Ask a group of dancers to give you a definition of "swing dancing" and you will probably get as many answers as there are people in your discussion. Ask a group of historians to give you the history of "Swing" and you get a lot of different ideas. Below is our "truth" about Swing.
The Jitterbug (initially called the "Hop") first became popular in the 1920's. The name Lindy was appended to the "Hop" in 1927 at the Savoy Ballroom (New York), supposedly in commemoration of Charles Lindburgh's famous flight across the Atlantic. The music that this dance accompanied was jazz, which by the 1930's was also called Swing. Its origins can be traced to Ragtime, Dixieland and Blues.
It is said a young dancer named Frankie "Musclehead" Manning created the first air steps (aerials), and the Lindy Hop "soared." As a performance art, the Lindy Hop involved ensemble dancing, choreographed routines and acrobatic air steps (much like those recently shown on the Gap commercials). These require a superb degree of expertise and are usually not danced socially, but only for performance (for many years, the better establishments frowned upon the wilder forms of Lindy, because the aerobatics involved limiting the number of people who could dance at one time).
From the early days of the "Hop" until the mid-1930's, the mainstream of jazz music and Swing/Lindy/Jitterbug dancing was developed and defined in the United States by African-Americans.
In the mid 1930's, as the swing music of Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and Lionel Hampton embraced the nation, the Lindy Hop became the rage of the young generation. The term "Swing" became associated with the Lindy as Big Band Swing came into popularity. The combination of swing music's popularity and the talented dancers moved the Lindy Hop to the stage and screen.
The Jitterbug (Lindy) migrated out to Hollywood and other areas in California. Hollywood directors and choreographers in the movie industry wanted to fit more dancers on the floor without the camera losing their faces with the circular movements of Jitterbug, and so the West Coast Swing was born, which is danced in a straight line or a slot.
In the modern era of standardized American Style Ballroom Dance, there are basically two swing dances. They are the West Coast Swing (W.C. Swing) and the East Coast Swing (E.C. Swing). The W.C. Swing has evolved into a Country Western dance, danced in a slot to typically slow, sultry music (20 to 30 mpm). E.C. Swing has incorporated the rest of the swing type dance rhythms (Jitterbug, Lindy, Shag, etc). It is danced with Single, Double, Triple, and Lindy rhythms. This allows E.C. Swing to be danced to just about any speed of music. The International Style dance "Jive" is a variation of the Triple Rhythm E.C. Swing danced in the 40 to 45 mpm speed range.