Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lindy Hop

The Lindy Hop is an American social dance, from the swing dance family. It evolved in Harlem, New York City in the 1920s and '30s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family.

"Frankie recalls that originally, Charleston steps were done by individual dancers or by a separated couple, while the breakaway was always a joined partner dance. As these early social dances evolved, the Charleston also began to be done, at times, as a partner dance in standard ballroom position. Soon the breakaway began to incorporate some Charleston footwork, and the two dances eventually merged to form the foundation of the Lindy hop. This early transitional stage of the Lindy is demonstrated by Shorty Snowden with a partner and two other couples in the 1929 film After Seben, the earliest moving image of the Lindy" (Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop, 49). 

Here's the clip from After Seben - Shorty George Snowden appears third - and here's a link to the same clip but with additional commentary by Bobby White (international teacher, lindy hopper, blogger): After Seben with Bobby White

In its revival in the 1980s by American, Swedish, and British dancers, the Lindy Hop is now represented by dancers and loosely affiliated grass roots organizations founded in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

As white people began going to Harlem to watch black dancers, according to Langston Hughes: "The lindy-hoppers at the Savoy even began to practice acrobatic routines, and to do absurd things for the entertainment of the whites, that probably never would have entered their heads to attempt for their own effortless amusement. Some of the lindy-hoppers had cards printed with their names on them and became dance professors teaching the tourists. Then Harlem nights became show nights for the Nordics."

Charles Buchanan, manager of the Savoy, paid dancers such as Shorty Snowden to "perform" for his clientele. According to Snowden, "When he finally offered to pay us, we went up and had a ball. All we wanted to do was dance anyway."

When "Air steps" or "aerials" such as the Hip to Hip, Side Flip, and Over the Back (the names describe the motion of the woman in the air) began to appear in 1936, the old guard of dancers such as Leon James, Leroy Jones, and Shorty Snowden disapproved of the new moves.

Younger dancers fresh out of high school (Al Minns, Joe Daniels, Russell Williams, and Pepsi Bethel) worked out the Back Flip, Over the head, and 'the Snatch'.

Frankie Manning
Frankie Manning was part of a new generation of Lindy Hoppers, and is the most celebrated Lindy Hopper in history. Al Minns and Pepsi Bethel, Leon James, and Norma Miller are also featured prominently in contemporary histories of Lindy Hop. Some sources credit Frankie Manning, working with his partner Freida Washington, for inventing the ground-breaking 'Air Step' or 'aerial' in 1935. One source credits Al Minns and Pepsi Bethel as among those who refined the air step. 

An Air Step is a dance move in which at least one of the partners' two feet leave the ground in a dramatic, acrobatic style. Most importantly, it is done in time with the music. Air steps are now widely associated with the characterization of lindy hop, despite being generally reserved for competition or performance dancing, and not generally being executed on any social dance floor.

Lindy Hop entered mainstream American culture in the 1930s, gaining popularity through multiple sources. Dance troupes, including the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (also known as the Harlem Congaroos), Hot Chocolates and Big Apple Dancers exhibited the Lindy Hop. Hollywood films, such as Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races began featuring the Lindy Hop in dance sequences. Dance studios such as those of Arthur Murray and Irene and Vernon Castle began teaching Lindy Hop. By the early 1940s the dance was known as "New Yorker" on the West Coast.
Lindy Hop moved off-shore in the 1930s and 40s, again in films and news reels, but also with American troops stationed overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other allied nations. Although Lindy Hop and jazz were banned in countries such as Germany, both were popular in other European countries during this period.
In 1944, due to continued involvement in World War II, the United States levied a 30 percent federal excise tax against "dancing" nightclubs. Although the tax was later reduced to 20 percent, "No Dancing Allowed" signs went up all over the country.


The Lindy Hop is popularly thought to get its name from famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, nicknamed "Lucky Lindy" in 1926. After Lindbergh's solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris in which he "hopped" the Atlantic in 1927, "Shorty" George Snowden was dancing in a marathon contest at the Manhattan Casino in Harlem when a reporter asked him what dance he was doing. The headlines in the newspapers in 1928 read "Lindy hops the Atlantic", so he told the reporter, "I'm doing the Lindy Hop," giving the Lindy Hop its official name. []

In Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop, Manning himself notes: "We called Shorty Snowden the father of Lindy hop because he actually named the dance." (79)

Make sure you read Bobby White's beautiful post on The Birth of Lindy Hop
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