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Jenny and Toby

Lindy Hop

Swing and Nightclub

The origins of Lindy Hop can be traced to the swinging Savoy Ballroom, which opened in Harlem in 1926. With a dance floor that was a block long and a raised stage, the Savoy attracted some of the best bands and dancers in the world during its 32 year history. According to one scholar, the swing dance called the Lindy Hop first saw the light of day at the Savoy. The Lindy was named after Charles Lindbergh, who had become a household name after his solo flight across the Atlantic. This partner dance was characterized by a "breakaway" or solo part, said to have been invented by "Shorty George" Snowden, which allowed the male dancer in particular to strut his stuff. The dance's acrobatic and airborne steps may have caused the association with Lindbergh and his historic flight.

Lindy Hop emphasized creativity, improvisation and individualization. This led naturally to a proliferation of dance styles. Some dancers not only had their own "moves" but emphasized certain dance elements or specialized in dancing at certain tempos. This differentiation was further encouraged by the distance between cities where dancing occurred. People learned from the dancers who were available to them locally, and there was no television or video to memorialize how people danced in other parts of the country. What became known as Balboa was swing done at its very fastest. St. Louis Shag emphasized dancing in one place without rotation, Jitterbug emphasized aerials and flash moves, and so on.

Lindy Hop, Carolina Shag and West Coast Swing are the swing forms that focus most on tracking. Of these, Lindy focuses on a faster tempo and on break away movements. Carolina Shag focuses on leader flash steps, and allows the follower to call the patterns. West Coast Swing calls special attention to the slot not only because of its slower tempo but because it highlights follower "flash" steps. The 1940,s was a pivotal decade for change in swing dancing. Bands substituted bass and guitar for tuba and banjo in their rhythm sections, the dance smoothed out and Jitterbug's wild movement began to be discouraged, and the name Swing became generally applied to the dance. World War II took the dance to Europe where it evolved into Jive. In 1943 the New York Society of Teachers of Dancing became one of the first associations to recognize the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug as formal dances. However, dance teacher's refinements for upper class social and competitive dancing eliminated the head jerks, hop thrusts, acrobatics, etc that had previously been integral to the dance. After World War II, a Federal tax on dance halls put most big bands out of business. In California, dancers migrated to blues clubs and changed their dancing to fit the new music and the smaller dance spaces. For a time, these changes resulted in a national trend toward a straight tracked (slotted) form known as "West Coast Swing".

Dance histories supplied by Diane Jarmolow of the Ballroom Dance Teachers College and reprinted with permission.