1a. Introduction & Jitterbug Basic Step

Depending on where you are dancing, people primary do different percentages of jitterbug , west coast swing and lindy at swing dances. Lindy is the fastest growing dance at present and is more involved than jitterbug. However, it should be said that a healthy percentage of lindy is actually jitterbug (which is also called "6-count" and "east coast swing"), so that a mastering of jitterbug is a good base for learning the more difficult lindy later.

Like lindy, west coast swing is a bigger learning project than jitterbug. But Jitterbug is the most universal and well-known of the swing dances and is the best place to start. So, let's start!

The above video shows 2 sequences of the jitterbug basic step. The above step could be done with the couple holding both hands instead of just one, whichever is preferred. If what is occurring in the video is obvious to you, you may not need a lot of (or any) written explanation, but here goes...

Jitterbug, sometimes called East Coast Swing or "6-count", is a repeating pattern of 4 steps. Men start with a left step and the ladies start with a right step. Two critical definitions:

A "Step" is a changing of weight from one foot to the other. When you walk, you take steps.

A "Count" or "Beat" is time. Unlike steps -- which can be quick (one right after the other) or slow, both within the same song -- counts or beats are even throughout like the second hand on a clock. The speed of the counts depends on the speed of the music. But whether the music is slow, medium or fast, the counts or beats are always even. Jitterbug sequences generally extend 6 counts.

Here's a diagram of the basic step:

Stepping through Jitterbug's Six Even Counts or beats (over and over)

or "beats"


Men's Steps

Left-Right-back (left)forward (right)

Women's Steps

right-left- back (right)forward (left)

Note that on the 2nd and 4th counts, no steps are taken. In dance lingo, that makes the preceeding counts, counts 1 and 3, "slows" or "holds". The steps on 5 and 6 are "quicks".

Regardless of where you are doing the basic step or may be turning (or being turned), the feet keep the same "feet rhythm" or "time pattern", slow slow quick quick. "Feet rhythm" is a term you may only see on this site, but we think it is more precise than the more commonly used "footwork". Footwork could imply the location or direction of the feet as well as the rhythm, whereas feet rhythm involves only the rhythm. If feet were drumsticks and the dance floor a drum .... well, that's the idea.

In later pages of this site, you will see the same "feet rhythm" in other moves. No matter where the feet go, the jitterbug rhythm is slow, slow, quick quick. For an easy example, see the underarm turn where the lady turns completely around but her feet keep the same "slow slow quick-quick" or "slow slow back-step" rhythm.

"Back-step" (or "rock step") describes two steps. The first step ("back") is as if one were going to walk backwards. After shifting your weight to the backward step (but without touching your back heel to the floor), the second step ("step") is as if you changed your mind after the first backwards step and decided to walk forward. So, "back-forward" would be more descriptive, but "back-step" (sometimes "rock step") is the common usage, and the one that will be used in this site.

Here's the basic sequence again, with emphasis on the timing:

Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick (the Quick-Quick represents "Back-Step")

Leading:Now that you know the "feet rhythm", there are different moves that are performed. The men get to call which dance move will be performed next in jitterbug. "Call" is not what the gent actually does, as that suggests a verbal cue, such as "we'll do the so-'n-so move". Rather the man suggests the moves with gentle body movements. Bob is not yanking Eva's arm on the back step. Bob is however signalling to Eva by applying gentle pressure with his left hand that they are are going first to one side, then to the other side and then back-stepping -- all very subtle. In the photo immediately below, Bob is leaning to the side, thus signalling Eva to do the same.

An optional style point: to lean
on the first count

Timing: In jitterbug, timing is unisex - the same for the man and woman, though the woman is on her left foot when the man is on the right, and vice versa. During the basic step, since you are facing your partner, each is a mirror-image of the other, which is to say that if you do the basic step by yourself facing a mirror, what you see in the mirror is what your partner will be doing. Timingwise, both go slow, slow, quick-quick. The quick-quick is on the back-step above in the table. And the slows correspond to the lefts-to-the-side and rights-to-the-side. Got that?

Losing the beat: At every level, dancers lose the beat, but it's no problem because in jitterbug that back-step comes around every 4 counts and it's quite distinctive and easy to spot. Your partner will save you, or, if you both lose the beat, just shuffle around (you may discover a new step!) until you re-establish the slow - slow - quick-quick pattern.

The video shows the basic step in open position. Open position is where the gent has one or both of the ladies hands but no hand on her back, and closed position is where the gent has the lady's right hand in his left, and his right hand on the lady's back.

And, of course, some rules...

Rule #1 Keep all steps small

Rule #2 Fake it for a few seconds, and you'll
quickly find it again when you lose the beat

Rule #3 Don't worry about nothin'.

Good luck!

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