The jitterbug is a variant of swing dancing, and derivative of the Lindy hop and East Coast Swing. It became popular in the 1940s. Several suggestions for the origin of the term jitterbug exist. Since the dance involves jerking movements, and may resemble the jitters of alcoholic recovery, it may have derived its name from such. Cab Calloway once remarked that the dancers looked like a bunch of “jitterbugs.”
Another possible origin for the name jitterbug is that it was originally intended as a derogatory or ethnic slur. Most dance schools in the late 1930s did not want to teach the Lindy Hop. However, as the popularity of the dance grew, the jitterbug began to be taught, and any slur to ethnicity has since been forgotten.
Some people use the term jitterbug to refer to all types of swing dancing. This is technically incorrect by the strictest definition of the dance. As well, jitterbug can be used as a verb: Do you jitterbug?
The jitterbug places emphasis on the six-count move. The very basic move of the dance is a back, step, forward, touch, step, and touch. The man would begin this dance on the left foot. The footwork for the leading partner is left-right-left-right-right-left. The following partner duplicates the steps on the opposite foot.
There are multiple turns, lifts and spins associated with the jitterbug. Often the partners may dance side by side, instead of in a face-to-face partner hold. This is characteristic of many variants of swing dance.
Once basic steps and spins are mastered, some of the lifts are fun to learn. These can include lifting and swinging the following partner from one side to the other, swinging the partner through spread legs, and various other complicated maneuvers. The dance is quick, so most of the tricks take some skill to acquire.
The jitterbug requires brisk 4/4-time music. It can be danced to rockabilly, 50s and early 60s rock and roll, some modern rock songs, swing music, and some jazz predating swing. A variant of the jitterbug may be danced to quick time Country and Western music as well.
Since swing dance has risen in popularity, many clubs offer swing dancing with instruction for beginners for a half hour prior to open dancing for all. This is a fun way to get an introduction to dances like the jitterbug. As well, many dancing schools, community colleges and recreation centers offer introductions and more advanced classes in swing, which can soon have one tripping the light fantastic in classic jitterbug style.