The History of Lindy
According to famous Lindy Hopper Norma Miller, “The Lindy is the birth of all swing dancing” (see the full interview here). Lindy grew out of the jazz and swing music popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Shorty George gave the new dance its name in 1927, branding it the Lindy Hop after famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and a newspaper headline that read “Lindy Hops the Atlantic.”
The center of the emerging Lindy was the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s, the decades of the cultural flowering known as the Harlem Renaissance. One of the striking characteristics of the Savoy was that both black and white dancers mixed, breaking the race barrier in a time of immense segregation. The Lindy Hop evolved alongside the swing music played at the Savoy, and because the music was live and given to improvisation, often the dancers would inspire the musicians as much as the music inspired the dancing. The dancers also inspired each other, and Frankie Manning’s experiments with aerial made the dance as gravity defying as the dance’s namesake. For more on the history of Lindy Hop at the Savoy Ballroom click here.
Hollywood also helped to spread the new dance craze, also called the Jitterbug. Herbert “Whitey” White’s dance troupe Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, which featured greats like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, helped put Lindy Hopping on the map with fast-paced, high-energy routines filled with lightning footwork and astounding aerials, such as this dance segment from the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’. Dean Collins was another important contributor to the evolution of the dance, creating what is described as the Hollywood or smooth style of Lindy. Shona Smith has noted the importance of Collins’s emphasis on breaking down the dance into teachable components.
With the swing revival in the 1980s and 1990s, the Lindy Hop soared again to great popularity with bands such as the Brian Setzer Orchestra, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy topping the music charts. The dancers of the 1990s put heavy emphasis on aerial work, but more recently, the focus has shifted to close attention to technique.
Characteristics of Lindy
The Lindy Hop is incredibly exuberant and, as Peter Renzland has described it, “unabashedly joyful.” A versatile dance, Lindy can be fast and wild or slower and smoother. Regardless of pacing, strength and stamina are two essentials for Lindy Hoppers.
Rooted in a wide range of dance forms, Lindy Hop combines European and African influences in a particularly American way. From traditional European ballroom dance, Lindy Hop took its partnering and structure, and from African forms of dance, it took its rhythm and grounded aesthetic. This blending of dance cultures creates the distinctive look and feel of Lindy.
The Lindy Hop is characterized by strong partner connection, counterbalance, and relaxed, grounded posture. The basic step is the swing out which emphasizes long lines and symmetrical movement but also allows for a range of styling as partners move from open to closed hold.
Musicality of Lindy
True to its roots in the 1920s and 1930s, Lindy Hop is typically danced to swing music and features strong interplay between the music and the dance with an emphasis on improvisation. One of the distinctive elements of swing music is its use of hits and breaks, and the best Lindy Hoppers will watch for these and reflect them in the dance. In Lindy, the key is to relax, have fun, and follow the music.
Step patterns are danced in six and eight counts. Modern Lindy is most often danced in eight count. Lindy Hop time signatures are typically 2/4 or 4/4. It can be danced at a wide range of speeds, but the majority of Lindy Hoppers prefer between 150 to 200 bpm when dancing Lindy. Above 230 bpm, most dancers switch to Balboa or the collegiate shag.