History of Jitterbug: In the late 1920s, Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong created a new style of jazz that made it more danceable. In the 1930s the new jazz sounds came from “swing bands,” those of Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford and Benny Goodman, who made the urge to dance hard to resist. Many people dismissed the music and the dancing that it inspired as too suggestive and obscene. Young people loved it. When Benny Goodman's orchestra played New York's Paramount Theater in 1937, it set off a near riot, with fans jitterbugging in the aisles (Stewart). Benny Goodman accomplished many things, but one event he should get credit for and probably does not is inspiring people to dance to his music. The use of the word “jitterbug” to describe swing dancing came into use at his 1937 concert.
The word “jitterbugging” was first used by a newspaper reporter to describe the way teenagers were jumping up and dancing in the aisles at the Paramount Theater. The reporter called the dance the jitterbug because of the jumpy way the dancers moved (Snyder). Originally the word “jitterbug” was a slang term for an alcoholic experiencing delirium tremor, but thankfully that definition soon fell out of use and “jitterbug” became synonymous with a type of swing dancing. Describing the dance moves as “jittery” is accurate because dancers move with their partners from left to right, than backward and forward using a rocking motion. Dancers also add moves when they become more experienced. Moves like the “throwaway” that has the man swinging the woman out and back rapidly, underarm turns, and the “comb, where the couple moves together arm-in-arm to the beat are frequently incorporated also. Some very accomplished dancers can swing a partner up in the air and overhead. With all the swinging of partners that goes on, one can see where the style got its name.