Christine Keeble and Simon de Lisle
The original Modern Jive DVD

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Spotlight on Lindy Hop

Lindy HopLindy Hop is the root of all Jive or Swing dance that emerged as a separate dance form towards the end of the jazz age but became immensely popular with the following big band swing craze.

It's original characteristic step was the eight beat Lindy swing outs, consisting of back step, triple step danced twice, with a swing and not a cha-cha rhythm. Men and women whirled round each other sometimes upright, and sometimes with posteriors protruding according to their own styles as they responded to the many rhythms of jazz. Early Lindy dancers punctuated their swing outs with "shine steps" - Charleston walks and other choreographed moves - when dancers break out of their close holds to mirror their partners, to a much greater extent than current Lindy Hoppers.

The mood of the dance is intense but irreverent. The footwork complex and impressive, the aerials (when partners fly through the air) are breathtaking.

It all began with the Lindy...

The Lindy Hop was born in 1920's Harlem. Unlike the preceding Charleston, and many other early dances, (that were brought north by the massive migration of poor rural black families, which started in the early 1900's), the Lindy was created in New York City. By putting ancient traditional African rhythmic dances into the 'modern' context of European partner dance, a new and especially inclusive dance form was created that everyone felt they could join in. Before long many poor Italian and Jewish originated youth flocked to the Savoy Ballroom to learn the dance and some became champions. (see for more information.)

Although it is widely believed the dance acquired its name in the aftermath of Charles Lindbergh's 1927 first solo flight across the Atlantic, there are reasons to doubt this story. No verifiable link has been located that connects these two events at the time, and no one mentioned such a relationship in the press until eight years after they happened. Moreover as the Lindy Hop itself was first created over a year after the flight, it could hardly be described as being directly inspired by Lindbergh's flight as is often alleged. Perhaps we will never know the real story?

The Home of Happy Feet

The early Lindy Hoppers gravitated to the famous Savoy Ballroom. Built in 1926, it was a medium sized dance venue occupying a whole city block whose passing trade at times numbered 5,000 people per night. Known simply to the locals as "The Track", it became a dance Mecca for jazz enthusiasts from all over the USA and the rest of the world, while remaining the place where the local Harlemites would swing out. All the best up-and-coming swing bands played there, which boosted the quality of the dancing enormously.

Floorsteps and Airsteps

The first generation of Lindy Hoppers, led by George "Shorty" Snowden and George "Twistmouth" Gannaway, rapidly developed the dance and used to meet up by the left hand side of the Savoy Ballroom bandstand, which they called "the corner". Before long they began to get professional work and a great deal of the dance's development for a while took place outside the Savoy. A shrewd Harlem operator saw there was something amiss and persuaded the Savoy management to feature what the Lindy Hop was becoming outside the ballroom, inside. As a result this opened the way for members of a new, second, generation of Lindy Hoppers to make a big feature of "Airsteps" in the ballroom. Frankie Manning led the way with his partner, Freida Washington and they started dancing in front of the VIP boxes for the entertainment of the many celebrities who came to visit and see the Savoy's increasingly famous dancers.

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers

From the new (second) generation of Lindy Hoppers came a performance troupe known as Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, after Herbert White the key entrepreneur who founded it. Over a hundred dancers passed through the ranks of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and sometimes there were four or five different Whitey companies out on the road performing. Their success became part of the even greater success of the Savoy, and they were picked up by Hollywood and Broadway. Their brilliance can still be enjoyed from their screen appearances in films like 'Day At The Races' and 'Hellzapoppin'.

Major tours of Europe, Australia and South America alongside their movie appearances spread the dance all round the world, whose future was secure as long as Swing music was popular. It is worth noting that if the term "Swing Dance" had been in use during this time it probably would have included all the dances performed to swing music including "rhythm tap dancing". In fact, more tap dancers were taken out on tour by the big bands than Lindy Hoppers were!

Lindyhop, Jitterbug and Jive

Although the name changed from Lindy Hop to Jitterbug for no apparent reason at the beginning of World War Two, the dance remained popular, and was increasingly referred to as Jitterbug-Jive after that. That name spread to the UK with the GI's and before long was shortened to 'Jive' and has remained in use as the generic term for the Lindy and all its derivatives ever since. For a long time the US stuck to Jitterbug and Lindy Hop but recently the term Swing has taken over as the equivalent of Jive.

As the dance spread professional dance teachers felt threatened and did their best to discredit it. In 1943, The New York Society of Teachers of Dancing, Inc. became the first dance association to face reality and recognise the Lindy-Jitterbug as an official American dance.

The early 1980's revival of interest in the Lindy Hop

The Savoy Ballroom was closed down in 1958, but a devoted group of Harlem dancers kept the Lindy Hop alive through the 60's and 70's with Mama Lu Parks Company playing a leading role. At the beginning of the 1980's all that work by the old timers paid off when a new interest in the dance emerged in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and London more or less at the same time.

Choreographer, Warren Heyes and dance historian, Terry Monaghan headed up the London dimension, and built the Jiving Lindy Hoppers into a world touring professional dance company, while also creating and inspiring the emergence of a new British Lindy Hop scene. Together with the other groups, they developed a new international scene that has re-established respect for the original Lindy Hop. In early 2003 the JLH completed its second coast-to-coast tour of the USA, and bigger projects are being planned. (see for more info.)

Mama Lu Parks brought her Traditional Jazz Dance Company to the UK in 1983 and 1984 and, building on her work, the Jiving Lindy Hoppers have spread a new enthusiasm for the dance all over the UK. Regular major events have now been created by the new generation of enthusiasts who learned in this way. The 100 Club on Mondays and Jitterbugs on Wednesday are well-established Lindy events in London. "The Savoy Ball" in London in February, "Jumpin' At The Woodside" in Gloucester in May and "Swing Masters Jam" in Runnymede in August are just some of the better known events on the yearly dance calendar that attract large numbers of even newer Lindy Hoppers.


Lindy Hop