Dance is the form of art that allows the dancers to express their emotions and ideas through body movements, gestures, facial expressions, and music. In addition, such attributes as decorations, lighting, and costumes allow the performers to tell stories using dance. Throughout human history, society has created a great variety of different styles of dance. Practically, each culture gave birth to new dance styles at various stages of its historical development. As a form of self-expression and art, dance has been popular ever since the beginning of times, and it is still extremely popular in the present days. This paper will provide a detailed description of one of such styles, its development in time, its impacts, origins, and the movements that helped to create it.
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The dance that this paper will focus on is called Lindy Hop. It emerged in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and eventually became rather popular all around the world. Lindy Hop is a living representation of how the mixture of cultural diversity in the United States resulted in the most unique and unpredictable combinations in dance and music. Lindy Hop is known for its versatile movements that originate from a wide range of different dances of the past. Lindy Hop has a rich history and an interesting background that will be described and analyzed in this paper. Besides, the essay will focus on the most important events related to this dance and its development.
Moreover, the most important historical figures and dancers related to the style of Lindy Hop will be described and discussed in detail in this paper. Their perspectives on the dance and what it represents are valuable because they allow one to see how this form of art used to be treated at the beginning of the 20th century during its first steps of development and how it is treated these days. As one may notice, the purpose of this essay is not only to collect descriptive material about a particular dance style but also to perform the analysis of the information applying critical thinking.
In this paper, Lindy Hop will be studied not just as a style of dance but as a social phenomenon that was formed and developed under the influence of a multitude of factors. Besides, all the aspects of this dance are going to be taken into consideration – the movements, the music, and its origin, dressing styles of the performers throughout the years, public perception of this form of art, groups and communities involved in it, political and cultural environments that accompanied its emergence, origins of its name, the dance itself, and its most recognizable movements, the factors that helped its development or prevented it, the contemporary value, and the points of view of the well-known performers on the meaning of the dance and its impact today and decades ago.
The Development of Lindy Hop
Definition of Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop is a dance typically performed by two partners, and it is also known as Lindy. This dance dates back to the 1920s and 30s and originates from Harlem, New York (Lindy Hop History 2015). The footwork of Lindy Hop was heavily impacted by such dances as Tap, Foxtrot, and Charleston, and it overall is built of six and eight count steps (Lindy Hop History 2015). The character of the dance can be versatile. Depending on the music and the performers’ style and vision it can be rather energetic and spontaneous, or relaxed and sophisticated.
Origin of the Name
During the first years of the development of Lindy Hop as a separate dancing style, a well-known historical event occurred. In 1927, the world-renowned pilot of the time, Charles Lindbergh accomplished his famous flight across the Atlantic (Swing History 101: The Birth of Lindy Hop (Early 1900s – 1929) 2013). The sensational news about the notorious and daring achievement of the pilot was all around the world spread by the newspapers. Fighting for the most noticeable and flashy headlines the newspapers began to use shorter words, and that is how Lindbergh’s flight eventually started to be referred to as “Lindy’s Hop” (Swing History 101: The Birth of Lindy Hop (Early 1900s – 1929) 2013).
At the same time, the dancers of Harlem focused on the development of the new dance style had brought it to the new level. The dance marathon taking place in Savoy Ballroom in New York was visited by many journalists. As the reporters asked about the name of the new dance, one of the forerunner dancers, George Snowden also known as Shorty quoted the flashy headlines that were all over the news comparing the dance to the flight of the well-known pilot and saying: “The Lindy Hop! We are flying just like Lindy did” (History of Lindy Hop n. d.).
The origin and background of the dance name demonstrates how tightly it was connected to the American culture and the historical events of the time. There is no other version of the dance name origin. In fact, hopping as a move is not even present in the dance itself, and that is why its name is a sign of the proud national spirit of its time bonding people throughout the communities and cultures.
Dance History Timeline
1926 – The dance begins to form as a mixture of moves borrowed from some well-known dancing styles such as Foxtrot, the Breakaway, the Black Bottom, and the Charleston.
1927 – After the famous flight of Charles Lindbergh the dance acquires its name. The historians still argue about the origins of the name and the interview with George “Shorty” Snowden as the true source because the flight of Lindbergh had such a huge cultural impact that many dance styles and moves might have been called that way in the end of the 1920s.
1930s – Lindy Hop continues to evolve and unite cultures. The dance is related to multiple historical events connected to segregation that was still a norm back then. However, Lindy Hop had a strong influence on the American nation and managed to break through the established social barriers. It was practiced by the citizens of African and white background, even though initially, it was the invention of the former as a cultural group.
1940s – During the years of the Second World War, Lindy Hop was practiced by the American soldiers as many men and women of African American background joined the army. With the help of these people, the dance managed to accomplish, and actual “Lindy Hop” and travel across the Atlantic ocean to Europe. This is the historical period when Lindy Hop begins to develop outside the borders of the United States and conquer the world. Besides, the 1940s is the time when several films featuring Lindy Hop were released and began to promote the dance. Among these movies, there are “Hot Chocolates” (or “Cottontail”), “Hellzapoppin”, “A Day at the Races”, and “Keep Punching”. It is important to mention that the very first movies portraying Lindy Hop appeared during the previous decade (“The Big Apple” and “After Seven”).
1950s – The popularity of Lindy Hop during the 1950s remained quite high, however, it was quickly outrun by the newer developing dancing styles. One of them was Rock and Roll. The Rock and Roll of the 1950s were impacted by Lindy Hop. In fact, Lindy Hop today is often referred to as the root of all the swing dances that emerged in the following decades (About Lindy Hop n. d.).
1960s and 1970s – The years after the Second World War are known for the great leap towards the worldwide globalization. The improved communications and the recovering economies allowed the countries to reactivate the international trade, and the rapid development of the mass media exposed the citizens of the United States to the trends popular all around the world. As a result, the foreign influence made a significant impact on the fashion and cultural development in the country. The American popular culture and the factors that used to be its major moving forces lost their popularity due to the emerging global competitors (Decline and Remission: 1945 – 1983 n. d.).
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One of such force moved to the background was jazz that used to drive the popularity of Lindy Hop. Naturally, under the pressure of the other extremely popular dance and music styles, Lindy Hop gradually lost its popularity and went into a decline. The videos or any other evidence of Lindy Hop during the 1960s and 70s are rather rare. The slowdown of the popularity of Lindy Hop is often associated with the racist moods in the American society that positioned all the dance and music styles deriving from the black community as harmful and likely to corrupt the white youth of America (Decline and Remission: 1945 – 1983 n. d.).
1980s – The decade of the 1980s is known for the revival of Lindy Hop as a dance style. The renowned figures of the prior decades such as Norma Miller, Jewel McGowan, Frankie Manning, Dean Collins, and Al Minns went back to teaching Lindy Hop in the Ballrooms of the United States, and this time, they had students from Europe as well as the local ones. The revival of swing dancing and Lindy Hop namely brought back the popularity of dance movies such as “Hellzapoppin” and “A Day at the Races” as they served as tutorials for the learners. The growth of the popularity of Lindy Hop led to the creation of multiple dance centers and courses focused specifically on swing dances all around the world.
1990s – The popularity of Lindy Hop was maintained throughout the 90s as new films featuring this swing dance style hit the screens. Among them, there were “Swingers”, “Malcolm X”, and “Swing Kids”.
After the 1990s, Lindy Hop made its way to the new century and remains popular and is taught and practiced on every continent. That way, it looks like Lindy did not just hop the Atlantic but managed to cross every ocean on the planet.
Modern Development of Lindy Hop
Fashion and Clothing
As shown in the timeline above, Lindy Hop has a rather long history that stretches through multiple decades each of which was known for its unique fashion and dressing trends. All of these historical periods have made their contributions to the current fashion of Lindy Hop.
Originating in the late 1920s, initially, Lindy Hop borrowed the dressing style of the decade – sleeveless knee-length dresses. This trend shifted very fast, as the major piece of its popularity came to the dance during the 1930s. This was when the sleeveless dresses became replaced with blouses with short or long sleeves and A-line skirts for the women (Top 10 Must-Have Clothing Items for Lindy Hoppers 2013). The men’s suits did not go through much change over that time. Male Lindy Hoppers used to wear loose pants with wedges and jackets (sometimes the jackets were removed as they got in the way of the performers during especially vigorous routines).
Moreover, discussing the fashion of Lindy Hop one is to keep in mind that the dance was invented and developed by the African American community in the United States. The black residents of Harlem, New York pressured by the limits enforced by the segregation were not wealthy. As a result, the clothing worn by the forerunners of Lindy Hop was majorly rather simple. Shoes are a crucial attribute of any dancer. Female Lindy Hoppers could be seen wearing both flat shoes and those with a stable heel. As the popularity of Lindy Hop grew, and the first professional dancers initiated ballroom performances that used to be their source of income, they had to develop especially challenging and dangerous routines. This is how the so-called air steps became a part of Lindy Hop.
Air steps (also referred to as aerials) were designed to impress the viewers and add complexity to the show. They required that the female partners wore flat shoes allowing them to jump and twist in the air without harming their feet and legs while landing. The contemporary technologies allow creating safer dancing shoes by adding leather and suede on the inside to protect the legs and limbs of the dancers. The shape and style of the shoes had not changed much throughout history. However, the clothes were impacted by various trends. For instance, the 1950s brought about the circle skirts that allowed a lot of movement. In the man’s fashion, the post-war years emphasized the uniforms as many performers joined the army. Besides, the military was actively promoted in the United States of that time.
The contemporary Lindy Hop has preserved all of these impacts and trends. Today, shopping for the dance outfits and developing a unique style, the Lindy Hoppers have plenty of items to choose from. However, the women’s options are more versatile than those of men. While ladies may choose from various dresses and skirts (pencil skirts, A-line, circle) and blouses (long or short sleeve, or even sleeveless) men have to stick with the suits or give up the jackets and go for loose pants with wedges and long-sleeved shirts. The accessories for men include hats and caps while women may use diverse headscarves.
One of the most outstanding figures in the modern history of Lindy Hop is Sharon Davis. Originally coming from Australia, this skillful dancer has not won a multitude of 1st places in the dance competitions in Lindy Hop, Charleston, and Burlesque. Together with her partner of many years Juan Villafane, Sharon Davis owns the crown of the most awarded dancing couple in the world. On top of her many talents, Davis also is a teacher of Lindy Hop. Currently residing in the United Kingdom, she travels all around the world to teach dancers for musicals, music videos, and at festivals.
Sharon Davis is known for the unique perspective on body movement that she prefers to see as a combination of musicality and self-awareness. Davis’s unique style is characterized as very feminine and powerful. She is an empowerment to many female dancers all around the world as a teacher and as a performer. Her dressing style is also an inspiration as Davis manages to demonstrate that long dresses and pencil skirts that seem rather limiting and tight can be used as excellent clothing for Lindy Hop adding class and sophistication to the dance.
The paper was focused on a variety of aspects of Lindy Hop as one of the most well-known swing dances. Lindy Hop as made a huge impact on American culture and history. It is associated with such dark pages of American history as the racial segregation and the laws of Jim Craw. However, invented and promoted by the African American community in the United States (just like jazz music), Lindy Hop found its path to the hearts of people all around the world and is loved and practiced on every continent today.
The origins of the name of Lindy Hop root in the American history and derive from the name of a well-known pilot of the second half of the 1920s Charles Lindbergh, who is famous for his “hop” across the Atlantic. The popularity of the event was granted by the press of the time that was gaining a stronger impact on the public perception of the world and the nation. The press (and the mass media in general) may be responsible for the development of such strong national unity in the United States and proud citizenship tightly connected to the unique and right popular culture.
Besides, it is interesting to notice that both the development and the decline of Lindy Hop occurred due to the effects of racial segregation, inequality, and intolerance that was rather powerful at the time. Lindy Hop made its way to the white audiences mainly due to the performances of the black dancers who developed complicated and often dangerous routines with air steps to impress the crowd and earn money for their talents. Performing for the wealthier white citizens was the only way for the African American dancers to use their talent to make a capital, and it is a lucky outcome that on the way they managed to make everyone fall in love with Lindy Hop.
That way, the dance stood out as a social phenomenon that broke the limits and borders established by Crow’s laws and united the black and white communities in the United States in their fondness of Lindy Hop. The decline of this dance is associated with the weakening popularity after the Second World War that was allowed the racist moods to take over and re-interpret the dance as a harmful impact coming from the African American community and threatening to the future of the young white people. It looks like regardless of the unique power of Lindy Hop to penetrate the social barriers it eventually gave in to the aggression and stereotypes.
The revival of Lindy Hop is another unique happening that can be characterized as a stable tendency of the fashion trends of the past to come back after a couple of decades. That way, just like the dressing styles of the 1980s are coming back today, the popularity of Lindy Hop made it back to the world’s stages in the 1980s after a slowdown that lasted since the end of the 1950s. The contemporary world fond of retro styles and vintage clothes is not likely to let the current trends go, so one may anticipate that Lindy Hop will remain popular for quite a while.
Researching the history, development, and influence of Lindy Hop, one would learn that the dance has a rich background and carries a deep cultural meaning for the American nation. In some aspects, it can be compared to the development of the nation’s popular culture that leaped forwards rapidly during the 1920s and then went into a phase of steady blossom and active development as the consumerism grew as a trend. However, the globalization and the international competition it brought caused a slowdown that was soon followed by the revival, and re-establishment of the trend, and the global love and embracement of its unique nature.
About Lindy Hop n. d., Web.
Decline and Remission: 1945 – 1983 n. d., Web.
History of Lindy Hop n. d., Web.
Lindy Hop History 2015, Web.
Top 10 Must-Have Clothing Items for Lindy Hoppers, 2013, Web.