The Swing Dance Era


Many of the dancers in 1920s (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 1930s 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 Maniacs", 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.

Dean Collins learned to dance the Lindy Hop at the Savoy, and developed his own personal style. His own style was smoother and slower, and he brought that style to Los Angeles and Hollywood in the early 1930's. Dean Collins' style of swing, often called "Smooth Lindy," would be used in many of the movies in Hollywood, thus this style is also referred to as "Hollywood." In San Diego, California, Smooth Lindy later slowed even further, and took on far more 6 beat moves than Lindy Hop had, and a very strict slotted motion for the lady -- this became known as West Coast Swing. West Coast is most often danced to Blues instead of Swing music, and is the official state dance of California.

The main way to tell if the "old movies" (1930-50's) feature Lindy, Smooth Lindy, or East Coast Swing is:
1) If they do Sugar pushes its Smooth Lindy (Dean Collins choreography).
2) If no Sugar push its Lindy (Whitey's group).
3) If, however, there is no Sugar push, Whip, or Lindy Circle, then it is East Coast Swing (later standard movie choreographers).

In 1943, Life magazine featured a cover story on the lindy hop proclaiming it "America's national dance" and the country's "only native and original dance form" except for tap dance.


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