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Lindy hop

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Lindy Hop is a street dance that evolved in Harlem, Manhattan, New York in the late 1920s through the early 1940s, that emerged with swing jazz.

Lindy Hop is a fusion of many dances from all over the U.S. from the early 1900s. Lindy hop combines the exaggeration and improvization of African dances with the formal 8-count structure of European dances.

Table of contents

Social and Performance Dancing

Lindy Hop is a dance where people get out and do it, socially, in performances, or in competitions.

Social Dancing

The point of social dancing is to get out, meet people, and have fun. The only requirement is an interest in Lindy Hop. Usually the guys ask the girls for one or a few dances. Occasionally, the girls ask the guys. They talk as much as they want. Frankie Manning (NCLS 2003) stated that he continually asks his partners which moves they know.

Dancers at social events usually have a wide range of skill levels, so cooperating with one's partner matters as much as dancing skill. Dancing with a new partner is a study in adjustment. What can the new partner do? What are his or her limitations? What does he or she like to do? Dancing with a regular partner is an opportunity to play and catch up on news. Dancing with beginners is an opportunity to practice the basic moves. Dancing with advanced dancers is an opportunity to try difficult and unusual moves, and to improvise.

Social dancing has the normal characteristics of every social scene. Dancers have every kind of personality from friendly to ornery. Dancers have friends and strangers. Cliques have insiders and outsiders. There are dance snobs who refuse to dance with beginners. But in general, on the dance floor, social status matters less than dance skill. Newcomers are welcome to come, dance, and meet people.

Some dancers dress in vintage clothing from the 1920s, 1930s, or 1940s. Some dancers dress in their best formal clothing. Other dancers wear jeans and t-shirts.

Lindy hop is typically done at social events, bars, clubs, dance studios, or private parties. Most clubs and studios provide lessons for beginners who want to start and for others who want to improve.

Sometimes clubs and events have jam circles, where one person or a small group of people dance, alternating partners, when others steal in. Jam circles often recognize birthdays and special occasions or visitors and other dignitaries.

Social events sometimes have DJs and sometimes have live jazz bands. DJs usually play a spectrum of music from the 1920s to today, but especially big band jazz from the 1930s and 1940s. Bands usually play their standard repetoire.


Lindy hop is danced locally, in cities with scenes. The following links point to web sites about individual cities, and to lindy exchanges.

The Albuquerque Lindy Hop Scene
The San Francisco Lindy Hop Scene
http://www.ncls.com/ The Northern California Lindy Society.
New York Lindy Hop Scene
The Los Angeles Lindy Hop Scene
The San Diego Lindy Hop Scene
The Melbourne (Australian) Swing Scene
Search Links
Lindy Hop Exhanges

Performance Dancing

Lindy Hop is fun to watch. Choreographed routines are performed at clubs, at private parties, on stage, and in movies. Performances are opportunities for dancers to show off their best moves and aerials.

Performance groups include

  • Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, from New York, founded in 1935
  • Rhythm Hot Shots, from Sweden, founded in 1985
  • Swing Cats, from California, founded in 1998?
  • San Francisco Jitterbugs, from California

There are many reasons to perform publicly. Performances are opportunities to work with other excellent dancers and to practice moves that rarely happen while social dancing. And of course, showing off one's skills is always fun.

Competition Dancing

There two main forms are Jack and Jill and Showcase competitions.

Jack and Jill: Jack and Jill competitions imitate social dancing. Dancers perform 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 different songs. The songs are often 1 to 2 minute clips with different speeds and textures. The songs are usually not announced ahead of time. Sometimes, dancers will have the same partner for all songs, and other times, dancers have a different partner for each dance. Sometimes dancers choose their partners, and other times, dancers are paired randomly. Some clubs (Broadway in San Francisco) hold Jack and Jill competitions about once a month.

Showcase: Showcase competitions are for choreographed performance routines. Showcase competitions are usually done at regional and national events. Showcases can be for pairs or groups.

The History of Lindy Hop

Lindy Hop is a fusion of American dances that emerged in the late 1920s, and continues evolving today.

In the 1920s and 1930s, ballrooms across the U.S. sponsored dance contests, where dancers invented, tried, and competed with new moves. In the 1910s and 1920s, at the circuit of Vaudeville halls across the U.S., professionals honed their skills in Tap and other dances of the era.

In the 1910s through the 1950s, Harlem was an entertainment district, where people from all walks of life, all races, and all classes came together. The Cotton Club[?] featured black performers and catered to the rich, glamourous, and white clientele, while the Savoy Ballroom catered to average, working, and mostly black clientele. So of course, Swing jazz and Lindy Hop evolved at the Savoy.

Electric lighting and air conditioning made evening social entertainment available to everybody. This was a new era of dance halls and live music.

Pre Lindy Era (1920 to 1927)

Lindy hop primarily evolved out of Breakaway, with influences from Charleston, Tap, and many other dances. This era ended when the Black Bottom dance craze took hold of the country in 1926, sweeping away interest in the Charleston.

Breakaway (1919 to 1927)

From 1919 to 1927, Breakaway (the original swing) was like couple Charleston with a twist. Breakaway was Charleston danced mostly in closed position, with occasional breakaways into open position so that dancers could show off their Tap skills. Breakaway was a black dance, danced to colored or blues music. The center of Breakaway was Harlem.

In the middle 1920s, George Snowden was the reigning king of Breakaway in New York City competitions.

[[1] (http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3brkawy.htm)]

Tap (aka Jazz) (1900 to 1955)

Tap was invented in the mid 1800s. Possibly in New York City, where Irish, Scottish, African immigrants competed with each other in dance contests. The fusion of foot dances from many sources created tap.

From 1900 to 1955, Tap was the dominant performance dance form in the U.S. The Vaudeville and T.O.B.A. (Black Vaudeville) circuits hired many professional tap dancers. There were skilled tap dancers in every city in the U.S. Vaudeville performers toured in circuits, performing in cities across the U.S. Travelling performers were exposed to dances all over the country, which laid the ground work for the fusion called Lindy Hop.

In the early 1900s, Tap was called Jazz dance. Flying swing outs and flying circles are Lindy Hop moves with Tap footwork.

Charleston (1922 to 1926)

The Charleston was invented by 1903, but probably long before. The Charleston was danced to Ragtime jazz[?]. Women Charleston dancers were called flappers.

Charleston was featured in Harlem stage productions in 1913. In 1922, the Zeigfeld Follies featured the Charleston on Broadway. In 1923, the Broadway play Liza and the Aubrey Lyles Broadway show Runnin' Wild both featured Charleston. These shows sparked a nationwide craze for Charleston, starting in 1922.

[[2] (http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3chrlst.htm)]

Black Bottom (1926 to 1927)

Black Bottom was a dance from New Orleans around 1900. In 1924, the stage play Dinah introduced the Black Bottom to the New York public. In 1926 and 1927, the George White Scandals featured Black Bottom at the Apollo theatre. Black Bottom swept the country in 1926 and 1927 and replacing Charleston as the most popular social dance.

[[3] (http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3blkbtm.htm)]

Other Dances

The influences of other dances can be seen through the specific moves that remain in Lindy Hop, like shag basics, and the Texas Tommy and Apache swing out.

Apache: This dance was danced in closed position, except for the move where the follow moved out in an apache spin.

Texas Tommy: This dance is remembered for the Texas Tommy spin.

Tap Charleston (1925 to 1926): Leonard Reed was said to have invented Tap Charleston after he learned tap in 1925. Tap Charleston was Charleston with breaks into open position to do tap. The connection between Breakaway and Tap Charleston is murky. It could be the same thing attributed to Leonard Reed or something else.

Other: Other dances that influenced Lindy Hop include Collegiate.

Classic Era (1927 to 1935)

This era was inspired by Ragtime jazz. Lindy Hop evolved from the combination of Breakaway and Charleston. Dancers, like George Snowden (Shorty George), that opened up Breakaway and Charleston. The partners moved closer together and further apart while spinning, to make the moves more interesting, eventually creating the swing out.

George Snowden renamed the dance from Breakaway to Lindy Hop at dance contests at the Harvest Moon Ball in Central Park in September 1927 or at the Savoy Ballroom in 1928 (the story varies). Lindy Hop was named in honor of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic airplane flight in 1927. In slang of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a lindy was a young woman; it was also the popular nickname of aviator Lindbergh, often called "Lucky Lindy" (although he personally disliked the nickname).

Many dance events at the turn of the century were called lindy dances or lindy hops by (who?). So the trans-atlantic flight may not have been the origin of the name, but it sanctioned and popularized the name. It gave a white identity to a black dance, making it possible for the whole country to enjoy.

Lindy Hop dancers were originally banned from the Savoy Ballroom, because they took more space than other dancers and they often kicked other dancers. The cat's corner began when Lindy Hop dancers went to the [northeast?] corner of the Savoy ballroom to dance. As Lindy Hop became popular, the Savoy relinquished and welcomed Lindy Hop dancers. (According to Frankie Manning [NCLS interview January 2002])

The most notable dance troupe of the classic era was the Shorty George Trio, which inspired many other dancers and troupes to take up Lindy Hop.

Prohibition ended in 1933 and Cab Calloway was stolen from the Savoy to the Cotton Club in 1934. These and other events sparked a change in generation of musicians and dancers.

[[4] (http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3lindy.htm)]

Aerials Era (1935 to 1941)

Lindy Hop exploded in 1935 with a new generation of musicians and dancers. Swing music truly took hold. Chic Webb became the leading musician at the Savoy where swing jazz developed. Ella Fitzgerald moved from Chicago, Illinois and began performing at the Savoy. Frankie Manning turned 21, invented aerials, and challenged George Snowden as the leading dancer at the Savoy.

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers formed before aerials. Whitey was the head bouncer at the Savoy and he arranged for dancers to perform at parties. George Snowden had been away, performing professionally, so a new generation of dancers became active. A rivalry and a challenge sprang up, over whether Shorty George and his crowd or Frankie Manning and his crowd were the better dancers.

Shorty George and his partner Big Bea often finished dances with a move, where Big Bea picked Shorty George up on her back and carried him off the floor, while he kicked his feet. Frankie Manning wanted to outdo Shorty George, so he convinced his partner Freda Washington to do a back-to-back flip, which became the first Lindy Hop aerial and won the contest. When Shorty George asked Frankie Manning where he got the move, he said, "from you." Frankie Manning then had to explain.

The most notable dance troupe of the aerials era was Whitey's Lindy Maniacs; also known as Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the Congeroos, and others; which was led by Hubert White[?] and starred Frankie Manning[?] and Norma Miller[?], among others. The troupe performed around the world from 1935 to 1941. They preformed at private parties and on Broadway. They danced in many movies, including Hellzapoppin and the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races. They performed for the King and Queen of England.

This era ended when World War II began and the country became preoccupied with other things.

World War 2 Era (1941 to 1945)

During the war, many top performers were drafted into military service. Lindy hop became a wartime recreation.

In 1943, Life magazine featured Lindy Hop on its cover and called it America's National Folk Dance.

Post War Era (1945 to 1984)

The music changed. Jazz musicians wanted listeners to pay attention. The music became much more complex. Musicians wanted patrons to listen and not to dance.

Lindy Hop spawned both East coast swing and West coast swing and influenced many other dances, like Carolina shag[?], which thrived.

Lindy Hop dancing appeared in movies throughout the 1940s. Frankie Manning couldn't get steady work as a dancer after the war, so he joined the post office.

During this era, east coast swing was adopted as a part of the Ballroom repertoire. It was codified and simplified. It adopted ballroom concept of frame.

Music changed from swing to rock. Television gave people more distractions than ever before. Lindy Hop slowly faded away to memory.

Revival Era (1984 to Present (2003))

Lindy hop revived when Steven Mitchell and Erin Stevens visited Frankie Manning in 1984. They had seen the old movies with Lindy hop and wanted to know more from the original dancers. Within a year, they sparked a Lindy Hop revival that continues today. Frankie Manning and Norma Miller came out of retirement and toured the world teaching Lindy Hop.

There was a globalization of Lindy Hop. The Rhythm Hot Shots from Sweden performed all over the world. The 1993 movie Swing Kids about Lindy hop dancers in pre-war Germany was a hit. The 1996? movie Swingers has a climactic swing dance scene. The 1998 Gap commerical caused a boom that lasted for several years in the U.S.

In Sweden, many more women wanted to dance than men, so they developed a form where one man dances with two women at the same time. See Swedish (dance move).

The major styles of Lindy danced today are Savoy-style lindy hop[?] which keeps the original New York style and Hollywood-style lindy hop[?] which resembles West coast swing[?].

Today in 2003, Lindy Hop continues evolving with influences from Hip Hop (styling and music) and Salsa (rueda).

Moves and Musicality

The two basic dance moves of Lindy Hop are the swing out, an 8-count move that usually starts and ends in open position, and the Charleston, an 8-count move that usually starts and ends in closed position. Both moves have many variations. Lindy Hop uses 8-count steps extensively, reflecting the structure of Swing music, as well as other counts. The traditional movement is clockwise, which is the opposite of ballroom. The basic dance moves of Lindy Hop are


Skill: New dancers focus on moves, independent of the music. Advanced dancers focus on musicality which fits the moves to the music. Musicality requires knowing the moves cold and knowing the structure of the music.

Lead and follow - Connection - Musicality

Related Dances

Dance - Swing - Lindy hop - West coast swing - Eash coast swing

Tap - Jazz - Charleston - Big apple[?] - Swing rueda[?] - Balboa - Shag[?]

Related Line Dances

Shim Sham - Jitterbug Stroll[?] - Lindy Chorus[?] - Madison[?]

The Music of Lindy Hop

Lindy is most interesting when danced to live bands. Traditionally, Lindy Hop is danced to Swing jazz, but dancers also enjoy Ragtime jazz, Bebop, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Rockabilly, and Rock and Roll, and Rap, that has a moderate speed. With live bands, dancers cannot predict the songs so easily, so they must pay closer attention which helps them improvize. Originally, musicians would imitate the dancers. (Frankie Manning, NCLS interview 2002)

Music - Jazz - Swing music - Dance music

Chicago Bands

Write something.

Los Angeles Bands

Los Angeles bands include The Hollywood Combo, with frontman Mark Tortorici: see: http://www.swinginrecords.com

New York Bands

Flying Neutrinos Write something

San Francisco Bands

In San Francisco, local swing bands in 2002 include

Touring bands that visited San Francisco in 2002 include


To Do

What was the first year of the modern swing out?

What were the other clubs in Harlem in 1927, 1935, and so on? (numerous) Other cities?

Who were the leading dancers and styles at each club and city?

1935: Who else moved to the Savoy in 1935? Perhaps the change in generation in 1935 coincided with improvement in the economy. (Look up)

Get a link to the Gap commercial.

What happened to George Snowden?

What happened to everyone in Whitey's Lindy Hoppers?

Harlem Rennaisance[?]

Rock and Roll dancing

Vaudeville (PG) versus Burlesque[?] (R)

Frankie Manning's "Can He Dance" Famous people showed up at the Savoy all the time, including movie stars like Clark Gable. The dancers were unimpressed. The main question was, "Can he (she) dance?"

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