The History Of Lindy Hop In the nineteen twenties there was the Charleston dance craze, whilst before that ballroom dancing was the thing. Ballroom dancing is, like Lindy Hop, partner dancing. In other words couples dance together, in physical contact. Also in the nineteen twenties there was a degree of racial segregation in the USA, which meant that ballrooms like the Savoy in Harlem were mostly frequented by black dancers, ballrooms like the Roseland mostly frequented by whites. Although the Savoy was the first ballroom not to be officially segregated, so white dancers could, and did, go there in small numbers. The big bands of the era sometimes had black and white musicians, less so in the early days when most were one or the other. In the Savoy ballroom in Harlem, as early as nineteen twenty six, (the Savoy opened its doors for the first time in March nineteen twenty six), black musicians were experimenting and leading the way, swing music was emerging. The Charleston dance craze was declining. Later, the new musical style would be copied by Benny Goodman. Some historians credit the start of the swing age to a later tour by Benny Goodman, nineteen thirty five in fact, which is actually somewhat after the fact! Benny Goodman had listened to the musicians in Harlem and his band were swing pioneers, as far as white folks were concerned. A great band they were too, but they were not the first innovators of the genre. By the thirties Benny Goodman was playing swing on his late night radio slot in New York and when he went on tour he struggled, well he struggled in New York and all stations west until he got to California where they were queued around the block. The reason being that his late night New York radio programme was being picked up at peak time all those miles west, different time zone of course, and the people loved it. Officially this is when the swing age was born. However, go back to nineteen twenty six in Harlem and you'd find black dancers there were experimenting with new moves to fit the new music, from Fletcher Henderson primarily and they’d adapted Charleston moves to fit their new style too. The new dance didn’t really have a name. It’s been suggested that they called it the breakaway, because in ballroom male dancers kept the lady close, but in the new dance she was 'swung out'. Others say breakaway is rather the original name for a move which today is called a swing out and that the dance was simply called The Hop. So to 1927. There were dance marathons then, remember the movie ‘They Shoot Horse’s Don’t They’. It was at a dance marathon, so the story goes that a newspaper journalist asked a black dancer by the name of Shorty George Snowden “hey, what’s that new dance you’re doing?” Presumably no one outside the Savoy had seen it much. Well George, who has a dance step named after him, the ‘Shorty George’ unsurprisingly, was a bit of a wit. Furthermore, that week or maybe even that day a young man called Charles Lindbergh had made the first solo aeroplane flight across the Atlantic, non stop. America was in love with its new hero and a newspaper headline had read (reputedly, although I've been unable to find it) ‘Lucky Lindy Hops The Atlantic’. “We call it the Lindy Hop” quipped George and so a new dance craze was born.
The dance had its apogee in the forties and went through the dark days of wartime, surviving into the fifties when smaller, less costly rock and roll bands put the big bands out of business. Well mostly, it was still possible to find some swing even in the ironically named swinging sixties, and jazz of course goes on through every storm and changing fashion. Music like all the creative arts and indeed sciences has to progress, Rock and Roll, Bill Haley and Elvis they were the immediate future in the early fifties. Swing and swing dance had ruled the roost for twenty five years a remarkable thing when you look at popular music today. In that time swing produced a great variety of great music, and the dancers innovated so many steps and styles that you could learn the Lindy Hop for a lifetime and still not know it all. For more on the subject see the book 'Of Land, Sea and Sky'. www.oflandseaandsky.com