Lindy Hop

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Willa Mae Ricker and Leon James, original Lindy Hop dancers in iconic Life magazine photograph, 1943
Dancing the Lindy hop at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, Sacramento, California, U.S. in 2006
Lindy Hop Dance, 2013

The Lindy hop is an American dance which was born in Harlem, New York City in 1928 and has evolved since then with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway, and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family.

In its development, the Lindy hop combined elements of both partnered and solo dancing by using the movements and improvisation of African-American dances along with the formal eight-count structure of European partner dances – most clearly illustrated in the Lindy's basic step, the swingout. In this step's open position, each dancer is generally connected hand-to-hand; in its closed position, leads and follows are connected as though in an embrace on one side and holding hands on the other.

There was renewed interest in the dance in the 1980s from American, Swedish, and British dancers and the Lindy hop is now represented by dancers and loosely affiliated grass-roots organizations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

Lindy hop is sometimes referred to as a street dance, referring to its improvisational and social nature. In 1932, twelve-year-old Norma Miller did the Lindy hop outside the Savoy Ballroom with her friends for tips.[1] In 1935, 15,000 people danced on Bradhurst Avenue for the second of a dance series held by the Parks Department. Between 147th and 148th street, Harlem "threw itself into the Lindy hop with abandon" as Sugar Hill residents watched from the bluffs along Edgecombe Avenue.[2]


Swing era (1920s–1940s)[edit]

The first dances named as "Lindy Hop" were born around the time aviator Charles Lindbergh made his groundbreaking flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927.[3] The most famous Lindy hop dance, which is not connected to the other Lindy Hop dances, was born in the Harlem dance marathon in 1928 where George Snowden and Mattie Purnell reinvented the Breakaway pattern by accident. That started a process in which their invention became bigger than it initially suggested. Obviously, the Harlem dance is the only one of the Lindy Hop dances which survived in the long run.[4]

The Harlem Lindy Hop developed probably from four possible sources, or some combination thereof: the breakaway, the Charleston, the Texas Tommy, and the hop.[5]

A recorded source of the not-Harlem-connected Lindy Hop dances is famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, nicknamed "Lucky Lindy", who "hopped the Atlantic" in 1927.[6][7][8] After Lindbergh's solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927 he became incredibly popular [9] and many people named songs, recipes and businesses among several other things, after him. Te Roy Williams and His Orchestra recorded the song "Lindbergh Hop," written by Ted Nixon and Elmer Snowden, on May 25, 1927.[10][11] The Memphis Jug Band on September 13, 1928 recorded "Lindberg Hop- Overseas stomp," written by Jab Jones and Will Shade.[12]

The first of the Lindy Hop-named dances was probably the "Lindbergh Hop" which was referred to as ‘ Lindy "Hop" in the headline of an article in Pittsburgh Gazette Times on May 25, 1927, just four days after Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget. The dance was reported to be Broadway's tribute to Lindbergh, and it included six basic steps.[13]

Later, a 'Lindy Hop' dance was described by columnist Gilbert Swan. He wrote, "Obviously the first dance named for the Lindbergh flight was the 'Lindy Hop'...Like all trick dances, they will be done in a few theatres and dance halls, where experts appear, and that will be that".[14] Later that year, on Sep 14, the Woodland Daily Democrat reported Catherine B Sullivan describing the 'Lindy Hop' as having been placed 3rd in the Dancing Masters of America, New Dances competition, behind the Kikajou, and the Dixie Step. ( 'Lindy Hop' also described in reports as the 'Lindbergh Glide'). The journalist reports that Miss Johnson showed a very fast little step, with hops and a kick, whilst holding the arms out , like the Spirit of St Louis. The foot work is described as "dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum".

According to Ethel Williams, the Lindy hop was similar to the dance known as the Texas Tommy in New York in 1913. The basic steps in the Texas Tommy were followed by a breakaway identical to that found in the Lindy. Savoy dancer "Shorty" George Snowden told Marshall Stearns in 1959 that "We used to call the basic step the Hop long before Lindbergh did his hop across the Atlantic. It had been around a long time and some people began to call it the Lindbergh Hop after 1927, although it didn't last. Then, during the marathon at Manhattan Casino, I got tired of the same old steps and cut loose with a breakaway..."[5] According to Snowden, Fox Movietone News covered the marathon and took a close-up of Shorty's feet. As told to Marshall and Jean Stearns, he was asked "What are you doing with your feet," and replied, "The Lindy". The date was June 17, 1928.[5]

Snowden's account to Stearns probably refers to the fact that he used already existing elements of the dance when he and his partner Mattie Purnell had an accident in the dance marathon where they became separated for a while until Snowden got back to Purnell. According to Snowden, the crowd in the dance marathon answered enthusiastically to the accident. As Marshall Stearns put it, Snowden rediscovered the Breakaway pattern when the accident happened. But the accident where Snowden and Purnell devised the basic principle of the Lindy Hop turned out to be much bigger than it initially suggested. Their invention started a process which led the Lindy Hop to contests, theaters and ballrooms by the end of 1928, and to Broadway plays by 1930. Thus, Snowden and Purnell are the creators of the Harlem Lindy Hop.[15]

The first generation of Lindy hop is popularly associated with dancers such as "Shorty" George Snowden, his partner Big Bea, and Leroy Stretch Jones and Little Bea. "Shorty" George and Big Bea regularly won contests at the Savoy Ballroom. Their dancing accentuated the difference in size with Big Bea towering over Shorty. These dancers specialized in so-called floor steps, but they also experimented with early versions of air steps in the Lindy Hop.[16][17][18]

As white people began going to Harlem to watch black dancers, according to Langston Hughes: "The lindy-hoppers at the Savoy even began to practice acrobatic routines, and to do absurd things for the entertainment of the whites, that probably never would have entered their heads to attempt for their own effortless amusement. Some of the lindy-hoppers had cards printed with their names on them and became dance professors teaching the tourists. Then Harlem nights became show nights for the Nordics."[19] Hughes's mocking statement reflects how the Harlem Renaissance Movement acknowledged the Lindy Hop which the movement considered part of "low culture", and thus not an important cultural achievement.[20]

Charles Buchanan, manager of the Savoy, paid dancers such as Shorty Snowden to "perform" for his clientele.[21] According to Snowden, "When he finally offered to pay us, we went up and had a ball. All we wanted to do was dance anyway."[5] When by 1936 "Air steps" or "aerials" such as the Hip to Hip, Side Flip, and Over the Back (the names describe the motion of the follow in the air) began to appear, the old guard of dancers such as Leon James, Leroy Jones, and Shorty Snowden disapproved of the new moves.[5]

Younger dancers fresh out of high school (Al Minns, Joe Daniels, Russell Williams, and Pepsi Bethel) worked out the Back Flip, "Over the head", and "the Snatch".[5][18]

Frankie Manning was part of a new generation of Lindy hoppers, and is the most celebrated Lindy hopper in history. Al Minns and Pepsi Bethel, Leon James, and Norma Miller are also featured prominently in contemporary histories of Lindy hop. Some sources credit Manning, working with his partner Freida Washington, for inventing the ground-breaking "Air Step" or "aerial" in 1935. One source credits Al Minns and Pepsi Bethel as among those who refined the air step.[18] However, early versions of air steps in the Lindy Hop were performed already from the very beginning of the 1930s. An Air Step is a dance move in which at least one of the partners' two feet leave the ground in a dramatic, acrobatic style. Most importantly, it is done in time with the music. Air steps are now widely associated with the characterization of lindy hop, despite being generally reserved for competition or performance dancing, and not generally being executed on any social dance floor.

Lindy hop entered mainstream American culture in the 1930s, gaining popularity through multiple sources. Dance troupes, including the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (also known as the Harlem Congaroos), Hot Chocolates and Big Apple Dancers exhibited the Lindy hop. Hollywood films, such as Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races began featuring the Lindy hop in dance sequences. Dance studios such as those of Arthur Murray and Irene and Vernon Castle began teaching Lindy hop. By the early 1940s the dance was known as "New Yorker" on the West Coast.[22]

Lindy hop moved off-shore in the 1930s and 40s, again in films and news reels, but also with American troops stationed overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other Allied nations. Although Lindy hop and jazz were banned in Nazi Germany, both were popular in other European countries during this period.[citation needed]

In 1944, due to continued involvement in World War II, the United States levied a 30 percent federal excise tax against "dancing" nightclubs. Although the tax was later reduced to 20 percent, "No Dancing Allowed" signs went up all over the country.[23]

Post-swing era (1950s–1960s)[edit]

Arthur Murray's 1954 edition of How to Become a Good Dancer included four pages of instruction for swing, covering the basic Lindy step, the double Lindy hop, the triple Lindy hop, the sugar foot walk, and the tuck-in turn.[24] A chapter is devoted to Lindy hop in the 1953 and 1958 editions of Dancing Made Easy.[25]

The 1962 Ballroom Dancebook for Teachers included an entire chapter on "Lindy".[26]

According to the book Social Dance (copyrighted in 1969), by 1960 the Lindy hop was known as "swing".[27]

Revival (1980s and 1990s)[edit]

Sandra Cameron and Larry Schulz of the Cameron Dance Center Inc in New York were instrumental in bringing Al Minns and Frankie Manning back into teaching Lindy hop at their dance center.[28] Minns joined the dance center and began a swing program there in 1981. Frankie Manning joined the Center in 1985.[29]

Al Minns' early students formed the basis for the New York Swing Dance Society, established in 1985.[28]

In the 1980s, American and European dancers from California, New York, London and Sweden (such as Sylvia Sykes in the United States and Stockholm's Hot Shots) went about "reviving" Lindy hop using archival films such as Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races and by contacting dancers such as Frankie Manning, Al Minns, and Norma Miller. In the mid-to-late 1990s the popularity of neo swing music of the swing revival stimulated mainstream interest in the dance. The dance was propelled to wide visibility after it was featured in movies such as Swing Kids in 1993 and in the "Kakhis Swing" television commercials for GAP in 1998.[30]

In 1999, Swing! opened up on Broadway, featuring world-class Lindy hoppers Jenny Thomas and Ryan Francois, Latin swing dancer Maria Torres and her partner Carlos Sierra-Lopez, country swing stars Robert Royston and Laureen Baldovi, and west coast swing couple Beverly Durand and Aldrin Gonzales. Carol Bentley, Scott Fowler, Caitlin Carter, Edger Godineaux, Geralyn Del Corso, and Keith Lamelle Thomas were also featured in various swing-related dance pieces in the Tony-nominated show during its run at the St. James Theatre. The show closed in January 2001, yet continues to be set in regional and international cities around the world.

Current status[edit]

Lindy hop dancers at DuPont Circle, Washington DC on a Saturday afternoon

There are thriving communities throughout the world, and Lindy hop can today be found in almost every large westernized city.

The small village of Herräng in Sweden (north of Stockholm) has unofficially become the international mecca of Lindy hop thanks to the annual Herräng Dance Camp formerly run by the Rhythm Hot Shots then passed on to new owners and operational team, with an attendance from around 40 countries.[citation needed] Lindy hop tends to be concentrated in small local scenes in cities in each of these countries, although regional, national, and international dance events bring dancers from many of these scenes together. Local swing dance communities in each city and country feature different local cultures. The concept of a Lindy exchange, a gathering of Lindy hop dancers in one city for several days to dance with visitors and locals, enables different communities to share their ideas with others.

Lindy hop today is danced as a social dance, as a competitive dance, as a performance dance, and in classes, workshops, and camps. In each, partners may dance alone or together, with improvisation a central part of social dancing and many performance and competition pieces.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller, Norma (1996). Swingin' at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-7636-2244-3.
  2. ^ "15,000 DANCE IN STREET". The New York Times. July 17, 1935.
  3. ^ See: Peter BetBasoo, Lindy Hop and Argentine Tango, copyright Peter BetBasoo, published in the Internet, 2009
  4. ^ See: Terry Monaghan, 'George Snowden', The Dancing Times, July 2004. Jassdancer, Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943, pages 135-138
  5. ^ a b c d e f Stearns, Marshall and Jean (1968). Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. New York: Macmillan. pp. 128–129, 315–316, 322–326, 330.
  6. ^ LINDBERGH ARRIVES AFTER RECORD HOPS, The New York Times, Front Page,May 13, 1927
  8. ^ LINDBERGH REACHES GOAL AT HAVANA; SPOKESMEN OF PAN AMERICAN NATIONS AND 100,000 CUBANS WELCOME FLIER; WILD ACCLAIM AT LANDING Troops Barely Hold Back Great Crowd as Flier Taxis In. MET BY HUGHES AT FIELD Procession to City an Ovation-- President Machado Formally Greets Aviator at Palace. CONFERENCE HONORS HIM Pan-American Session Adjourns for Day as Lindbergh Comes by 800-Mile Hop From Haiti. Hughes Welcomes Him at Field. HOPS OFF IN HAITIAN DAWN, The New York Times, February 9, 1928
  9. ^ "Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr". The website. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  10. ^ Bastin, Bruce, The Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, 1916-1978, University Press of Mississippi, 2012
  11. ^ Jazz Odyssey The Sound Of Harlem Volume III Original 1964 3XLp Vinyl Box Set Columbia Records C3L 33 Mono Jazz Archive Series Various Artist in High Fidelity Sound with 40-Page Booklet, produced by Frank Driggs
  12. ^
  13. ^ See: 'LIndy 'Hop' Difficult Dance', Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 25, 1927.
  14. ^ Reno Gazette, May 31, 1927
  15. ^ Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943, pages 135-138. Terry Monaghan, 'George Snowden', The Dancing Times, July 2004.
  16. ^ Monaghan 2004.
  17. ^ "Lindy Hop Biographies: Shorty George Snowden". Judy Pritchett with Frankie Manning. 2006. Retrieved August 8, 2007.
  18. ^ a b c Richard A. Long (1989). The Black Tradition in American Dance. Rizzoli International Publication, Inc. p. 33. ISBN 0-8478-1092-5.
  19. ^ Langston Hughes (1940). The Big Sea. New York: Hill and Wang. – cited in Lynne Fauley Emery (1972). Black Dance in the United States from 1916 to 1970. National Press Books. ISBN 0-87484-203-4.
  20. ^ Heinilä 2016, page 330.
  21. ^ Jacqui Malone (1996). Steppin' on the Blues. University of Illinois Press. pp. 101–103. ISBN 0-252-02211-4.
  22. ^ "Murray in a Hurry Monday", Time, October 5, 1942.
  23. ^ Albert Murray (2000). Stomping the Blues. Da Capo Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 0-252-02211-4.
  24. ^ How to Become a Good Dancer; by Arthur Murray. 1954. Simon and Schuster. Table of contents and pages 48–52; no ISBN
  25. ^ Betty White, Dancing Made Easy. David McKay Company, Inc., p. 177. LCCN 53--11379
  26. ^ Betty White. Ballroom DanceBook for Teachers, David McKay Company, 1962, pp. 131–144. LCCN 62-18465
  27. ^ Social Dance. John G. Youmans. Goodyear Publishing Company, 1969, p. 25. LCCN 69-17984.
  28. ^ a b Craig R Hutchinson. Swing Dancer: Version 1.10, a swing dancer's manual. December 1998. Potomac Swing Dance Club, Inc., pp. 5.1–5
  29. ^ Frankie Manning, Staff, Sandra Cameron Swing.
  30. ^ "Back in Swing". The Washington Post. Richard Harrington. October 26, 1998. Retrieved October 31, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Batchelor, Christian, This Thing Called Swing. Christian Batchelor Books, 1997, ISBN 0-9530631-0-0
  • DeFrantz, Thomas. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.
  • Emery, Lynne Fauley. Black Dance in the United States from 1619 to 1970. California: National Press Books, 1972.
  • Friedland, LeeEllen. "Social Commentary in African-American Movement Performance." In Brenda Farnell (ed.), Human Action Signs in Cultural Context: The Visible and the Invisible in Movement and Dance. London: Scarecrow Press, 1995. 136 – 57.
  • Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
  • Hancock, Black Hawk. American Allegory: Lindy Hop and the Racial Imagination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
  • Jackson, Jonathan David. "Improvisation in African-American Vernacular Dancing." Dance Research Journal 33.2 (2001/2002): 40 – 53.
  • Malone, Jacqui. Steppin' on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Manning, Frankie; Cynthia R. Millman (2007). Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-563-3.
  • Szwed, John F., and Morton Marks. "The Afro-American Transformation of European Set Dances and Dance Suites." Dance Research Journal 20.1 (1988): 29 – 36.
  • Spring, Howard. "Swing and the Lindy Hop: Dance, Venue, Media, and Tradition". American Music, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Summer 1997), pp. 183–207.
  • Thomas, Amy. Infinity Dance: The Move That Never Ends. California: National Press Books, 2006.

External links[edit]

Lindy hop history
Lindy hop dancing today