Swing dancing is a family of american social dances from the early 1900's, danced to swing music. The key here is that they're social. It's all about going out and having fun dancing with others. The short list include: Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, and Shag.
Lindy Hop is often seen as the grandfather of swing dance. It formed in ballrooms in Harlem in the 1930's. Most notably, the Savoy ballroom. Famous dancers of the time include Frankie Manning, Shorty George, Al Minns, Norma Miller, etc. The story of the name Lindy Hop is that Shorty George got asked what the dance was called, saw a newspaper about Charles Lindbergh "hopping" the atlantic, and he told the reporter it's the "Lindy Hop".
Key aspects of Lindy Hop are it's playful spirit, relaxed connection, break-away patterns, and integrated rhythms. It can be hard to pin down, since Lindy Hoppers will throw everything they can into the dance. As long as it fits the style, it works as Lindy Hop.
TL;DR: A Video Description
Charleston actually predates Lindy Hop... It's not even technically swing. Actually, there's a style of Charleston that comes later, and is sometimes classified as Lindy Hop, and really is swing. So what are we talking about?
Charleston is the dance of the flappers during the roaring twenties. It's a carefree, sometimes silly dance that works great for more ragtimey music. Swing dancers usually call this 20's charleston. As music changed, and dancers experimented, Charleston started integrating moves from other dances. Most notably, the breakaway or "swingout". This is how Lindy Hop came about. This is also where you get 30's or 40's Charleston, sometimes called flying Lindy. Here, we get lots of kicks and hand-to-hand patterns, and more.
Finally, Charleston is also a solo dance. Both styles mentioned work without partners as well, with 20's more twisty, and 30's more kicky.
Arising separately of Lindy Hop on the West Coast (there's an island called Balboa in Southern California. Look it up!). The story behind Balboa is that the dance halls all got too packed with dancers. So, you dance close, take smaller steps, and don't break away from your partner. Eventually, dancers would experiment with larger patterns like throw-outs, lollies, and crossovers, which we call Bal-Swing. Still, in some ballrooms, these moves would actually be banned, since there was so little room on the floor.
The shag refers to a large group of dances of the early 20th century, most notably, the Collegiate Shag and the St. Louis Shag. The origin of the dance is undocumented and the dance features high energy movements which includes hops, leaps, kicks, stamps, stomps, break-aways, and shuffling steps. Currently, the collegiate shag is the most common, followed by St. Louis shag.
- Collegiate Shag: Demo
- St. Louis Shag: Demo