This article was written by Sharon Davis for In Retrospect Magazine.
Lindy Hop is a partnered swing dance that evolved from the Charleston in the late 1920s and flourished in the Swing Era of the 1930s and 40s. It spread from the ballrooms of Harlem, New York, across the United States and to the rest of the world. In Europe it was often called the Jitterbug. You might have heard of other dances like Jive, Boogie Woogie, Rock ‘n Roll, Rockabilly, West Coast Swing or Ceroc – these dances all evolved out of Lindy Hop over the decades after World War II. Lindy Hop is the mother of them all – the original swing dance!
Lindy Hop is alive and kicking today, with thriving social dance scenes in all major cities. Here are 8 reasons why you’ll love it.
1. THE MUSIC IS INFECTIOUS
By definition, swing dancing just means dancing to swing music. “Swing music” means swinging jazz, the pop music of the late 1920s through to the 1940s.
Swing was made for dancers, it’s irresistibly toe-tapping! When you hear this, you’re going to want to dance, and Lindy Hop is the dance to do.
Sometimes there’s a DJ, and sometimes a live jazz band. Swing dancing to live music is an intoxicating experience – the horns blaring, the rhythm section driving, the dance floor bouncing. Experience it once and you’ll be hooked.
2. IT’S FOR EVERYONE
Lindy Hop can be danced to fast or slow tempos. It can be wild and energetic, or it can be smooth and sexy. You’ll find all ages on the dance floor – twenty-somethings, sixty-somethings, all dancing together. Lindy Hop is perfect for all levels of fitness too.
3. TOUCH SOMEBODY!
Lindy Hop is all about tactile communication with your partner – meaning, it’s time to touch somebody! Human contact is good for the soul and sorely missing in modern social scenarios. Since the 1960s, popular dances have been done solo, but partner dances are now making a comeback.
In Lindy Hop there is a leader, who controls the dance, and a follower who follows the moves and footwork initiated by the leader. Traditionally the leader is male and the follower female, but today Lindy Hoppers often do both.
Once you’ve learned some fundamental lead/follow techniques, you can dance with anyone. This connection and communication is hugely satisfying, and every dance becomes a physical conversation. Learn the language of dance.
4. JUST LIKE MAGIC
People seeing Lindy Hop at a party for the first time, often presume it must be a routine. The moves are so complex, the footwork so synchronised, there are so many different positions, yet the couple is so together – surely it’s a choreography that they’ve practiced for tonight.
Not so! In a show you might see a Lindy Hop routine, but at a party everyone is social dancing, meaning it’s totally improvised. The dance you are watching is being spontaneously created, in that very moment, like magic.
All those steps, that fancy footwork, the spins and turns and kicks and breaks – the leader is thinking it up on the spot, leading it through the connection, so the follower can feel what to do. They can even lead their partner to do a step they have never done before! Magic.
5. BE YOURSELF
Unlike some other dance forms, Lindy Hop is all about developing your own unique style. One swing dancer might look completely different to another, even though they are doing exactly the same step.
With good technique, your style won’t interrupt the connection to your partner, so the opportunities for individual expression are endless – you can be as acrobatic or as smooth, as wild or as graceful, as goofy or as cool as you like.
6. TIME TO GET SOCIAL
Lindy Hop is a street dance (as opposed to a standardised ballroom or classical dance), and above all it’s a social dance. In the 1930s and 40s, everyone went out dancing to find a sweetheart and see their friends. This social spirit remains.
In classes you will rotate partners, so you don’t need to bring a dance partner to learn. If you’re a follower, you will meet every leader in the room during class, or vice versa.
At a party, beginners and advanced dancers all dance together, and the social atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Both men and women ask each other for dances, and invitations are rarely refused. So go and ask that girl with the flower in her hair!
7. FLY IF YOU WANT TO
Lindy Hop is most famous for its high-flying acrobatic “airsteps,” but if that’s not for you, don’t worry. When you go to a Lindy Hop party, you generally won’t see anyone’s feet leaving the ground. It’s not safe to do acrobatics in a crowded ballroom anyway, and plenty of Lindy Hoppers never learn any airsteps. If gravity is your friend, it can stay that way.
But if you’re interested in defying the laws of physics, Lindy Hop provides! With a partner you trust, you can learn to back flip, front flip, fly, soar and float through the air. It’s a great workout too – and way more fun than the gym!
8. WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES
There’s also a universe of swing culture to immerse yourself in. The swing dance community is home to passionate jazz music devotees, as well as enthusiasts of the history, films and fashion of the Swing Era.
And of course, swing dancing doesn’t end at Lindy Hop. There are a variety of jazz and swing era dances, including Charleston, Balboa, Shag and the Big Apple, all of which are still danced today.
And fancy a dancing holiday? If you want to spread your wings, swing dancing is everywhere! There are festivals and dance camps all over the world, and Lindy Hoppers love to travel for their hobby. Swing tourism is a big thing.