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Lindy Hop

Dance Music

Lindy Hop

Lindy Hop is an African American vernacular dance which evolved in Harlem, New York, United States in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It is frequently described as either a jazz dance (in reference to its close relationship with the development of jazz music, particularly Swing - Lindy Hop was developed to Jazz Music, and in it's turn helped evolve Jazz music in response to the dance) or as a street dance, a term which means much the same as vernacular dance. It is a member of the swing dance family.

Originally an Afro-American dance, Lindy Hop combines the movements and improvisation of African dances with the formal 8-count structure of European dances. Lindy hop combines elements of solo dancing with partner dancing in its foundational step the swingout, where the European partner dancing format was adapted to allow men and women to dance together in closed position (a practice usually forbidden in African dances), and yet also to improvise 'alone' in open position without disturbing the structure and flow of the dance.

Lindy Hop is an organic fusion of many of the dances which preceded it and were popular during its development, but is predominantly based on jazz, tap, Breakaway and the Charleston.

Lindy Hop History

Born in African American communities in Harlem, New York in the United States in the 1920s as the breakaway, the development of breakaway into lindy hop is popularly associated with dancers such as "Shorty" George Snowden, though perhaps the most famous surviving lindy hopper today is Frankie Manning. Al Minns and Leon James, as well as surviving dancer Norma Miller also feature prominently in contemporary histories of lindy hop.

Lindy hop entered mainstream American culture in the 1930s, popularised by touring dance troupes (including the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, which was also known as the Harlem Congaroos), dance sequences in films (such as Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races (film) and other features with white dancer Dean Collins) and dance studios (such as those of Arthur Murray and Irene and Vernon Castle).

Lindy Hop moved off-shore in the 1930s and 40s, again in films and news reels, but also with American troops stationed overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other allied nations. Despite their banned status in countries such as Germany, lindy hop and jazz were also popular in other European countries during this period.

Lindy hop disappeared from popular culture in the 1950s as rock and roll music and dancing replaced jazz, and jazz itself cooled and moved towards bebop. Though it was still danced in isolated pockets throughout the world, in the 2000s there are very few dancers still alive who were dancing lindy in the 1930s or 40s.

In the 1980s American and European dancers (such as Sylvia Sykes and the The Rhythm Hot Shots respectively) went about 'reviving' lindy hop using archival films such as Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races and by contacting surviving dancers such as Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Norma Miller, Jewel McGowan and Dean Collins. The popularity of neo swing music stimulated mainstream interest in the dance, and led to the founding of local lindy hop communities in many cities. Lindy hop is now popular in many countries around the world.

Lindy Hop Today (2000 to Present)

Lindy Hop Scenes around the world

While the United States is home to the largest number of lindy hoppers in the world, there are thriving communities throughout Europe (Including Russia, the Ukraine, Hungary and other Eastern European countries, England, Ireland, Spain, France, Nederlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Lithuania), in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The small village of Herräng in Sweden (north of Stockholm) has unofficially become the international Mecca of Lindy Hop due to the annual Herräng Dance Camp. Los Angleles also features prominently, with scores of clubs like The Brown Derby and Sugar Foot Stomp, lots of exchanges, and the annual Camp Hollywood.

Lindy Hop tends to be concentrated in small local scenes in different cities in each of these countries, although regional, national, and international dance events bring dancers from many of these scenes together. It is worth noting that the local swing dance communities in each city and country (for whom lindy hop is almost always the most important dance) feature different local cultures, though they do share common general traditions and practices.

Many Internet forums have emerged in these dance scenes. These message boards serve to provide information to dancers about Lindy Hop and dance events in the geographic area. Yehoodi has become the largest of these and now caters to an international audience, although many smaller local forums (such as Swingmonkey) also exist. Local swing dance related internet forums often reflect the local variations in scenes' cultures and dancing. Because swing dancers travel to dance quite regularly, internet forums are an important medium for communication between local scenes, and for dancers visiting a particular city or country.

Lindy Hop dancing today

Lindy Hop today is a living art form and difficult to describe with a single sweeping definition. In general, however, it is possible to say that Lindy Hop continues to develop through the study of historic Jazz dance and the elegance and fluidity of motion as well as relentless energy demonstrated by the original Lindy Hop dancers. It is also the product of contemporary dance and musical influences.

Lindy Hop as it is danced today varies not only between local scenes through the influence of local cultures and teachers, but as individual dancers model their movements on the styles of influential dancers of both contemporary and past eras. These historical influences may include the African American lindy hoppers of the Savoy Ballroom (including Frankie Manning and the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers), white dancers from the west coast (including Dean Collins and Jewell McGowan), or dancers from even more specific periods in history. The 'style wars' of the 1990s and early 2000s (where lindy hoppers debated the relative merits of different eras and dancers) resulted in terms such as Savoy-Style Lindy Hop (generally associated with original New York City African American dancers) and Hollywood-Style Lindy Hop (based on the Lindy Hop of white dancers in Hollywood films). The current international lindy hopping community recognises a far greater diversity not only in lindy hop styles than is accounted for by these two terms, but also in swing dances more generally.

Lindy hop today is not only influenced by historic dance forms, but also by popular contemporary dances and music such as Soul, Groove, Funk, hip hop (styling and music), West Coast Swing and Salsa while others explore Jazz, Tap. Blues and other Traditional Jazz and Afro-American dances as resources to expand and enrich Lindy Hop.

Social, performance and competition dancing

Many dancers with an interest in lindy hop as a historical dance insist that social dancing is essential to developing the skills of an accomplished dancer. These dancers frequently cite Frankie Manning's insistence that his dance troupes social dance every night as well as train for performances, in order to maintain their dancing at its highest level. Lindy hop today, however, is danced as a social dance, as a competitive dance, as a performance dance and in classes and workshops.

In each, partners may dance alone or together, with improvisation a central part of social dancing and many performance and competition pieces. Solo sequences in Lindy Hop are sometimes executed as part of a partner dance when one or both of the partner initiates a "breakaway" causing the partners to separate their connection and dance solo with each other using (if at all) visual lead and follow cues. These sequences may include Charleston moves, traditional Jazz moves (such as boogie steps, shorty george (dance move), Suzie Q (dance move), etc.) and contemporary jazz and modern dance movements.

Choreographed routines are frequently danced on the social floor as well as in competitions, performances and classes, including:

the Shim Sham
Jitterbug Stroll
Lindy Chorus
Madison (dance)
Big Apple
Tranky Doo
California Routine
First Stops

Social dancing

Social dancing etiquette and traditions

Social lindy hop dancing varies in each city and country, with each local scene having its own unique dance etiquette and social conventions. Generally, lindy hop is danced by a lead and follow (dance) partnership, with the lead most frequently being a man, and the follow being a woman. This gendering is not essential - men are as capable of dancing the follow role as women, and vice versa. In many local scenes women often feel more comfortable dancing with other women, though there are frequently wider social and cultural conventions which discourage men from dancing together.

Dance floor etiquette varies in each scene, where, for example, one scene may encourage men to ask women to dance, another encourage advanced dancers to ask beginners and in a third only friends ask each other to dance. In some scenes it is considered rude to leave a partner without having a second dance, and in many scenes there are unspoken conventions about teachers dancing with students, more experienced dancers dancing with beginners and so on. There are no consistent rules between local scenes, though there are often national or international patterns.

Social lindy hop not only involves partners dancing unchoreographed dances, but also a range of other traditions and activities. Jam circles, are a tradition dating back to the 1930s and earlier in African American vernacular dance culture, and have much in common with musical cutting contests in jazz. Malcolm X describes 'jam circles' in his autobiography as a loose circle forming around a couple or individual whose dancing was so impressive it captured the attention of dancers around them, who would stop and watch, cheering and clapping. This tradition continues in most lindy hop communities today, with other couples interrupting, joining, or replacing the original couple in the cleared 'circle'. Dancers usually leave or enter at the end of a musical phrase. Many lindy hoppers insist that these jams be unchoreographed, with dancers entering or leaving the circle independently, though many jams are choreographed, whether as part of a performance, or simply because a local scene does not practice unchoreographed jams. The jam format is often used to celebrate a special event (a birthday, engagement, wedding, etc), to welcome a visitor or to farewell a local. These jams are often announced by the DJ, the focus dancer or couple begin in a cleared circle, with other dancers gathering to clap and cheer. These watching dancers will 'cut in' or 'steal' one of the partners in a couple, or the 'special' dancer to dance with them in the circle until they are in turn replaced.

Social dancing events

Social dancing events run by dancers are diverse and vary in duration, theme and venues between local communities. Dancers usually distinguish between regular events or 'after-class' practice sessions, dancing to live bands at 'public' events not run by dancers and special 'dances' or the more formal ball (dance). Social dancing events may be held as part of a lindy exchange or camp, or be regular parts of the scene's calendar. Live bands frequently provide the opportunities for social dancing in many new or small scenes, and attract groups of dancers attending gigs at local bars or clubs to dance socially.

Social, dancer-run lindy hop dances are held in a range of spaces, from private parties to church and town halls, bars, gymnasiums, university halls, night clubs and pub function rooms. Individual events may attract anywhere from ten to a thousand dancers, and may run from as little as half an hour to all night. Music may be provided by DJs, by live bands, or by music left to play unattended on a sound system, depending on the local scene's conventions and the nature of that particular event. DJs and bands may play a range of music from the 1920s to today, tending to concentrate on big band music from the 1930s and 1940s. Bands can play a wide variety of music from big band standards to blues to original compositions. There are ongoing debates about the types of music most appropriate for lindy hop and other swing dances, with the discussions focussing on whether the music should be historically accurate (ie matching a dance style with the popular music of the day) or include other musical styles and forms.

Social dances attract dancers from a range of ages and backgrounds, and dress may range from rigorously 'vintage' or historically accurate to a particular 'swing era' (1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc) to casual sports or street wear, again depending on local culture and the event itself.

Performance dancing

Lindy Hop is a dynamic and exciting dance to watch. Lindy performances may combine choreographed routines, improvised sequences, solo and partner dancing and frequently feature the aerial (dance move)l steps for which it is perhaps most famous. Contemporary lindy hoppers often recreate or perform historical choreographed routines found in films or taught by 'swing era' dancers such as Frankie Manning. The most well known of these include the Lindy chorus, the 'Hellzapoppin routine from the film Hellzapoppin' and the Big Apple from the film Keep Punchin'. Performances are often held at social dancing events as part of a brief floor show, often to showcase a visiting teacher, a local troupe or to display a particular dance style. Solo performances and performances by couples are as important as troupes, and performances by all types are often integrated into a social dancing event rather than held as seperate events. There are exceptions to this, with the Rhythm Hot Shots touring internationally and holding swing dance shows as part of teaching tour. Lindy hop dance schools and clubs frequently include a performance troupe, with membership in these troupes determined by a range of factors, from general auditions, by invitation, as a prerequisite for a teaching position with a school or to display a rare dancing skill or style.

Performance groups that had an impact on the development of Lindy Hop include the following:

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (aka Harlem Congaroos, Hot Chocolates, the Big Apple Dancers), New York City, founded in 1935
The Rhythm Hot Shots, from Sweden, founded in 1985, now called the Harlem Hot Shots. The Hot Shots have been a major driving force in the worldwide revival of Lindy Hop from the 1980s onward.
Minnie's Moochers, Ithaca, New York
Loose Change, San Francisco, California. Blends Lindy Hop with hip hop and African-modern dance.
Silver Shadows - American/Swedish troupe comprised of young dancers performing historical African American lindy hop.

Lindy hop performance troupes are often quite different to a professional modern dance or ballet company. They are usually amateur groups, their members may vary in experience and ability, and they often serve as promotional vehicles for lindy hop schools and clubs. Lindy hop's nature as a predominantly social dance with its roots as a self-learned vernacular dance, combined with the comparative lack of experts, resources, and public demand in many local communities also contribute to its differences. As does the fact that most lindy hoppers come to the dance in the twenties or late teens.

Reasons to form or be in such a troupe vary, but usually belong to one or more of the following categories:

  • Artistic reasons (pursuing the art of dancing, and the continuous artistic expression through jazz dance and Lindy Hop),
  • Commercial reasons (to perform at paid "gigs" - essentially continuing the tradition of Vaudeville and supplying entertainment for those who pay for it),
  • Competition (to compete with a selected team, set choreographies and test one's skills versus other dance teams)
  • Practice (to enhance the dancers of the participating dancers, work on new materials or engage in dance movement that is not possible on the social dance floor - such as aerials or other moves that require pre-arranged agreement between the dancers/partners)
  • Pleasure (in performing or dancing)
  • Promotion for a particular lindy hop school or club, or to encourage people to take up the dance

Competition dancing

Competitions have a long history in lindy hop, from the informal dance rivalries carried out in jam circles and on the social dance floor, to more formal competitions such as the Harvest Moon Ball competitions of the 1920s and 30s, where Shorty George Snowden is popularly attributed with naming the dance. Today, lindy hop competitions vary in form and intent, from lindy hop categories in ballroom dancing and Dancesport competition, to 'national' events run by particular schools or dancing associations, to competitions held as part of a camp or exchange weekend, to small and informal competitions in local communities. There are ongoing discussions and debates about the relevence of competitions in lindy hop culture, from criticisms that formal, showcase type events encourage a movement away from the improvised spontaneity and energy of lindy hop as a vernacular dance, to arguments that competitions hone dancing and performance skills. Whichever position a dancer takes on the issue, it is suffice to say that different competition forms and specific events develop different dancing skills and serve different social, political and economic purposes.

There are a range of competition types, and competition nights frequently feature categories in each of the following styles. There are some exceptions, such as the Hellzapoppin' competition, which only features the 'no-rules' competition format.

Almost all of these competitions are couple dances, though some involve elements of solo dancing. Many lindy hop competitions distinguish between professional and amateur dancers, include invitation-only categories, offer cash prizes and are judged by well respected lindy hop dancers. Most are not regulated by any national or international body.

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill (dance) competitions imitate social dancing. Dancers enter as individuals, as either a 'jack' (leader) or 'jill' (follower). Most competitions do not dictate jills be female or jacks male. There are, however, 'jack and jack' and 'jill and jill' competitions where men and women are paired seperately. Entrants are paired with partners randomly and then dance to music (whose duration varies). They are then allocated with another random partner. Jack and Jill competitions vary in strict format, with some ending at this point, and judges awarding points for performances to that stage. Many Jack and Jills often continue, with dancers paired with a third partner (or remaining with their second) for the remaining rounds of the competition. Partners dance to different tempo and style songs, either in 'all skates' where all dancers are on the floor, or 'shines' where couples take to the floor alone, usually at phrase-long intervals.

Entrants are judged on their ability to 'lead' and 'follow', though criteria and judging style and importance vary between competitions and scenes.


Entrants in showcase competitions perform choreographed performance routines. Showcases can be for pairs or groups (though usually not in the same competition), can involve pairings of 'amateur' and 'professional' dancers (pro-am), and can be judged by any combination of criteria.


The 2000s have seen the increasing popularity of lindy hop competitions 'without rules'. The Hellzapoppin' competition, named for the film Hellzapoppin', was held for the first time in 2002 and coordinated by the American Institute of Vernacular Jazz Dance. It was originally designed as an alternative to the strictly regulated and ruled 'showcase' type competitions which dominated the lindy hop competition culture at that time. These were frequently run by competitive or performance dance organisations such as Dancesport or by dancing acadamies who did not emphasise or promote social lindy hop dancing. The no-rules style competition was presented as an alternative to these formal competitions, and were designed to emphasise social dancing skills and some references to the vernacular dance tradition of lindy hop. The 'no-rules' approach was just that - any dance move or style was allowed - again a reaction to the heavily codified showcase style competitions. Despite this 'no-rules' mandate, couples are frequently disadvantaged if they use extensive choreography in their performance. No-rule competitions often involve some degree of audience approval judging.

These competitions usually involve the turn-taking and shine/all-skate formats described in the Jack and Jill section, though in a range of combinations. While they may also be invitation-only, they are frequently open to all competitors, from all experience levels.

Despite the emphasis on partner dancing in these sorts of competitions, there is often much interaction between competitors and between the audience and competitors, frequently in the employment of comic devices (such as "silly walks" or impersonations) or showy and physically impressive "stunt" moves such as aerial (dance move)s. This type of interaction is typical of the call and response of West African and African American music and dance. In this call and response, audiences and fellow competitors encourage dancers with cheers, shouts, applause, physical gestures and other feedback.

Lindy hop competitions

Some of the major Lindy Hop competitions include the following:

Hellzapoppin' Lindy Competition (a no-rules competition, held annually in the USA, though with local rounds in countries such as Australia)
Ultimate Lindy Hop Show Down (an American competition weekend including categories from all competitions styles)
American Lindy Hop Championship (an American competition with an emphasis on showcase categories)
Canadian Swing Championships
Harvest Moon Ball
National Jitterbug Championship
World Jitterbug Championship

Related swing dances

Lindy hop is commonly placed in the swing dance family. For more information about other swing dances see the swing dance article.

External links