The History Of Lindy Hop

In the
nineteen twenties there was the Charleston dance craze, whilst before
that ballroom dancing was the thing. Ballroom dancing is, like Lindy
Hop, partner dancing. In other words couples dance together, in
physical contact. Also in the nineteen twenties there was a degree of
racial segregation in the USA, which meant that ballrooms like the
Savoy in Harlem were mostly frequented by black dancers, ballrooms
like the Roseland mostly frequented by whites. Although the Savoy was
the first ballroom not to be officially segregated, so white dancers
could, and did, go there in small numbers. The big bands of the era
sometimes had black and white musicians, less so in the early days
when most were one or the other.

 In the Savoy ballroom in
Harlem, as early as nineteen twenty six, (the Savoy opened its doors
for the first time in March nineteen twenty six), black musicians
were experimenting and leading the way, swing music was emerging. The
Charleston dance craze was declining. Later, the new musical style
would be copied by Benny Goodman. Some historians credit the start of
the swing age to a later tour by Benny Goodman, nineteen thirty five
in fact, which is actually somewhat after the fact!

Benny Goodman had listened to the
musicians in Harlem and his band were swing pioneers, as far as white
folks were concerned. A great band they were too, but they were not
the first innovators of the genre. By the thirties Benny Goodman was
playing swing on his late night radio slot in New York and when he
went on tour he struggled, well he struggled in New York and all
stations west until he got to California where they were queued
around the block. The reason being that his late night New York radio
programme was being picked up at peak time all those miles west,
different time zone of course, and the people loved it. Officially
this is when the swing age was born. However, go back to nineteen
twenty six in Harlem and you’d find black dancers there were
experimenting with new moves to fit the new music, from Fletcher
Henderson primarily and they’d adapted Charleston moves to fit
their new style too.

 The new dance didn’t really
have a name. It’s been suggested that they called it the breakaway,
because in ballroom male dancers kept the lady close, but in the new
dance she was ‘swung out’. Others say breakaway is rather the
original name for a move which today is called a swing out and that
the dance was simply called The Hop. So to 1927. There were dance
marathons then, remember the movie ‘They Shoot Horse’s Don’t
They’. It was at a dance marathon, so the story goes that a
newspaper journalist asked a black dancer by the name of Shorty
George Snowden “hey, what’s that new dance you’re doing?”
Presumably no one outside the Savoy had seen it much. Well George,
who has a dance step named after him, the ‘Shorty George’
unsurprisingly, was a bit of a wit. Furthermore, that week or maybe
even that day a young man called Charles Lindbergh had made the first
solo aeroplane flight across the Atlantic, non stop. America was in
love with its new hero and a newspaper headline had read (reputedly,
although I’ve been unable to find it) ‘Lucky Lindy Hops The
Atlantic’. “We call it the Lindy Hop” quipped George and so a
new dance craze was born.

 The dance had its apogee in the
forties and went through the dark days of wartime, surviving into the
fifties when smaller, less costly rock and roll bands put the big
bands out of business. Well mostly, it was still possible to find
some swing even in the ironically named swinging sixties, and jazz of
course goes on through every storm and changing fashion.

Music like all the creative arts and
indeed sciences has to progress, Rock and Roll, Bill Haley and Elvis
they were the immediate future in the early fifties. Swing and swing
dance had ruled the roost for twenty five years a remarkable thing
when you look at popular music today. In that time swing produced a
great variety of great music, and the dancers innovated so many steps
and styles that you could learn the Lindy Hop for a lifetime and
still not know it all. For more on the subject see the book ‘Of Land,
Sea and Sky’. http://www.oflandseaandsky.com

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About sailorsnook

I live on a boat and travel most of the time. I used to be a skydiving instructor, car and motorcycle racer. I ran my own advertising agency for many years. I'm interested in ski-ing and snowboarding, writing, music and dancing, particularly swing dancing. I have plans for a world peace campaign.
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