The original swing dance that arose in the early 1930’s after the Charleston craze waned. Some recent musical groups have revived interest in the musical styles from the original Lindy Hop Era and have fired the imagination and enthusiasm of a whole new generation of Lindy Hop dancers.
Lindy Hop was the first true form of Swing dancing. It has a unique style that is very recognizable and well suited to music with a “big band” sound.
[ note: The term Jitterbug is sometimes used to refer to a social dance, particularly in eastern North America, using a ‘quick, quick, slow, slow’ rhythm. Please refer to East Coast Swing for details on this form.]
- Basics–Triples and walks in rotation
- Swivels–Rotating on supporting leg
- Footwork–Shuffling triple actions
- Accents–Use of kicks with body counterbalance
- Compare/Contrast–East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Hustle, Jive, Fox Trot
Many consider the Texas Tommy to be the first Swing dance, having been danced prior to 1910 in San Francisco to ragtime music and using an open hold similar to what is still used in Swing dancing today. However it wasn’t until much later, after the Charleston was waning in popularity, that the Swing dancing phenomenon really took hold and it did so in the form of the Lindy or Lindy Hop. With the birth of swing music by the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the Lindy arose from the music that was being played. It had “swing-outs”, “breakaways” and “shine-steps”, an exciting new dance form.
After the 1926 opening of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York, USA the Lindy found a home. Competitions were held every Saturday night and the best dancers met there in an area of the dance floor referred to as the “cat’s corner” to hone their skills and show off for the audiences. This exciting dance is said to have received its name from the wild aerial moves flying through the air and their similarity to the recent exploits of Charles Lindberg and his transatlantic “hop”. This golden era of the Lindy shot the top dancers to stardom, dancing on Broadway, films and touring internationally in shows such as “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers”.
In August of 1935, at the historical Swing era Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, bandleader Benny Goodman played a Fletcher Henderson arrangement of “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. The rest, as they say, is history. The dance craze swept the entire United States, spread around the world, and depending on where you lived, it was the Jitterbug, the Jive, the Shag, the Boogie, the Bop, the Lindy Hop or the Swing. This regionality accounts for the sometimes confusion over Swing dance terms.
As the Lindy continued to be danced through the 1940’s it began to be largely known as Jitterbug in North America. It was at this time that World War II helped to spread Swing dancing worldwide as North American servicemen brought the dancing with them overseas. During and after this period the Jitterbug (Lindy) began to spawn the family of dances that we now refer to with the umbrella term of “Swing” . These forms have evolved into over 40 documented unique styles today, most very regional in nature.
Jitterbug eventually all but died out as the era of “big bands” and the grand ballroom phenomenon drew to a close. Even the most famous Swing era ballroom and one of the last to keep holding on, the Savoy Ballroom, was closed and then finally torn down in 1958. People largely moved on to the fad dances of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s after that. A plaque to Lindy Hop history stands on the original site of the Savoy Ballroom as a testament to the lasting influence of the Lindy/Jitterbug phenomenon.
Other Swing forms did pick up marginally where the Jitterbug left off and were danced to the pop, rock-n-roll and blues music that subsequently became popular, notably the American Style East Coast Swing (in various forms including one that even today is sometimes referred to as Jitterbug), West Coast Swing, the Rock-n-Roll and International Style Jive developed in Europe. Still other Swing dances came later as the dancing adapted to the musical styles in vogue such as the Hustle (originally known as “Swing Hustle”), Country Swing, and the recent European phenomenon known as Le Roc, Ceroc or sometimes Modern Jive.
The story of the original Lindy Hop itself did not end, however, as a more recent resurgence occured with the “Swing revival” of the 1990’s which brought the dance a fresh new life. This reincarnated version became mostly known again as Lindy Hop, its original name. Some of the popular bands began playing retro big band styled music once again and it was inevitable for the Lindy to make a comeback since it suited such music so well. Some of the older Lindy Hoppers from the original era were brought out of retirement, including the living legend (at that time) Frankie Manning, to pass on their knowledge and help document some of the original techniques.
Today the Lindy is still very much alive and continues to be danced in studios and clubs around the world.
Music for the Lindy is normally written in 2/4 or 4/4 time with the musical accents occurring on the even beats of a measure. It is usually danced with an 8-count rhythm: 1, 2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7&8 sometimes incorporating 6-count rhythm movements as well: 1, 2, 3&4, 5&6.
Lindy can be danced over a range of tempos but the music best suited to it tends to have a retro feel about it, reminiscent of the the “swing era” of the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Lindy Hop has a very characteristic look, low into the knees and the body slightly bent forward. Triple steps and walks are the most used basic components as well as swiveling actions particularly for the lady. Kicks help to give the dance its character with the feet held flat and heel outstretched in contrast to the pointed foot kicks of some other Swing dances. The basic step is often called a “swing out” and moves alternately from an open one-handed hold to a loosely closed dance position as it rotates. Sometimes a 6-count basic is taught initially, the same that is used in East Coast Swing, usually using either a single step North American Jive style step pattern or a double rhythm, “kick, step” rhythm which is sometimes referred to as Retro Swing.
Today there are formally two styles of Lindy. The Savoy Lindy is based, as the name implies, on the original style from the Savoy Ballroom and its proponents are often traditionalists who are attempting to recreate the original dance with the utmost authenticity.
Another often more eclectic style is referred to as the Hollywood Style, Dean Style, Collins Style Lindy or sometimes Jitterbug. It is based loosely on the tradition of Dean Collins (originally a Lindy Hopper from the Savoy in New York) who moved to California to pursue a career in the movie industry and continued to develop Lindy, Jitterbug and the East Coast Swing there over the years. This alternate style is often danced in a “slot” much as West Coast Swing, tends to have a smoother but flashier style and usually takes a bit more artistic license with the form.
Whichever the style of Lindy Hop, it is a dance that is incredibly fun to do. Lindy is a free spirited, spontaneous and energetic dance and not without a sense of humour – some variations such as “heels” and “chicken pecks” make colourful accents. Lindy Hop suits the big band music, to which it is danced, extremely well and makes a great ‘character dance’ for someone who enjoys this style.
Lindy Hop songs and artists include:
- In The Mood – Glenn Miller
- Zoot Suit Riot – Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
- Bei Mir Bist du Schoen – The Andrews Sisters
- Take the ‘A’ Train – Benny Goodman Orchestra
- Jump, Jive, An’ Wail – Louis Prima or the Brian Setzer Orchestra