Flash Back to the Big City Dance Halls In the late 1920's in Harlem Lindy Hop was breaking out wherever people were partying... But it wasn't until after the opening of the Savoy Ballroom that Lindy Hop got its name and a home. At the Savoy the Lindy Hop got hotter and hotter, as people danced to the top Big Bands in the land. And it got better and better, as the popular Saturday night competitions pushed good dancers to greatness. New steps were born every day. The styling got refined and was executed so well that the dance was a joy to watch as well as do. When it looked like it couldn't get any better, a young dancer named Frankie "Musclehead" Manning created the first airsteps in 1935, and the Lindy Hop soared.
The history of the Lindy Hop is told in the pages of this Archive, through the biographies of the dancers and information on old filmclips. (You might try starting with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. ) Lindy Hop became a dance craze worldwide, known as Jitterbug. It evolved into many forms, such as West Coast Swing, Rock'n'Roll, and Boogie Woogie. But the authentic style, the original style, will always be the Savoy Ballroom style from Harlem, USA. of the 40's and 50's. As a ballroom swing music dance, "The Lindy" which was jittered by the dance hall girls and their suitors as well as night clubs, to the prior generation's dismay. Young people of that era Lindy's to big band swing tunes like Glen Miller's "In The Mood" or Duke Ellington's "One O'Clock Jump."
The History of Lindy Hop can be traced back to the African American communities of Harlem, New York during the late 1920s in conjunction with swing jazz. Lindy Hop is closely related to earlier African American vernacular dances but quickly gained its own fame through dancers in films, performances, competitions, and professional dance troupes. It became especially popular in the 1930s with the invention of aerials. The popularity of Lindy Hop declined after World War II, and the dance remained dormant until revived by European and American dancers in the 1980s
Lindy Hop combined a number of dances popular in the United States in the 1920s and earlier, many of which developed in African American communities. Just as jazz music emerged as a dominant art form that could absorb and integrate other forms of music, Lindy Hop could absorb and integrate other forms of dance. This hybridity is characteristic of vernacular dances, in which forms and steps are adapted and developed to ther children and cultural needs of its participants in everyday spaces. Therefore, Lindy Hop was not originally the creative or economic project of formal dance academies or institutions.
Lindy Hop's genealogy can be seen in the ideological themes, social uses, and specific steps that it has absorbed during its development. For many Lindy Hop historians, the Charleston is Lindy Hop's most influential predecessor, and Lindy Hop's basic footwork and timing reflects that of the Charleston. The transition from Charleston to Lindy Hop was facilitated by the Breakaway, a partner dance which introduced the 'throw out' and 'open position' of dances such as the Texas Tommy to the 'closed position' and footwork of partnered Charleston. The development of Breakaway is largely associated with the dancer "Shorty" George Snowden in the late 1920s.
As jazz music in the late 1920s changed, so did jazz dances. The swung note of swinging jazz encouraged dancers to introduce a 'delay' in their timing which influenced the execution of footwork and approaches to tempo within Charleston and Breakaway.
The origins of the name 'Lindy Hop' are much debated in Lindy Hop communities today, but Norma Miller is alive today to give much appreciated insights.
In one account it is argued that, in the slang of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a 'Lindy' was a young woman. The word "hop" was documented as early as 1913 as a term for swing dancing and was also, apparently, a term used by early Texas Tommy dancers to describe the basic move for their dance.
In a more influential account, however, popular legend has it that dancer "Shorty" George Snowden renamed the breakaway dance as the Lindy Hop in a dance contest. In this version, Snowden was one of the 24 couples that competed in a negro dance marathon that began on June 17, 1928 at the Manhattan Casino, a ballroom that was located at 8th Avenue and 155th Street in Harlem. During the contest "as he remembers it - Snowden decided to do a breakaway, that is, fling his partner out and improvise a few solo steps of his own. In the midst of the monotony of the marathon, the effect was electric, and even the musicians came to life. ...Fox Movietone News arrived to cover the marathon and decided to take a close-up of Shorty's feet" and an interviewer then asked him "What are you doing with your feet?" Snowden, "without stopping, replied 'The Lindy'" a
Whether Snowden intended it or not, Lindy Hop was associated with Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic airplane flight, completed in 1927. "Lindy" was the aviator's nickname. The reporter interviewing Snowden apparently tied the name to Charles Lindbergh to gain publicity and further his story. While Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight may or may not have inspired the name "Lindy Hop", the association between the aviator, George Snowden and the dance continues in Lindy Hop folklore.
Often referred to as the "first generation" of Lindy Hop, dancers such as George Snowden, Leroy "Stretch" Jones, Twistmouth George and Edith Matthews inspired many other dancers and troupes (including Frankie Manning) to take up Lindy Hop. Twistmouth George and Matthews are credited with inventing the "twist" that characterises the first few steps of the follower's footwork in the Swingout. By the end of the classic era Lindy Hop was danced across Harlem in ballrooms, night clubs, cabaret clubs, rent parties, private apartments, and street parties — almost anywhere people came together with music to dance.
In 1935 Lindy Hop - with swing music - had become increasingly popular throughout America, attributable in part to the success of musicians such as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Chick Webb.
Ballrooms across the United States hosted the big bands of the day, with Chick Webb leading one of the most popular at the Savoy Ballroom. It was with his orchestra that the teenage Ella Fitzgerald first gained fame. These ballrooms continued a national tradition of sponsoring contests where dancers invented, tested and displayed new steps for prizes. At first banning lindy hoppers because they took more space than other dancers and often kicked nearby couples, the Savoy eventually relented and welcomed them as an attraction for other guests. As the 'Home of Happy Feet', the Savoy became the hottest ballroom in New York City, if not the world.
The influence of The Lindy Hop beat can be heard in early 1950's rock and roll songs such as "At The Hop" by Danny & The Juniors and Elvis' "Don't Be Cruel." Lindy Hop was revived in the 1980s by dancers in New York City, California, Stockholm, and the United Kingdom. Each group independently searched for original Lindy Hop dancers and, for those who lived outside of New York City, traveled to New York City to work with them. Al Minns, Pepsi Bethel, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller came out of retirement and toured the world teaching Lindy Hop, later to be joined by dancers such as George and Sugar Sullivan.
In 1982, Al Minns was convinced to start teaching Lindy Hop at the Sandra Cameron Dance Center in New York City. Californian dancers Erin Stevens and Steven Mitchell flew to New York City to take classes with him in 1983 and 1984. When Al Minns died in 1985, they learned about Frankie Manning through Bob Crease, a board member of the New York Swing Dance Society. They visited Frankie Manning in 1986 and are credited with convincing him to begin instructing Lindy Hop. Erin Stevens and Steven Mitchell helped spread Lindy Hop to California and other locations within the US. With Frankie Manning out of retirement, he continued where Al Minns left off at the Sandra Cameron Dance Center. Eventually the demand for his dance instruction increased and Frankie Manning started to travel and teach worldwide spreading his joy of Lindy Hop.
The 1990s saw the rise of popular neo-swing bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, Dr. Zoot, and Brian Setzer in the swing revival, and many other artists moving on from ska and punk rock based music to a reworking of swinging jazz musical themes and standard songs such as Cherry Poppin' Daddies . Almost overnight, neo-swing bands and clubs popped up in most large cities in the United States, with the music's popularity growing internationally, with bands such as The Louisville Sluggers in Australia and many others. Neo-swing music was a modern interpretation of jazz and swing incorporating modern elements of rock, rockabilly, jump blues and ska rhythms played with blazing horns and over-the-top presentation.
Film such as Swing Kids (1993) and Swingers (1996) capitalized on the popularity of neo-swing, with the former discussing youth resistance to the Nazi party in Germany through jazz and Lindy Hop, and the latter becoming a cult-hit story of love and misadventure in Los Angeles. The popularity of films such as Swingers (which featured the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and landmark Lindy Hop venue The Derby) prompted the American Gap commercial "Khaki Swing" in 1996 exploited the popularity of neo swing music with a sequence of swing dancing and the song "Jump Jive and Wail". Many swing dancers who came to Lindy Hop in the 1990s cite these films, advertisements and bands as key factors inspiring them to take up lindy hop. Neo-swing dancers often dressed up with fancy zoot suits and many accessories. The dance - in order to be made simpler and easy to sell - was mainly taught as a six-count form based on East Coast Swing.
Revivalist Lindy Hoppers such as The Rhythm Hot Shots in Sweden and Sylvia Sykes in the United States were able to offer classes in Lindy Hop and other swing dances to interested young people in the late 1980s and 1990s.