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
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
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
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
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
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
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
By Anna Richardson