Craze hit America during the late 1930s and early...


January 31, 1994

"A DANCE craze hit America during the late 1930s and early 1940s," according to Goucher dance professor Chrystelle Trump Bond, writing in the current issue of the Maryland Historical Magazine. And what were local folks dancing during World War II?

"Most popular of all was the jitterbug. Despite segregation in the armed forces, defense plants, and the USO, young Americans regardless of gender, race, or class danced the African-based movements of the jitterbug.

"Incorporating steps from African-American dances like the Lindy hop, boogie woogie, shag, trucking, Charleston, Susie-Q, Shorty-George, and camel walk, jitterbuggers pulsated to syncopated rhythms, especially when dancing to music of the Benny Goodman Orchestra featuring the thrilling drums of Gene Krupa.

"Improvising favorite steps with one's partner on the spot, or breaking away for a solo flight on the dance floor, the jitterbugger transformed this dance into a marvelous form of individual expression. Jitterbug contests -- with 'hepcat' dancers flinging bodies through the air -- could electrify USO club dances. 'Hepcat' -- a label for a 'swing addict' -- came from the military's use of 'hep' for 'left' in calling cadence. So to be 'hep' meant to be 'in step' in the army and on the dance floor alike.

"The jitterbug had interregional appeal. A seaman from New Haven [Conn.], jitterbugging during a contest at the Charles Street USO Club, exhibited such favorite fancy steps as 'The New London Bounce,' 'The Bridgeport,' and 'The Waterbury Shuffle.' These steps severely strained the seaman's tight-fitting Navy white trousers, but even when his wallet popped from a rear pocket and went spinning across the floor, he never stopped jitterbugging."

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