West Coast Swing. is a direct descendant of this style.) Dean Collins and Hubert ('whitey') White and the Whites Hopping Maniacs, (a.k.a. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers) would help promote this smoother form of Lindy as we know it today thru motion pictures. Shorty George would often still perform his "Breakaway, turned Lindy style" with his group at the Cotton Club in New York and in a few films.
East Coast Swing
When the Lindy hop became popular in 1927, the "American Society of Teachers of Dancing" (A.S.T.D.) and the Dance Teachers Business Association (D.T.B.A.) denounced the Lindy as: "a fad and would not last out the winter, and its devotees were victims of economic instability. "The East Coast Swing is an offshoot of the Fox trot or Syncopated Two-Step. East Coast Swing is an "invented dance (a non Folk)," modified from a prior original form (Lindy Hop) by the 'American Society of Teachers of Dancing' in 1942. (they were already teaching this style to stock movie dancers well before 1942, but in 1942, it became official to the public as a dance, HOWEVER IT WAS NOT NAMED AS SUCH.) These two main dance associations kept up this way of thinking (mainly racial) and ignored the Lindy, refusing to add the dance to their curriculum for many years, (even today still not wanting to recognize it) with Lindy Hop later becoming known as the Jitterbug.
In the early days of ballroom dance these associations were formed to try to improve the dance scene. As time went on, if you were not a member of the associations mentioned, you could not use their name or logo. If you were a member, you could only teach their dance syllabus and nothing else. If you were a dance studio owner of the time, not being a member could prove fateful to your business (98% were members). Finally in 1942, realizing they were loosing a lot of money to the street teachers and independent dance studios teaching the Jitterbug/Lindy, the Associations got together (as they did every year) and announced the new dances nd curriculum for that year. Stating (in writing) that: "The Jitterbug, a direct descendant from the Lindy hop, could no longer be ignored ---- IT'S CAVORTING's COULD BE REFINED to suit a crowded dance floor" and refined it they did!
This, "quote - refinement" above, is what gave birth to what we call the East Coast Swing today. The Association's refined the Lindy/Jitterbug. They took out all the laborious parts such as the 8 count steps and made it more racially permissible for "white America," and used a Foxtrot basis for the dance, so you could shift from one to the other. This left the dance much easier to teach and master, but the real gut of swing was eliminated, making it spiritless compared with its older brothers. However, they did not want to use another label for the dance. Knowing that people wanted to learn Lindy or Jitterbug, not some dance called "the such and such" and the newer dancer would not recognize the difference (most all the studios would be teaching it this way), soooo ... they called it the Lindy and Jitterbug, (however it was NOT!) and later Bop and Rock and Roll. Nevertheless, it did gain some embracing by the newer (naive) swing dancers of the era who did not know the difference from its similarities. The true Jitterbug, done by the better street dancers was the older Lindy and West Coast Swing type style, depending on the year and location.
Most of these "Ballroom studio teachers" would dance the true Jitterbug/Lindy or today what's called Hollywood style (an older West Coast Swing style) and entice the public into taking lessons from them. These studio instructors would educate them in this "refined version" that today we call "East Coast Swing" (instead of what they were really doing). The newer dancers, not knowing any better would learn how to do this refined version and then go out and dance it. (This still is a common practice today with some of the newer teachers.) These Associations were world wide and this was right around W.W.II, the U.S.O. , Canteens etc., which lead to the Europeans reasoning that true swing was in this refined form. That is generally whymost of the U.K. does not have a clue about the true swing done in America! (Jitterbug, West Coast, Carolina Shag, Push, Whip and of course Lindy.)
The East Coast swing gained acceptance with DJ Allan Freed in some of his Rock and Roll movie's of the 1950s, as the famed swing choreographer Dean Collins was not available (Putting it nicely) to Freed's movies. In the middle of the 1950s, the associations again tried to resell the public on an old dance, by identifying Swing as... "Rock and Roll" dancing. This new term flustered the public and was soon abandoned, but it again helped open the door for East Coast Swing to spread. During the late 1950's, it would be known as Eastern Swing. On the positive side of East Coast Swing: The dance is extremely easier to learn than the original forms such as Shag, Lindy, West Coast. It teaches the essential swing rhythm (doubles and triplets) in a simplistic form. It can be learned in a few lessons. Can be easily taught at weddings etc. to dancers who have never danced and who will have alot of fun doing it. In addition, it is alot of fun to do due to its simplicity. It is an easy intro to Swing dance in general, but it does lack something after learning, like the original framework ... "The Soul of the dance is missing."
Many folks ask what style of swing is best, West Coast, East Coast, Whip, Push, Lindy, Shag etc. However, there is no best style. The best style would depend on what type of music you are dancing to at the time, the theme of the dance being held, the speed in which the music is played and the dance knowledge of you and or your partner. If you're partner only knows one style of swing, then their style would be the best style to dance with them at that time. If they only know one style they usually will declare that the style they know is the best style above all others and usually will make derogatory statements for many varied reasons. Swing is a wonderful dance form in all it's versions that fits all types of music, Personalities, Finances etc. Calling yourself a swing dancer means you can at least do the basics in many forms of swing and a few well. So learn to swing dance whatever style, you're unique and your dances should be varied and your style should represent your knowledge of dance that other, newer dancers (and they are the majority) don't posses, not limited to only one. However you will eventually find you like them all and soon you will understand the importance of them all and understand why there are different styles to begin with. So enjoy them and mainly smile, laugh and have fun.
Technically, we did not have a term "East Coast Swing" until there was a "West Coast Swing" and vice-a-versa. However West Coast is not even remotely similar in style or technique to East Coast except for the use of 6 count TIMING and patterns done in reverse order (WC starts with the double and ends with a triple). However all styles can be danced with each other with a little forgiveness. Subsequent to the Lindy in the 1920s, all forms of swing were called "Jitterbug" (an umbrella term). Laurie Haile is credited in determining the different swing styles for Arthur Murray in the early 1950s by documenting the distinct styles we use today, outside of Lindy, Jitterbug, and Rock and Roll.
West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing is the 'Official State dance of California'. San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles all argue about what city West Coast Swing originated in, however Los Angeles California area tends to win the debate. West Coast Swing originated from an earlier dance known as the Savoy Style Lindy, which was done at the Savoy Ballroom in New York in the early 1930's. Although WCS was not invented by, it was indirectly spawned by a man whose name was Dean Collins, who also danced at the Savoy while living in New York.
WCS: DEAN COLLINS
Collins came to California in the 1930's to get into the movie business and brought with him 'his version' of the "Savoy Style Lindy." Collins, after dancing in Hollywood for a couple years and dancing in many night clubs began dancing and competing. He would get to know some of the other local dancers, which have been said too have "not seen that style of swing before, but they liked it very much." It was alot different than what they were doing at the time (which they called the "Whip" ... different than the later "Houston Whip" WHICH IS A DESCENDANT ... to make a slightly long story short).
When Collins started winning contests everyone wanted to learn his style. Dean's partner Jewel McGowen was the hottest female swing dancer who had ever "Switched" (swivel back and forth) with Dean. They made many movies apart as well as together. When Dean would be asked what style of swing he was doing he would say "there is no style, there is only Swing." He never said there is only Lindy Hop or West Coast or Jitterbug, etc., NEVER!, there is only swing. And being a true master of swing realized that "Swing is Swing"... period!
Collins started teaching "his version" to L.A. and soon everyone on the West Coast was doing it. Dean finally got his break and started doing many Hollywood movies in the 1940s and 1950s. He brought many local swing dancers who he had taught this "new style" with him into these movies as well. During this time, the movies billed this dance as "Jitterbug or Rock and Roll." Many soldiers danced this version of swing in W.W. II. The soldiers and U.S.O. took "West Coast Swing" AND OTHER FORMS OF SWING all over the world ... disguised as the newer term of Jitterbug or Rock and Roll (before these titles swing was known as the Lindy Hop). Dean past away in the mid 1980's.
The slot is not original to West Coast Swing but is strongly linked to it today. West Coast Swing, which is a strictly slotted (a 3'X6' or 3X8' rectangular dance space) which has the leader dance in place while the follower travels back and forth. This style of swing has some to say that this slot was born out of "WIDE ANGLE LENSES" not having been invented yet! (not totally true). The Directors needed to put the dancers in straight lines to get them all in the camera. However, many swing movies only had "one couple dancing" at a time and many previous movies of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers will show a slot being danced ("for the camera", I believe.) This "Slot" idea was to get the profile of the dancers rather than the backs of the dancers to the camera. If the dancers rotated while dancing it would not have shown the movie-goer much dancing. This "slotted-style" eventually caught on as the norm and STAYED STRICTLY SLOTTED! when West Coast is danced socially. The film "Don't Knock the Rock" strongly features the WCS Slot that California dancers prided themselves on by dancing on a couch, coffee table etc. Don't really know if the choreographers wanted to feature the Slotted Style or it was the dancers making a statement, but it is there as plain as day.
Yet, another story is that because Los Angeles had many small night clubs, and there was a huge migration happening in California at the time. The L.A. dancers had to squeeze together and thus maintained a "Slotted type movement" to avoid hitting each other. The two above ideas merging together would be the main reason people today dance slotted swing socially (I support this story very strongly.)
One of the most famous stories of the time was when Benny Goodman played at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles in the early 1930's. Kids Packed the Palomar and lined up for blocks to see him play. The newspaper reported that they were "Jitterbugging in the Isles." That was the start of the Swing Era and Swing bands, the term Jitterbug and Swing dance for white America. Goodman's next stop was at the Paramount theater in New York, again the newspaper reported that the "Kids were Jitterbugging in the Isles to Goodman's music" (every isle I have ever seen was a slot!).