The phrase Jitterbug dance was first used in the 1930’s and continued to the present, evolving througout this period. A Jitterbug used to refer to a person that danced swing. Eventually, it also was used for a swing dance venue and finally, it became an umbrella term for different swing dance genres. The word “jitterbug” was most likely derived from word, jitters, which is used to mean a person shaking with tremors from alcohol abuse, (see dictionary definitions below).

Jitterbug Dance Videos 1930’s – 2000’s

Cab Calloway uses the word Jitterbug when he sings this line “It’s the call of the jitterbug” in the movie “Cab Calloway’s Jitterbug Party” movie( 1935).

1937 Whitey’s Lindy Hopper’s film “Jittering Jitterbugs” in “Keep Punching” the jitterbug contest happens at about 3:10″ on the video.

“Hellzapoppin” dance scene with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers 1941

Groovie Movie – A funny jitterbug instructional video, 1944.

Rip It Up 1950’s Jitterbug

Living It Up” (1954) clip with a Jitterbug dance scene

Jerry Lewis dances jitterbug in movie Living It Up (1954)

Jitterbug Dancing in the 21st Century videos:

More info on the Evolution Of Swing Dancing swing videos from 1920-2014!

The Jitterbug Dance Early Years

In the 1930’s, the word was used in a derogatory fashion to mean people who danced swing badly. Eventually, with continued use by Cab Calloway and others, the word spread. Also, it was used generally to refer to people that were swing dancing or fans of swing dancing. Moreover, other musicians also had a hand in popularizing the Jitterbug like Benny Goodman.

The term Jitterbug eventually replaced the term “Lindy Hop” and was used generally to refer to swing dancing. It is an umbrella term for other dance genres like East Coast swing, Jive, Shag, Bop, Cerac, Rock and Roll , Boogie Woogie and Lindy Hop. The military forces of World War II spread the various swing dance genres including Jitterbug around the world.

Read more about swing dance at All About Swing Dance!

In the 1940’s, the music was changing from the Jazz Era to the Big Band Era and some of the songs were so fast that the dancers dropped the triple rhythm in favor of a single or single delayed rhythm dancing. The various swing dance genres incorporated both a six and eight count patterns mixing four different rhythms: single, delayed single, double and triple.

The Jitterbug Dance in the Mid-1900’s

In the 50’s, rock and roll including Elvis, Chuck Berry and others brought a whole new type of music and dancing to the country. Jitterbug or swing dancing were used interchangeably for the various swing dance genres, which were regional as follows:

  • East Coast swing on the East Coast of the U.S.
  • St. Louis Shag in the South East U.S.
  • Carolina Shag in the Carolina’s
  • West Coast Swing in Southern California
  • Balboa was danced mostly in Southern California

In the 1960’s, the various swing dances began to spread across the country and the regional names were less meaningful. Largely this is because the East Coast Swing was danced across the United States and the West Coast Swing was gaining popularity too.

From the 1970’s through 1990’s the swing dances lose their regional status and move nationwide and then in the 21st century the swing dances go global spreading world-wide.

Recent History of the Jitterbug Dance

In present day, the term Jitterbug often refers to single rhythm East Coast Swing but it is still used to refer to many other forms of swing dancing including Lindy Hop, East Coast swing, St. Louis Shag, Boogie Woogie, Jive and Modern Jive.

Having danced many different forms of swing for the last almost four decades, I believe there is no one best or right form of swing or jitterbug dance. The swing dance genres are numerous and continue to evolve to fit all the various forms of music. Real swing dancers know several forms of swing to fit the different types of music!

From 2000 to present one can find Balboa, Boogie Woogie, Lindy Hop and West Coast swing in many countries across the globe.

Watch swing videos from the U.S. to Russia and Asia in the two-thousands at Evolution of Swing Dancing!

Read more about the different Styles of Swing Dancing here.


The Swing Rhythms

Jitterbug Swing Rhythms:

  • Single rhythm is one weighted step one on the first beat(downbeat) of every two beats of music.
  • Single delayed rhythm is one weighted step the second beat (upbeat) of every two beats of music.
  • Double rhythm is two weighted steps on two beats of music.
  • Triple rhythm is three weighted steps on two beats of music usually staring on the a downbeat.

Six count swing dance genres or patterns usually use these combinations:

  • single single double
  • delayed single, delayed single double (a double is sometimes a rock step)
  • triple triple double
  • double triple triple, etc

Eight count swing dance genres:

  • triple double triple double
  • double triple double triple

Mixed rhythm swing dance genres:

  • Example: double single delayed double triple

Lindy Hoppers including Frankie Manning

(Photo from Hellzapoppin,” Frankie Manning & Whiteys’ Lindy Hoppers 1941)

Jitterbug Dance Resources

“Jitterbug Dance” definitions

Merriam-Webster: a very lively type of dance from the 1940’s, 1. a jazz variation of the two-step in which couples swing, balance, and twirl in standardized patterns and often with vigorous acrobatics

Oxford Dictionary: Origin “1930’s (originally US): from the verb jitter + bug 1. A fast dance popular in the 1940’s, performed chiefly to swing music, 2. A person fond of dancing the jitterbug,

American Heritage Dictionary: 1. A strenuous dance performed to quick-tempo swing or jazz music and consisting of various two-step patterns embellished with twirls and sometimes acrobatic maneuvers., 2. one who performs this dance.

Jitterbug Music

The music for Jitterbug (single rhythm East Coast swing) is diverse and includes many different genres of music including the early swing era jazz tunes, Big Band era 40’s music, Doo Wop 50’s, 60’s Surf & Beach songs, Rockabilly, R&B, Blues, Motown music, Disco and Neo-swing 90’s & 2000’s music.

Here’s a few song selections Jitterbug playlist!


Jitterbug (Swing) Articles

More Swing Dance Articles Here

Frankie Manning and Whitey's Lindy Hoppers

(Photo from Hellzapoppin,” Frankie Manning & Whiteys’ Lindy Hoppers 1941)

Jitterbug Dance Organizations:

  • Omaha Jitterbugs
  • Ohio Universitys Jitterbug Club
  • Jitterbug Club San Diego
  • Memphis Bop Club
  • University of New Mexico Jitterbug Anonymous
  • Fast Dancers Association Clubs List (Listing of National Swing Dance Clubs)
  • Savoy Swing Club Dances

Watch/read more about the Jitterbug here!