While the origins of the word "jive" are unknown, it is thought that the dance derives from the single- and triple- step native dances of the African American slaves, whose music had a continuous drum bass and jive-style rhythms.

Modern Jive began in the 1920s, when dances such as the Lindy Hop were popular in the black nightclubs and dancehalls of urban America. Venues such as the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem gained a reputation as places to see the best dancers perform their spectacular acrobatic routines. As the 1930s progressed, jazz and swing music became absorbed into the mainstream of popular music.

Jitterbug, Jive and Swing, as the dances were by then popularly known, had their greatest influence during the Second World War, when American GIs took the dance floors of Europe by storm. The newly-liberated populations of Europe not only adopted the dance, but continued to develop it, for instance, as The Bug and Boogie-Woogie in Northern Europe.

In America, the music moved from Swing to Rhythm and Blues, then on to Rock and Roll. With this evolution in music, a new generation rocked around the clock. In Britain, the Rock'n'Roll era began, with clothing and dance music symbolising the new found freedom of youth in the post-war boom.

In France meanwhile, the syncopated jazz steps evolved into the more fluid style recognisable today, simplifying the timing from six-beat to four-beat and the emphasis moving from footwork to hands. These changes made French-style Jive easier to learn and, without such complex footwork to master, newcomers to the dance could pick up the basic moves quickly.