Lindy hop today
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (November 2007)|
The Lindy Hop is only one of many swing dances popular today, and there are thriving local communities throughout the world. Structurally, lindy hop's basic step -- the swing-out -- combines both closed position and open position and is clearly related to the Charleston. It is the most popular swing dance in most swing dancing communities, and its revival in the 1980s has since seen local communities develop in many cities.
- 1 International scenes
- 2 Culture
- 3 Music
- 4 Local influences
- 5 Types of lindy
- 6 Technique and steps
While the United States is home to the largest number of lindy hoppers in the world, there are also communities throughout Europe (including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey), Canada, the Asia-Pacific region (including Australia and New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam), and South America (including Argentina and Brazil). The small village of Herräng in Sweden (north of Stockholm) has unofficially become the international mecca of Lindy Hop due to the thirty-year-old annual Herräng Dance Camp run by the Harlem Hot Shots.
Despite the cultural and social differences between local communities, lindy hoppers have much in common. They not only share specific dance forms, but also dance cultures. There is great enthusiasm for social dancing in most lindy hop communities (with of course allowance for regional variation), and lindy hoppers are often keen travellers. The lindy exchange culture which developed in the United States and Canada, coupled with a European enthusiasm for holiday camps has seen the development of many large events held throughout the world, which not only attract local dancers but also visitors from other communities. There is a strong culture of hospitality in lindy hop culture today.
This emphasis on travel is encouraged and facilitated by the preponderance of online communication in lindy hop culture. Many Internet forums have emerged in local lindy hop scenes. These message boards serve to provide information to dancers about Lindy Hop and dance events in the geographic area. Yehoodi has become the largest of these and now caters to an international audience, although many smaller local forums also exist. Local swing dance related internet forums often reflect the local variations in scenes' cultures and dancing. Because swing dancers travel to dance quite regularly, internet forums are an important medium for communication between local scenes, and for dancers visiting a particular city or country.
While lindy hop developed as a response to swing jazz in the 1920s and 30s, its popularity today can be largely attributed to the popularity of neo swing music of the swing revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As swing jazz is not the popular music of the twenty first century, and jazz and its cousin blues have themselves undergone significant changes since the original 'swing era', there are ongoing discussions within the lindy hop community about the types of music which best suit the dance. Lindy hop is frequently danced to a range of music beyond swing jazz, including blues, rhythm and blues, jump blues, jazz, groove, soul and hip hop, as well as rockabilly and country in the American South and Southeast.
Despite these differences in taste, lindy hop is historically and practically associated with artists such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Lionel Hampton and so on. Lindy hoppers are particularly fond of big band arrangements by and featuring these (and other) musicians.
Live music is still very popular with lindy hoppers, and many dancers have formed close relationships with local artists in their own communities. Newer artists such as George Gee (bandleader) and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra have proved particularly popular with lindy hoppers. Despite this relationship with live music, recorded music, DJed by dancers, is the most popular musical medium for lindy hoppers today. DJing itself has assumed great significance in lindy hop culture, with dancers and DJs alike hotly debating which types of music should be played, and when. The SwingDJs discussion board  is a clear example of an online community within the lindy hop community which has developed solely around the playing of music for dancing lindy hop.
Lindy hop as it is danced today varies not only between local scenes through the influence of local cultures and teachers, but as individual dancers model their movements on the styles of influential dancers of both contemporary and past eras. These historical influences may include the African American lindy hoppers of the Savoy Ballroom (including Frankie Manning and the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers), white dancers from the west coast (including Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan), or dancers from even more specific periods in history. The 'style wars' of the 1990s and early 2000s (where lindy hoppers debated the relative merits of different eras and dancers) resulted in terms such as Savoy-Style Lindy Hop (generally associated with original New York City African American dancers) and Hollywood-Style Lindy Hop (based on the Lindy Hop of white dancers in Hollywood films). The current international lindy hop community recognises a far greater diversity not only in lindy hop styles than is accounted for by these two terms, but also in swing dances more generally.
Lindy hop today is not only influenced by historic dance forms, but also by popular contemporary dances and music such as soul, groove, funk, hip hop, West Coast Swing and salsa while others explore jazz, tap, blues and other traditional jazz and African American dances as resources to expand and enrich lindy hop.
Types of lindy
Many dancers with an interest in lindy hop as a historical dance insist that social dancing is essential to developing the skills of an accomplished dancer. These dancers frequently cite Frankie Manning's insistence that his dance troupes social dance every night as well as train for performances, in order to maintain their dancing at its highest level. Lindy hop today, however, is danced as a social dance, as a competitive dance, as a performance dance and in classes and workshops.
In each, partners may dance alone or together, with improvisation a central part of social dancing and many performance and competition pieces. Solo sequences in Lindy Hop are sometimes executed as part of a partner dance when one or both of the partner initiates a "breakaway" causing the partners to separate their connection and dance solo with each other using (if at all) visual lead and follow cues. These sequences may include charleston moves, traditional jazz moves (such as boogie steps, Shorty George, Suzie Q, etc.) and contemporary jazz and modern dance movements.
Choreographed routines are frequently danced on the social floor as well as in competitions, performances and classes, with some of the most famous examples including:
Etiquette and traditions
Dance floor etiquette varies in each scene, where, for example, one scene may encourage men to ask women to dance; another encourage advanced dancers to ask beginners; and, in a third, only friends ask each other to dance. In some scenes it is considered rude to leave a partner without having a second dance, while in many scenes there are unspoken conventions about teachers dancing with students, more experienced dancers dancing with beginners, and so on. There are no consistent rules between local scenes, though there are often national or international patterns.
Social lindy hop not only involves partners dancing unchoreographed dances, but also a range of other traditions and activities. Jam circles, are a tradition dating back to the 1930s and earlier in African American vernacular dance culture, and have much in common with musical cutting contests in jazz. Malcolm X describes 'jam circles' in his autobiography as a loose circle forming around a couple or individual whose dancing was so impressive it captured the attention of dancers around them, who would stop and watch, cheering and clapping. This tradition continues in most lindy hop communities today, with other couples interrupting, joining, or replacing the original couple in the cleared 'circle'. Dancers usually leave or enter at the end of a musical phrase.
Traditionally, these jams are spontaneous and unchoreographed, though many jams are planned, as a conventional expectation (such as fast final songs in a song set), or as a recurring event at venue to show off moves that might be more dangerous on a crowded social floor. The latter situation may also include choreographed routines.
The jam format is often used to celebrate a special event (a birthday, engagement, wedding, etc.), to welcome a visitor or to farewell a local. These jams are often announced by the DJ or MC, the focus dancer or couple begin in a cleared circle, with other dancers gathering to clap and cheer. These watching dancers will 'cut in' or 'steal' one of the partners in a couple, or the 'special' dancer to dance with them in the circle until they are in turn replaced.
Social dancing events run by dancers are diverse and vary in duration, theme and venues between local communities. Dancers usually distinguish between regular events or 'after-class' practice sessions, dancing to live bands at 'public' events not run by dancers(known as "Lindy Bombing", in which a group of dancers shows up at an event not originally intended as a dance event) and special 'dances' or the more formal ball. Social dancing events may be held as part of a lindy exchange or camp, or be regular parts of the scene's calendar. Live bands frequently provide the opportunities for social dancing in many new or small scenes, and attract groups of dancers attending gigs at local bars or clubs to dance socially.
Social, dancer-run lindy hop dances are held in a range of spaces, from private parties to church and town halls, bars, gymnasiums, university halls, night clubs, pub function rooms, and any other space with enough room for a dance floor. Individual events may attract anywhere from ten to a thousand dancers, and may run from as little as half an hour to all night. Music may be provided by DJs, by live bands, or by music left to play unattended on a sound system, depending on the local scene's conventions and the nature of that particular event. DJs and bands may play a range of music from the 1920s to today, tending to concentrate on big band music from the 1930s and 1940s. Live bands play a wide variety of music for lindy hoppers, from big band standards and blues to original compositions. There are ongoing debates about the types of music most appropriate for lindy hop and other swing dances, with the discussions focusing on whether the music should be historically accurate (i.e. matching a dance style with the popular music of the day) or include other musical styles and forms.
Social dances attract dancers from a range of ages and backgrounds, and dress may range from rigorously 'vintage' or historically accurate to a particular 'swing era' (1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc.) to casual sports or street wear, again depending on local culture and the event itself.
Lindy hop is generally considered a very dynamic form of dance. Lindy performances may combine choreographed routines, improvised sequences, solo and partner dancing and frequently feature the aerial steps for which it is perhaps most famous. Contemporary lindy hoppers often recreate or perform historical choreographed routines found in films or taught by 'swing era' dancers such as Frankie Manning. The most well known of these include the Lindy Chorus, the Hellzapoppin' routine from the film Hellzapoppin' (1941) and the Big Apple from the film Keep Punching (1939). Performances are often held at social dancing events as part of a brief floor show, often to showcase a visiting teacher, a local troupe or to display a particular dance style. Solo performances and performances by couples are as important as troupes, and performances of all types are often integrated into a social dancing event rather than held as separate events. There are exceptions to this, with The Rhythm Hot Shots touring internationally and holding swing dance shows as part of a teaching tour. Lindy hop dance schools and clubs frequently include a performance troupe, with membership in these troupes determined by a range of factors, from general auditions, by invitation, as a prerequisite for a teaching position with a school or to display a rare dancing skill or style.
Performance groups that had an impact on the development of Lindy Hop include the following:
- Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (aka Harlem Congaroos, Hot Chocolates, the Big Apple Dancers), New York City, founded in 1935
- The Rhythm Hot Shots, from Sweden, founded in 1985, now called the Harlem Hot Shots. The Hot Shots have been a major driving force in the worldwide revival of Lindy Hop from the 1980s onward.
Lindy hop performance troupes are often quite different from a professional modern dance or ballet company. They are usually amateur groups, their members may vary in experience and ability, and they often serve as promotional vehicles for lindy hop schools and clubs. Lindy hop's nature as a predominantly social dance with its roots as a self-learned vernacular dance, combined with the comparative lack of experts, resources, and public demand in many local communities also contribute to its differences. As does the fact that most lindy hoppers come to the dance in the twenties or late teens, rather than as children who train for many years before joining performance groups.
Reasons to form or be in such a troupe vary, but usually belong to one or more of the following categories:
- Artistic reasons (pursuing the art of dancing, and the continuous artistic expression through jazz dance and lindy hop),
- Commercial reasons (to perform at paid "gigs" - essentially continuing the tradition of Vaudeville and supplying entertainment for those who pay for it),
- Competition (to compete with a selected team, set choreographies and test one's skills versus other dance teams)
- Practice (to enhance the dancers of the participating dancers, work on new materials or engage in dance movement that is not possible on the social dance floor - such as aerials or other moves that require pre-arranged agreement between the dancers/partners)
- Pleasure (in performing or dancing)
- Promotion (for a particular lindy hop school or club, or to encourage people to take up the dance)
Competitions have a long history in lindy hop, from the informal dance rivalries carried out in jam circles and on the social dance floor, to more formal competitions such as the Harvest Moon Ball competitions of the 1920s and 30s, where Shorty George Snowden is popularly attributed with naming the dance. Today, lindy hop competitions vary in form and intent, from lindy hop categories in ballroom dancing and dancesport competition, to 'national' events run by particular schools or dancing associations, to competitions held as part of a camp or exchange weekend, to small and informal competitions in local communities. There are ongoing discussions and debates about the relevance of competitions in lindy hop culture, from criticisms that formal, showcase type events encourage a movement away from the improvised spontaneity and energy of lindy hop as a vernacular dance, to arguments that competitions hone dancing and performance skills. Whichever position a dancer takes on the issue, it is suffice to say that different competition forms and specific events develop different dancing skills and serve different social, political and economic purposes.
There are a range of competition types, and competition nights frequently feature categories in each of the following styles. There are some exceptions, such as the Hellzapoppin' competition, which only features the 'no-rules' competition format.
Almost all of these competitions are couple dances, though some involve elements of solo dancing. Many lindy hop competitions distinguish between professional and amateur dancers, include invitation-only categories, offer cash prizes and are judged by well respected lindy hop dancers. Most are not regulated by any national or international body.
Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill competitions imitate social dancing. Dancers enter as individuals, as either a 'jack' (leader) or 'jill' (follower). Most competitions do not dictate jills be female or jacks male. There are, however, 'jack and jack' and 'jill and jill' competitions where men and women are paired separately. Entrants are paired with partners randomly and then dance to music (whose duration varies). They are then allocated another random partner. Jack and Jill competitions vary in strict format, with some ending at this point, and judges awarding points for performances to that stage. Many Jack and Jills often continue, with dancers paired with a third partner (or remaining with their second) for the remaining rounds of the competition.
Partners dance to different tempo and style songs, either in 'all skates' where all dancers are on the floor, or 'spotlights' (also known as 'shines' or 'phrase battles') where couples take to the floor alone, usually at phrase-long intervals.
Entrants are judged on their ability to 'lead' and 'follow', though criteria and judging style and importance vary between competitions and scenes.
Entrants in showcase competitions perform choreographed performance routines. Showcases can be for pairs or groups (though usually not in the same competition), can involve pairings of 'amateur' and 'professional' dancers (pro-am), and can be judged by any combination of criteria.
The 2000s have seen the increasing popularity of lindy hop competitions 'without rules'. The Hellzapoppin' competition, named for the film Hellzapoppin', was held for the first time in 2002 and coordinated by the American Institute of Vernacular Jazz Dance. It was originally designed as an alternative to the strictly regulated and ruled 'showcase' type competitions which dominated the lindy hop competition culture at that time. These were frequently run by competitive or performance dance organisations such as Dancesport or by dancing academies who did not emphasise or promote social lindy hop dancing. The no-rules style competition was presented as an alternative to these formal competitions, and were designed to emphasise social dancing skills and some references to the vernacular dance tradition of Lindy Hop.
The 'no-rules' approach was just that - any dance move or style was allowed - again a reaction to the heavily codified showcase style competitions. Despite this 'no-rules' mandate, couples are frequently disadvantaged if they use extensive choreography in their performance. No-rule competitions often involve some degree of audience approval judging.
These competitions usually involve the turn-taking and shine/all-skate formats described in the Jack and Jill section, though in a range of combinations. While they may also be invitation-only, they are frequently open to all competitors, from all experience levels.
Despite the emphasis on partner dancing in these sorts of competitions, there is often much interaction between competitors and between the audience and competitors, frequently in the employment of comic devices (such as "silly walks" or impersonations) or showy and physically impressive "stunt" moves such as aerials. This type of interaction is typical of the call and response of West African and African American music and dance. In this call and response, audiences and fellow competitors encourage dancers with cheers, shouts, applause, physical gestures and other feedback.
- International Lindy Hop Championships
- World Lindy Hop Championship (a World wide competition with an emphasis on showcase and impovisation organised yearly under the umbrella of the World Rock'n'Roll Confederation)
- Hellzapoppin' Lindy Competition (a no-rules competition, held annually in the USA, though with local rounds in countries such as Australia)
- Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown (an American competition weekend including categories from all competitions styles)
- American Lindy Hop Championship (an American competition with an emphasis on showcase categories)
- Canadian Swing Championships (a Canadian competition weekend including categories from all competitions styles)
- Harvest Moon Ball
- National Jitterbug Championship
- World Jitterbug Championship
- Lindy Focus
Technique and steps
Dance movement, moves and patterns
The basic step of lindy hop, a swingout, is the basis of a large number of the traditional lindy hop moves and is done to eight counts of music. While the basic step is generally universally similar, the resurgence on lindy hop in the 1990s lead to two distinctly different styles of the basic step: the "Brooklyn" style and the "smooth" style. In the Brooklyn style of the basic step, the lead leads a follow to take a step back on the first count of the step (similar to the footwork of the basic step in east coast) whereas, in the smooth style, a lead leads the follow to take a step forward on that same first count. From scene to scene, dancers are often familiar with completely different styles, steps, moves, and patterns of lindy hop. When a number of local scenes come together in events such as a lindy exchange, dancers can often be seen exchanging dance moves with one another.
See List of lindy hop moves for a list of lindy hop dance moves.
Partnering technique is the element of lindy hop which controls the communication of the dancers engaged in the dance - the dance partners. Partnering technique allows both dancers to lead and follow dance movement, move together, and/or communicate dance ideas to each other either in an open conversation or a call and response structure.
See also: Connection
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 flexibility and calibration. 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 practice difficult moves, such as aerials (which are dangerous without regular practice).
More important than moves is connection (in simple form, any point of body contact between partners is connection), which allows both partners to communicate. Social dancers are generally concerned about connection, whether their partner "feels good," rather than whether their partner is capable of doing a number of moves in succession. This connection also allows both partners to style with each other and the music, resulting in a totally improvised, musical dance.
Musicality is the skill allowing the dancer to create and execute choreography (either prepared in advance or improvised on the spot on the dance floor) to match - and, more significantly, represent the music - including the melody and the rhythm.
Dancers with a good sense of musicality respond to all elements of the music to which they are dancing. They may choose to accentuate certain elements to make an artistic statement about the music through movement. When watching dancers with good musicality, viewers should be able to "see" the song in the dancers' movements, so that even without music, the song would still be recognizable through the dance itself. In jazz music, there are many elements in a song to which a dancer could respond. These elements could be the melody, the counter-melody, the phrases and breaks in the melody, the beat, the back beat, the drums, the bass, the keys of the piano and any other musical or rhythmic components.
Musicality develops slowly over time. New dancers frequently focus on moves independent of the music, whereas more advanced dancers will match their movements to what they hear in the music. In order to dance with musicality a dancer must have a strong sense of rhythm and a good ear for music, as well as a solid base of knowledge about the techniques and basic moves for his or her style of dance.