A Brief History of Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop was born in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theater, politics and scholarship centered in Harlem, New York City. The creation of African American dancers, it was a fusion of jazz dances including the Charleston and Breakaway.
The story goes that "Shorty" George Snowden and Mattie Purnell invented the dance in 1928 during a dance marathon at the Rockland Palace Ballroom in New York. Snowden later christened it the “Lindy Hop”, possibly as a variation on the earlier (unrelated) “Lindbergh Hop”, named in honour of aviator Charles Lindbergh.
The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem was one of the most important and influential places for the birth and development of Lindy Hop in the late 1920s and well into the 1930s and 40s. The Savoy was one of the few racially integrated ballrooms in a time of racial segregation in the USA.
In the 1930s and 40s, Lindy Hop became part of popular dance culture in the US. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a troupe of some of the best Savoy dancers, went tour in the USA and internationally, and featured in films and musicals. The classic lindy scene from Hellzapoppin' showcases the amazing athleticism and musicality of these performers.
Lindy also found its way to the UK just before World War II, rather than being introduced by American soldiers as is popularly imagined. That said, black GIs did recall getting a warm welcome in the UK, and teaching jitterbugging in British dance halls.
Lindy Hop's popularity declined after the War with the end of the swinging jazz era. The Savoy Ballroom closed in 1958. Though dedicated Lindy Hoppers still danced, Lindy passed out of popular consciousness.
In the early 1980s, some Swedish, American, and British dancers came across some of the old footage of the Savoy dancers and wanted to learn Lindy. They went to New York and sought out the original dancers, most notably Frankie Manning, Louise "Mama Lu" Parks, and Al Minns. The revival of popular interest in Lindy began, and the dance eventually spread worldwide. Frankie spent the last 25 years of his life travelling all over the world spreading his love of the dance, before passing away in 2009 at the age of 94.
Want to know more?
The Frankie Manning Foundation has articles and videos about Frankie and the other Savoy dancers.
EstiloSwing on YouTube has many videos on swing dancers and musicians, including remastered versions of classic dance scenes from films. It's in Spanish, but most of the videos have English subtitles.
Kendra Unruh's paper May We Have Have This Dance?: Cultural Ownership of the Lindy Hop from the Swing Era to Today describes "the evolution and appropriation of the Lindy Hop as it transformed from a black, working-class dance in the early twentieth century to a white, middle-class dance by the swing revival in the 1990s".