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Whats Lindy Hop?

Swing’s The Thing

 

Imagine the scene; a new club opens up in downtown Harlem, New York City. The club is so huge it takes up an entire block. There are two stages at the venue, one at the north end, the other at the south end. That’s how big the dance floor is, huge enough to hold 5000 dancers.

 

The best bands come and play to a packed audience all night long. If the band's fail to please the crowd, they don’t get a second gig. The audience are a bunch of kids who dance wildly and energetically to all the latest tunes. They improvise their own dances and inspire one another to create ever more wild moves.

 

There is panic in some quarters, fear that the youth of today is being corrupted, that the moral fabric of society is being eroded, and that the kids are out of control.

 

The year was 1926, the age of the roaring twenties and all that jazz. The Savoy Ballroom, Harlem, had opened and soon became a magnet for the young, mainly black, Americans.

 

In common with other dance clubs, Frankie Manning recalls, how the outrageous Charleston, was being banned. To get around this setback, the dancers developed a partner dance, a running Charleston. This evolved into a breathtaking dance which was to be christened the Lindy Hop (after press headlines about Charles Lindbergh hopping across the Atlantic).

 

New steps evolved each night and the dance style refined, although never losing its immediacy and excitement.

 

Almost a decade later, the swing era and the Lindy Hop literally soared to new heights.

 

Dance competitions had remained popular since the 1920’s. In 1935 there was a legendary contest, almost a showdown, between Frankie Manning partnered by Freda Washington and the hugely popular Shorty George Snowden partnered by big Bea.

 

The astonished crowd of 2000 witnessed the first Lindy air step ever done. Freda Washington soared over Frankie’s back and landed safely continuing their routine. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd applauded like never before. Needless to say Manning and his partner won the competition.

 

The Lindy Hop had literally been catapulted into a new era. Herbert “Whitey” White, an African American, with a distinctive white streak in his hair, organised a group of dancers into a professional performance troupe. Known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and choreographed by Frankie Manning, they toured the U.S. and the globe, for the next five years, popularising Lindy Hop worldwide until the outbreak of war.

 

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers disbanded after World War II but the Lindy Hop dance continued in the form of Manning’s Congaroo Dancers. They enjoyed continuing success appearing with their swing contemporaries like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr, and Dean Martin.

 

By 1954 the mass popularity of the swing era was coming to a close. A new youth culture was emerging and would provoke a similar outcry to that of 1926.

 

Lindy Hop had survived from 1926 to 1954, continually re-inventing itself.

 

A phenomenon that spanned almost 30 years, capturing generations of young people from the roaring twenties to the big band swing era, was destined not to die.

 

Since the mid 1980’s the Lindy Hop has been re-emerging across the globe once more. Amazingly Frankie Manning has had a second incarnation, celebrating his 90th birthday last year, he continues to teach and inspire a new generation to Lindy Hop.

 

If you feel that it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, the Lindy Hop could be the dance for you.

 

We can’t promise you the Savoy Ballroom but every Wednesday, at St. Luke’s Church hall, we learn original Lindy Hop steps. Come and learn this invigorating partner dance in a friendly atmosphere.

 

Our class attracts people from all backgrounds and our beginner class is designed for those with no Lindy Hop experience.

 

Each week our charismatic teacher, Geof Connolly, inspires us to tackle new moves in a fun way.

 

Come alone or with a partner. A dance partner is not essential as we all rotate. By the end of the lesson you will have danced with everyone in the class.

 

Remember, it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing! See you there.

 

 

By Anna Richardson

January 2005

(There is also some information on Lindy Hop on the BBC site)

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