Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just Dance: The Lindy Hop aka Jitterbug

This is Savoy style lindy hop done by Whiteys Lindy Hoppers in 1941. Its from the movie Hellzapoppin and it is probably the most famous clip of the dance. Lindy came out of the Savoy ballroom in Harlem in the early 30s. Essentially, the lindy hop was a completely made up dance but it incorporated Charleston, jazz and tap elements. The main highlights of the dance are the swing out and the high flying aerials, which were considered 'lewd' at that time. The aerials are credited to Frankie Manning who continued to dance and teach lindy hop until his death in 2009. This style of Lindy was much more energetic and 'wild' than its later incarnations and as Frankie put it, there was no one style of the dance because everyone at the Savoy had their own style.

Lindy hop, now being called the Jitterbug, swept the nation and before long it was being danced in all the movies. It was also a great way for GI's to have some fun and let loose during the war. This clip from 1941's Buck Privates features the Andrews Sisters who were hugely popular during the 4o's swing era. It also shows Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan dancing, who are my personal favorites. She was the queen of the swivel and he was the king of footwork. He is credited with bringing the Lindy Hop from New York (he actually danced at the Savoy) to California and making it popular in the movies. His smoothed out style became the basis of "Hollywood style" during the 90s resurgence of swing.

1943's Groovy Movie is an essential watch for dancing buffs. Created as an instructional dance video it shows how to do styling moves such as pecking, boogie woogie, and the Shorty George. It features Jean Veloz, the queen of the quick stop, and her fabulous wedges. The dance sequence is amazing and done totally tongue in cheek in that great 40's way. There is also a fabulous footwork shot of the shag, filmed underneath them. Basically this short film captures all the fun and shenanigans that take place when dancing the Jitterbug.

In the 50s big bands were out and Rock and Roll was in. Gone were the large ballrooms. Now kids were dancing in soda shops to juke box records. Most people don't realize though that the kids were still jitterbugging, only now it was to R&B, Jump Blues and Rockabilly. As the music got faster, however, the dance got stripped down and lost most of the complicated elements that made it what it was. Social partner dancing would go in and out of style for the next 30 years.

Enter the 90s with Swing Kids, Swingers, Jump, Jive and Wail and that darned GAP commercial and there was a whole new Swing craze. Everyone wanted to learn how to swing, even though the new dance being taught was just an extremely stripped down version of the lindy hop. It did, however, get everyone dancing. All of a sudden people were looking back to the Golden era and doing everything they could to copy it. Soon though, the real Lindy Hop would make a comeback and show everyone how it was supposed to be done.

The Rhythm Hot Shots in 1994. A recreation of the dance scene done by Whiteys Lindy Hoppers in 1937's Day at the Races.

Erik and Sylvia 1998. The return of Hollywood Style Lindy Hop.

Lindy Hop today incorporates more jazz elements than ever before. Its much more musical and complicated with a big dose of the 30s rather than the 40s. Solo Charleston is also back in a big way. Todays Lindy is less about copying the old styles and more about inventing new ways to dance the Lindy Hop. Hip Hop Lindy, West Coast, and Blues are just a few of the modern ways to dance the Jitterbug. The personal style has also changed. People are not 'dressing the part' as much as they used to. Now they are wearing modern, trendy clothes. Its all about taking an old dance and modernizing it.

On a personal note: My favorite style is Hollywood style. I love the fluidity and grace in all the movements. Jewel McGowan is my dance icon and I worked very hard to perfect my swivel. I prefer dancing Lindy to big band music rather than 30's jazz or blues. Solo Charleston is very strange to me. I respect it but I just don't get it. A lot of the movement done in todays Lindy Hop is rather awkward looking in my opinion. I included the clip of Max and Annie because I think they do an amazing job of modernizing the dance while still respecting its history. It'll be interesting to see how this dance continues to change as time goes by, because I don't see it going away any time soon!


  1. GREAT post! I did the Lindy Hop a couple of times at my Prom in 2008 and after "Jump Jive and Wail" was over I had a grilfriend ask me "What the HELL WAS THAT?!" I told her the Lindy Hop and that it was form the 30's. She just couldnt belive it that you could dance that close and cut a rug and be DANCING not doing this bump and grind stuff. It was the highlight of my evening :)

  2. Prom in 2008??? Wow. I feel my age!! lol! Yes, the lindy hop is a great dance. Its so much fun to just get out there and fly around the dancefloor.


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