Just as Jazz combines European and African musical origins, the Lindy Hop incorporates African rhythms and styling, European partnering elements, and a wholly American-created partner breakaway to create a unique American dance form done to American music: Hot Jazz, Swing Jazz and Jump Blues. It is a mostly 8 count dance which evolved along side with the new Swing Jazz music, and was based on a mixing of earlier dances such as the Breakaway (the precursor to Lindy Hop) and the Charleston. It is considered to be the first official swing dance.
It is said that Lindy Hop drove the creation of Swing Jazz by encouraging the musicians to adapt to the dynamics of the dance. It is argued, also, that it is the opposite, that the music drove the development of Lindy Hop. In truth, what is most likely to be the case is that both are true: The dancers and the live bands drove each others development by playing off of each other -- each squared off against the other in a kind of traditional cutting contest, not just between dancers or between band members, but between dancer and musician.
Although many have said that Lindy Hop is a strictly 8 count dance (meaning it would take 8 beats of music to complete a single dance step) this is not true. This is a fact confirmed even by Frankie Manning, popular for passing on his knowledge of the dance to the latest generation, who has indicated that Lindy has been a mixture of various 8, 6, 4, and 10 count moves. Its not the timing of the moves that's important, its the feel that counts.
Some of Its HistoryLindy Hop's birthplace was the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. On March 26, 1926, the Savoy opened its doors, and would soon become the epicenter of the Lindy Hop world. The Savoy -- the first integrated ballroom -- was an immediate success with its block-long, 4000 person capacity dance floor, and a raised double bandstand. Nightly dancing attracted most of the best dancers in the New York area. Stimulated by the presence of great dancers and the best bands. The music at the Savoy at the time it opened was largely Hot Jazz and a newly emerging Swing Jazz. Lindy Hoppers competed in massive dance contests every week as two big bands (one on each end of the dance floor) played.
July 4, 1928. On the 18th day of a non-stop dance marathon at the Marathon Casino, the NYC Board of Health had finally closed down the event. Four of the original 80 couples were left standing. Contestant number 7, Savoy Ballroom dance star "Shorty" George Snowden, and his partner shared the prize with the other three couples. Earlier, when the event was still in full swing, people could post a small cash prize with the emcee for a brief mini-contest among the survivors. This was the backdrop in which Shorty's spontaneous throw-out breakaway, and a flash footwork improv, capturing media attention. "What are you doing with your feet?" asked the Fox Movie Tone News interviewer. "The Lindy Hop," replied Shorty George -- Charles A. Lindbergh (aka "Lindy") had recently "hopped" the Atlantic, landing on May 21, 1927. From Shorty George's ad hoc reply, the Lindy Hop was officially given a name.
"Jitter" was the Jazz culture slang for alcohol, and thus a "Jitterbug" was a term for those who drank a lot of alcohol. However, in the mid 1930's, the Lindy Hop started to be called the Jitterbug when the band leader Cab Calloway introduced a tune in 1934 entitled "Jitterbug."
By 1942, the Lindy Hop would be fully renamed as the Jitterbug Jive, or more commonly as the "Jitterbug." It would later share this same name with a later related dance, but the reason why the Lindy Hop was renamed appears to go back to the man referred to as "Lindy" : Charles Lindbergh. Although Charles Lindburgh had been previously praised and celebrated as a hero, his outspoken pro-nazi stance leading up to World War 2 caused him, and his name, to become an object to be shunned. Much like saurkraut was renamed from its German name into the politically correct "liberty cabbage," the Lindy Hop was renamed the Jitterbug Jive, and later on, just the Jitterbug. In time, the term "Lindy Hop" would almost be forgotten about.
Several personal styles of Lindy Hop existed on the floor of the Savoy Ballroom. Two main styles of Lindy Hop would continue after the swing era ended : Frankie Manning's "Savoy Style" and Dean Collins' "Hollywood Style". During the 40's and 50's and later, other styles of swing dance would evolve out of Lindy Hop, including West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Rockabilly Swing, Boogie Woogie, Jive, Shag, Bop, Balboa, Imperial, Whip and Push.
The Swing Dance EraMany of the dancers in 1920's (who were mostly African-Americans) were teaching many of the "White Folks" how to Lindy, thus, they were making a honorable living in a very racist period of time. This became very competitive among some of African-American dancers, some would clip papers to their back with phone numbers or a studio name written on them while they danced. If you liked the way a dancer danced, you could then get in touch with them and take lessons. Through this type of competition, the dancers would start to do more wild and crazy stuff to get the attention of the spectators.
Dance contests became more and more "attention getting". In the 1930's a dancer named Frankie Manning added the first aerial into the Lindy. Aerials (lifts, flips, and other "air steps") had been done for years in a few other dances through exhibitions by professional club entertainers, but supposedly had not yet been done in the Lindy Hop.
Frankie and his partner worked out a back flip they had seen, and they added it to their performance at a dance contest in an effort to beat the then Savoy Ballroom "king" dancer, George Snowden. As a result, they both won the contest, and inspired the development of a new aspect of the dance.
Films such as Hellzapoppin and Day at the Races, as well as Malcolm X and Swing Kids show seemingly reckless aerials, often done at very fast musical tempos. Far from being just acrobatic antics, aerials are in fact smooth, extremly precise, and in synch with the music. They require a superb degree of expertise and are not danced socially, but only for performance, if only inside a protective ring of spectators, called a Jam Circle. Aerials are impressive and spectacular, so that's what you see in the movies, not on the social dance floor.
In the early 1930's, Hubert "Whitey" White was the head bouncer at the Savoy and noticing an opportunity to make some cash, he decided to form a group called "Whitey's Hopping Maniac's", later to be known as "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers". It was a pretty open market for him : his only competition was the first generation Savoy Ballroom dance troupe, "Shorty George and His Dancers," who were doing most of the exhibitions and shows around town in ballrooms and clubs such as the Cotton Club.
White had auditions and picked some dancers to start his group. During the Lindy Hoppers reign, the Lindy was to take on a newer "Sophisticated or cleaned up look." The Hoppers went on to become the main swing groups of the time and traveled all over the world performing in many exhibitions, movies, and stage shows. It is from this group that the modern version of Lindy Hop is derived. Frankie Manning, a long time member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and later founder of the Congaroos, would pass on his version of "Savoy Style" Lindy Hop to later generations.
Savoy style Lindy Hop, as taught by Frankie Manning, Ryan Francois, and Steven Mitchell, has the lightest, gentlest, and smoothest connection of all the common Swing dances. It is solid, low, relaxed and energetic.