An Intro to
the LINDY HOP
'LINDY HOP' started it all in the late 1920s. 'Swing Kids' and the 'GAP ad' made it a craze in the '90s.
Where to Dance
Lindy Hop emerged in New York City during the late 1920s, in a world previously dominated by dances such as the 'Charleston', the 'Collegiate', the 'Black Bottom' and the 'Breakaway'. The primary incubator for this development was Harlem's famous Savoy Ballroom. There, the better social dancers of the day met every week to 'shine' to the "swing" jazz of the early 'big bands'. In other words, Lindy Hop evolved as a joyous and celebratory response to the music of that pre-depression era.
By the way, it's worth noting up front that "Lindy Hop" got it's name, not from any hopping or bouncing action characteristic of this dance, but rather from Lindbergh's headline-making flight across the Atlantic! Indeed, the original Lindy Hop was very smooth and grounded, with most of the motion being parallel to the floor. (The vertical up-and-down bounciness would come much later with it's successors... Jive, ECS, studio swing, etc.)
Lindy Hop is a touching 'lead-and-follow' dance, best done to music in a tempo range of 120-180 beats per minute. For the most part, partners are joined only with a gentle (and respectful) hand-to-hand connection, interspersed with fleeting moments where the couple comes together into a 'closed' position for some purpose or other... before they once again return to the arm's-length 'open' position. While the postures of the man and woman differ, both are relaxed and 'involved', in contrast to ballroom's stiff (almost awkward) poses and 'floating' mystique.
In Lindy Hop, the man invites the woman into a series of fun, flirtatious and/or enthusiastic moves around him. But within this context, it combines a wide variety of pre-set movements with considerable opportunity for individualism... usually while still connected at arms length. But sometimes, a couple will actually break apart for one or more Lindy variations and/or syncopated improvisations, before reconnecting to carry on. Contrary to the later 'codification' of "Jive" by British International Ballroom 'authorities', Lindy Hop was -- and still is in its revival -- notorious for it's creative and joyful freedom. (If you're being "correct", you're not doing Lindy Hop!!)
Spawned by the big band swing jazz written "8 to the bar", Lindy Hop's footwork was naturally based on an 8-count framework (with a few 6-count variations thrown in). The dancing was simply a physical expression of the music popular at that time in African-American venues in major eastern US cities. By the mid-1930s, however, Lindy Hop had gone 'mainstream' with the music of Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, the Dorseys, etc. It's popularity was unquestioned. By August 23, 1943, Lindy Hop even made the cover of Life Magazine.
By the mid 1940s, Lindy Hop had peaked. Dance studios had started to capitalize on it's popularity, but introduced a watered-down, 6-count version better-suited to their marketing efforts within the white communities of middle-America (Arthur Murray is usually mentioned in historical accounts of this mutation). The term "Jitterbug", originally coined by the press as a slight against Lindy Hoppers, was also being used to describe these 6-count styles. Moreover, after the US entered WW2, many of the best Lindy Hoppers were dispersed around the US and overseas. While they took Lindy Hop with them, this new style of dancing was often copied by others... sometimes with limited accuracy (the creation of ballroom 'Jive' by the British was one example).
Unfortunately, after the war, economic and social factors combined to force the gradual demise not only of the big bands, but also of the large dance halls that had enabled them. And while these trends sealed the fate of Lindy Hop per se, it's off-spring gained new life in various forms... often with distinct regional flavours... to match the new styles of music and smaller bands of the '50s and '60s.
Not until the late 1980's did Lindy Hop once again reach national, indeed international, prominence as hundreds of non-profit clubs, encompassing thousands of members, again brought Lindy Hop back to the fore world-wide! By the mid-1990s, however, this quest for authenticity was overtaken by the GAP ad and it's ensuing fad. Suddenly, young people were fascinated by vintage clothing of all kinds -- the more outrageous the better. Good marketing had prevailed and, for a couple of years, dressing the part was at least as important as dancing (one is reminded of the Texas expression for a lot of show but little substance... "big hat, no cows"). Still, it definitely put swing and other forms of partnered dancing back on the social map for thousands of new dancers.
Frankie ManningFrankie was just a 'kid' in the late 1920s, but he was definitely one of the best of those "better dancers" in Harlem -- indeed, he's usually credited as having introduced 'aerials' or "air-steps" into the Lindy Hop contests at the Savoy in the early '30s. Frankie has been a major influence within the Lindy Hop revival of the 1990s. After retiring from a career with the US Post Office, he was approached in the late '80s by young 'retro' enthusiasts from Europe and California, and asked to lend his expertise to their aspirations for authenticity. Still very much in demand at age 86, Frankie has spent most of the 1990s teaching Lindy Hop workshops all over North America, as well as in Europe and Asia. (Click here to see a recent photo of Frankie Manning).
FOOTNOTE: Frankie, and many others, are quick to point out that air-steps are fine as 'shine' during performance Lindy or when better dancers organize an enclosed "Cat's Corners" to show off with each other. Indeed, aerials have no place on a social dance floor -- at any time!! Too many seasoned Lindy Hoppers today can cite examples of the grief caused by overly-enthusiastic 'wannabees' who thought they knew their stuff... but didn't. (We know of one quadriplegic, even a death, in this context.)
And BTW, trying out an airstep with a new or casual partner is incredibly foolish for your own well-being! But nothing is worse than trying to practice them on a social dance floor with other people around. Can you say inconsiderate? Can you say stupid?