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Lindy Hop History

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Lindy Hop is a jazzy, duo dance that jives, jitters and jumps. Born in the jazz age, it was first given its name circa 1927. While newspapers worldwide were reporting Lindbergh's pioneering aeroplane flight across the Atlantic, at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, the dancers were creating a new dance they called the Lindy Hop.

The dance was made popular in Britain during the Second World War, by American GI's stationed in the UK, subsequently adopting the name 'Jitterbug'. It was danced and performed to the original big band music of the 30s and 40s, and, along with the modern swing music being created today, is still popular among dancers.

Texas Tommy, Breakaway, Hop, Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Swing, Jive, Rock'n'Roll, French Roc - this glossary of names keep cropping up when we talk about the dance. The first three were among the common expressions used during the mid-20s to describe various forerunners of the Lindy Hop. Where do these dances come from? Their immediate influences were the Charleston, the Black Bottom and numerous animal dances like the Turkey Trot, the Grizzly Bear and the Bunny Hug. Of course, we could trace the Lindy Hop back even further to when African rhythms met European musical structures, the melting pot of two distinct cultures creating something very special which we are still enjoying today.

The term Lindy Hop describes the dance which grew up in the Savoy ballroom in uptown Harlem and was popularized at Dance Marathons fashionable in America at the time. Whereas Lindy Hop was commonly associated with black dancers, white American GIs from the 40s often called the same dance Jitterbug. 'Jitterbugging' was an expression first widely used in 1937 after Benny Goodman's stuning performance at the Paramount Theater in New York City, where young teenagers were described as 'Jitterbugging in the aisles'.


Swing (the big band sound of the 30s/40s) was the music to which Lindy Hop was originally danced, but today in America the term is used more loosely, with the same meaning that Jive has in Britain - as a general term for the many different varities of swing dance, whether danced to Swing, Jazz or Rock'n'Roll. Jive is also commonly associated with Ballroom Jive, a very stylized dance based on the six-beat count of Lindy Hop.

When Bill Haley's film Rock Around the Clock came out in 1956, the kids were dancing Rock'n'Roll. The moves were the same eight-beat Lindy Turns, six-beat basics and twisting steps that the Jitterbugs had done a few years earlier. But bands and dance floors were becoming smaller, the style of music and even the dancers' clothes changed, so, the dance followed: it became simplified, less structured, but just as exciting. And its name was Rock'n'Roll.

Today in England there are variations of Lindy Hop done to modern pop music, known under many different names, including Modern Jive, Le Roc, Ceroc etc. In Sweden they have Bugg, in Switzerland they have Disco Fox; in America, West Coast Swing is danced primarily to modern R'n'B. Each of these dances have their own styles. The original styling and footwork have changed to fit the music, but in essence, all come from the original Lindy Hop that was so popular in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom and all over America in the 30s and 40s.

The popular style of Lindy that is danced today is really a fusion of many different styles that would have been seen in the Savoy Ballroom on the East Coast and the Dean Collins style Lindy Hop that was popular on the West Coast of America in the 40s & 50s but also takes an influence from a modern West Coast Swing style of dance that was popular in America during the mid to late 90s when Lindy Hop had a large resurgence.

All photos: Simon Selmon and Rusty Frank

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