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Jive Dance History

Jive dance has a varied history.
dibu tango_01. image by torugo from Fotolia.com

Jive is one of the most popular ballroom dances in the world. It has a light, bouncing quality that makes it look easy, but jive is actually extremely challenging to dance. Despite its difficulty, jive dance’s rich history and cheerful quality have made it a favorite of professional and social dancers alike.


Jive dancing originated in African-American communities in the southeastern U.S. Some believe that the earliest form of jive was a Seminole war dance, which slaves witnessed and copied, while others suggest that jive originated in African social dances passed down through generations. The dance takes its name from the popular jazz slang term "jive," a variant on the West African word "jev," which means "to speak disparagingly."

Time Frame

Jive first gained national popularity in the United States in the 1930s, though it was danced in African-American communities for many years before. In the early 1940s, American soldiers stationed overseas introduced the dance to Europe, where it quickly gained an international following. Since then, jive has remained popular across the Western world.


Jive dance developed alongside jazz and swing music, and it shares an upbeat tempo with these musical forms. Jive is danced in 4/4 time and is characterized by jittery, syncopated movements. The basic step of jive dancing consists of a six-beat pattern in which dancers step forward and back, and then shuffle-step to the left and then to the right. Jive is danced quickly--at a speed of between 32 and 44 bars per minute. Because of its quickness and loose, bouncy quality, the dance faced criticism for being "vulgar" when it first ascended to popularity. By the late 1940s, however, the dance was considered mainstream.


The American jive of the 1930s was the first popular form of jive dancing. Like other American swing dances, it was an excellent match in both tempo and character for the popular music of the day, and it became an instant hit among teenagers and dance lovers.

The ballroom jive of the 1960s was created when English dance instructors objected to the dance’s jerky, free-form movements. They modified the jive to create a slower, more graceful form of the dance that included codified steps and holds.

Modern jive was developed in the 1980s. It is distinguished from ballroom jive by its simplified footwork and absence of syncopated movement. The modern jive's structure is considerably looser than that of ballroom jive, and movements from swing dancing, salsa, tango and rock-n-roll are often incorporated. Sometimes also called "French jive," this jive form remains popular among social dancers and is frequently taught in dance studios today.

Other variations on jive dancing include the hand jive and the jitterbug.

Significant Events

In 1968, jive was accepted as the fifth official Latin ballroom dance in the international ballroom dancing community. This event helped jive dancing remain popular in professional dance circuits even as its social popularity waned. It eventually contributed to the development of the simplified social jive taught in dance studios today.

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