Do you like to dance? Whether it’s swaying to your favorite song on the radio or jumping around with your friends at school during recess, dancing has been a popular pastime for centuries. It’s also a form of art that has changed throughout time as types of music and trends change.

Way back in the early 1930s, a new style of music developed in the United States. A form of jazz, swing music featured a strong rhythm section (bass and drums) paired with brass (trumpets and trombones), woodwinds (saxophones and clarinets) and stringed instruments (violins and guitars).

Swing music used medium to fast tempos and soloists who would add their own unique take on the melody to the song. Swing quickly became the most popular form of music during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Swing bandleaders, such as Benny Goodman and Count Basie, would draw thousands of young people to huge halls to dance to swing music. Many of these young people were new to both swing music and dancing in general.

The uptempo beat of swing music led many of them to dance in a way that made them look completely out of control. Rather than some type of weird biting insect, it was apparently the hundreds of jerky, jittery young people on the dance floor who inspired the name “jitterbug” for the dance they were doing.

The jitterbug actually got its start in the late 1920s in the African American jazz dance clubs around Harlem, New York. Over time, the jitterbug became known by several other names, including the Lindy Hop, Jive, the Big Apple, the Push, the Whip, West Coast Swing and East Coast Swing.

Jitterbug was the name that was most popular, though. In 1934, musician Cab Calloway recorded a song entitled “Call of the Jitter Bug (“Jitterbug”).” A film called Cab Calloway’s Jitterbug Party also helped to popularize the dance and the association of Calloway with the jitterbug name.

When World War II began in the early 1940s, American soldiers taught the jitterbug dance to young people throughout Europe. Even though some people thought it wouldn’t catch on overseas, young people in Europe were soon just as crazy about the dance as the Americans were.

Over time, the term jitterbug was used to describe any type of dance to swing music. Later the jitterbug was adapted for use with the fast pace of early rock and roll. In the late 1950s, teenagers could be seen jitterbugging to rock and roll each week on the television show American Bandstand.

 

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    • Hello, Kayla! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today! The jitterbug is a type of FUN, active dance that originated in the 1920s. We encourage you to check out the video for a visual example and also encourage you to re-explore today’s Wonder to learn more about the jitterbug! :-)

  1. Yo, cool video and article! I know a lot more about jitterbugging now! I love watching them dance it on dancing with the stars! I always look forward to watching it! I think it’s so cool. I’m going to learn a few steps! Thanks!

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! I was right on my guess about bugs! The Jitterbug is a kind of dance and Derek is my favorite dancer on Dancing With The Stars!!! I think tomorrow’s wonder is about the stars.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • We thought you might like today’s Wonder, Paige! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis over the weekend…we hope you have a GREAT day! :-)

  3. Dear,
    Wonderopolis, thanks for letting me learn about the jitterbug dance…you rock!

    Sincerely, Ashley Gnanasekaran

    • Well, we think YOU ROCK for stopping by Wonderopolis today and letting us know you liked learning about the jitterbug! Thanks so much for being a GREAT Wonder Friend, Ashley! :-)

    • Thanks so much for stopping by Wonderopolis and letting us know you love to dance, Johannah! You can learn more about the jitterbug by clicking on the links found inside today’s Wonder! :-)

  4. I used to think that jitterbugs were weird, but now I think that they are really cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We’re glad this Wonder of the Day® helped change your mind about jitterbugs, Tyler! Thanks for letting us know! :-)

    • Hello, Rashell! The jitterbug is a type of FUN dance that got its start in the 1920′s. You can learn more about it by re-exploring this Wonder of the Day® and watching the video! Thanks for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Hi, Frances! A jitterbug is a type of dance! Check out this Wonder of the Day® to learn more about its history and how different people perform it! :-)

  5. Cool, that’s awesome me and my friend (michelle) really loved it! But our question is…how do you do it???????????????????????? Also, we love the show dancing with the stars.

    • We know a LOT of Wonder Friends who enjoy watching that show, too, Elle! You can learn the jitterbug by watching the videos and practicing your moves! The people you see in the videos (and on Dancing with the Stars) have been practicing, practicing, practicing! We know you can learn to be a WONDERful dancer of the jitterbug!

    • Hi, TNS! We’re still learning how to jitterbug ourselves! We keep watching the videos from this Wonder and practicing a little bit at a time…you should try that, too! :-)

    • We think that’s AWESOME, TNS! Thanks for sharing something you learned about in Wonderopolis with your sister, too! :-)

  6. I love the jitterbug! There were different kind of dances Brook and Derek did. One of them is the Salsa. You can look on Youtube.com to find Brook and Derek do the Jitterbug and many other dances! Brook’s outfit looked really cute on her. I’ve always wanted to wear an outfit just like Brook’s!

    • Thanks for sharing your GREAT comment with us, Julie! We appreciate you letting us know what you think about the people in the video and also about their dances and costumes! :-)

  7. The jitterbug seems like such a cool dance and I now know a lot more about the dance and that was very smart of you to chose the dancing with the stars video because that was very interesting. Think i will come to this website alot from now on. ;-{D

    • We sure hope you’ll come back to visit all of us at Wonderopolis again, Serene! We LOVE meeting new Wonder Friends just like you, because it’s fun to learn something new together! We’re glad you’re movin’ and shakin’ after reading our jitterbug Wonder! We hope you have a terrific day! :)

  8. Well I love to dance so I know about this “jitter” dance. I have never did it before but, I am pretty sure you would have fun because you can do a lot of losing weight and move a lot.

    • We LOVE to dance, too, Lil miss sweet!! Dancing makes us smile, and we’re glad you enjoy it too! In fact, we hope you have some time to dance today! :)

  9. We just got done learning about the 20s in history. And how fun it was. And that they did the jitter bug and a lot of other dances. And we did the swing in gym. We had to dance with the boys.
    But it was so sad what happened in the 30s good thing World War 2 came. Or else we still might be in the great depression. But too bad all the soilders died. Bless their heats.

    • WOOHOO, we’re so excited you tried swing dance in gym class, Leah! That’s awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and connections to the Wonder, Leah! Great work! :)

  10. Dear wonderopolis on our iPads at my school we can’t watch your amazing videos anymore what do you think we should do it’s very sad cause we all love your videos you can reach us at Decker elementary school.

    • Oh no, Wonder Friend J! We’re sorry to hear that you and your Wonder Friends at Decker Elementary can’t check out our videos right now. You are very lucky students to have iPads in your classroom! What a cool way to connect to technology! :)

      We hope you will try to check out our videos another time… perhaps at home or in the library! Keep WONDERing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do jitterbugs bite?
  • What were some other names for the jitterbug?
  • When was the jitterbug popular?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to jitterbug? It doesn’t matter that it’s the 21st rather than the 20th century. Even if rap and hip hop rock today’s world, you can still learn to swing with the best of them!

If you’ve never jitterbugged before, watch the Jitterbug for the Total Beginner video online. This will show you a few basic steps to help you get started.

If you want to swing like the cool cats in the 1940s and 1950s, though, watch Groovie Movie online. It’s filled with great music and fancy dance steps straight out of that time period. Have fun and enjoy jitterbugging with your friends and family!

 

Still Wondering

Listen to ReadWriteThink’s Swing, Jitterbug, and Sing the Blues audio podcast to hear about some interesting musical books you might enjoy!

 

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