Which Lindy?

Steve Pastor

Staff member
"Hey, I just learned something fascinating.

You've seen the film of Shorty Snowden doing the original Lindy Hop, along with other Savoy Ballroom dancers in 1929, right? I've heard many people remark that it is almost identical to the Nightclub Two Step, except that the spinning turn is the basic instead of a variation. And the observation is true, of course. They danced it closer to 100 BPM instead of 80-90 and the style was bouncier, but the basic step and many variations were the same or similar.

Well, last night I had dinner with Norma Miller, one of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the 30s, and she told me about this 1920s version. She saw it lots because she lived just across the alley from the Savoy in the 1920s, was a dancing kid at the time, her mom danced it, and she knew Shorty well. I asked her what they called it before Shorty called it was the Lindy Hop (in 1928). "Oh, we called it the two-step." "Really?" Yes, she was positive. Everyone called it that, she said, including her mom who also danced it. (Then they started calling it the Lindy Hop in 1928, and filmed it in 1929.)

[Richard Powers]"

posted at http://www.eijkhout.net/rad/dance_specific/n2s2.html

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I decided to see if I could trace that [Richard Powers] text back a bit further, and found additional text here... https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.arts.dance/7HglQwhQMgU

Film: "After Seben" 1929, sound.
Dance: Two-Step/Lindy Hop
Dancers: Shorty Snowden and the Harlem Lindy Hoppers.
Music: Sweet Sue
Musicians: Chick Webb's band, the Savoy house band.
Video: "At the Jazz Band Ball", Yazoo Video, 514.

The basic non-turning step, Man: Slow Side L, Rock step R behind L, QQ.
Repeat opposite. Woman: Opposite this, beginning side R.
Timing S-QQ, S-QQ. Just like a S-QQ Nightclub Two-Step.
Norma said this non-turning variation was done more socially than it (very
briefly) appeared in the film.
Basic turning step: Man pivots CW on his L on the first S-QQ, as his
partner runs around him. Approx. 360 degree turn each time. The turning
basic dominated the filmed exhibition. (Buddy Schwimmer includes this as
a variation in his Nightclub Two-Step.)
8-count Variations: Swingout, heel-rock, something like a waist slide,
and many more.
6-count variations: Just a basic S-S-QQ in closed position, not spinning.
Charleston kicks: Just a basic Charleston step-swing

YES, Lindy Hop included 8-count, 6-count and Charleston kicks from these
very first years, and retained all three elements for a long time.

When Norma was dancing this with me this afternoon, she emphasized that
the bouncing quality was very important. When she saw a tired couple
practicing the 1920s Lindy Hop smoothly, she said it was too waltz-like.


Steve Pastor

Staff member
I've always had the impression that single, double, and triple Lindy were "inventions of the Dance studios."

In 1934 Cab Calloway was in England, and he wrote,

"The novice Lindy Hoppers just do the Lindy Hop. Those who know a little bit more about it indulge in a double Lindy. And those who have mastered both of these and desire something still more intricate in this dance do Triple Lindy."

Angel HI

Well-Known Member
I've always had the impression that single, double, and triple Lindy were "inventions of the Dance studios."
In many ways, you're right, but of course, these studio dances, like others, became so because they were first popularized in social circles outside of studio dancing. We have learned long ago that the single, double, triple variations came about b/c of the music that was popular at the times, yeah?

A totally unnecessary sidebar, and one which might show my age :/ , I knew Cab personally (he was friends with my grandparents), and I am still acquainted with his daughter (we have taught together). We have had a few conversations about swing, and, yes, they were most interesting and revealing.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Abdoulaev, Alexandre. 2014. “Savoy: Reassessing the Role of the ‘World’s Finest Ballroom’ in Music and Culture, 1926–1958.” BOSTON UNIVERSITY

"the American roots of swing dance reach back to .... late nineteenth-century New Orleans"

There we go, Angel, just like Dean Collins said. Except that the referenced material that supports this (another PhD diss.) can't be found be found in the book of the same title, "Yoruba Dance..." by the same author, Omofolabo S. Ajaji. I found the book, but can't find the dissertation.
Abdoulaev lists an article by Spring (1997) when mentioning "the swing eighth-note," but, I DID find that article and Spring doesn't mention anything about a swing eighth notes.

None of the the older books I've read on swing mention it (the swung 1/8 note) either. Did it just take that many decades for people to figure out that way of explaining what was going on? Or, is there something going on that people still can;t quite explain?

"It is important to stress that I am not referring to "swing" in the limited sense that some jazz musicians use the term"
"the entire truth of the matter is perhaps too complex for a beginner"
The New Blue Music - Richard J. Ripani 2006

Steve Pastor

Staff member
This was filmed in 1935 in Queens, so the dancers were very likely from New York.

That "Symphony in Black" clip features Bessie Dudley and Earl "Snakehips" Tucker. Found that bit in Duke: a lie of Duke Ellington.
So, are you guys trying to figure out what lindy hop is or are you trying to figure out what the basic is? I shall answer from the standpoint of a lindy hopper.

Yes, the swing out is considered the basic. Yes, it evolved from charleston via the breakaway. But that's just a theory, because Lindy Hop is not considered a ballroom dance. Rather, it's considered a "Street dance" because it has not been codified. It evolved and still evolves on the social dance floor. It merged with and stole moves from other dances. Some of those dances became "moves" in Lindy Hop. And yes, Lindy Hop is the same as the Jitterbug. They didn't call it Jitterbug in the Savoy ballroom because it was considered a derogatory term, implying the use of drugs and/or alcohol. Norma Miller called the term "Jitterbug", the white man's word for "Lindy Hop". The first recorded occurrence of the term jitterbug was from a scene in a movie and it is believed to have become popular from there.

Most lindy hoppers consider lindy hop to be separate and distinct from the ballroom version of east coast swing (what many ballroom dancers refer to simply as "swing") which can have a very different feel.

Lindy Hop is an improvisational dance with a heavy lead/follow component. A lindy hopper never/rarely refers to a step or a pattern. Rather, they refer to how your body responds to your partner's body. Lindy Hoppers are encouraged to be hyper-aware of their center of gravity, how much to engage their frame in response to their partner's engaged frame, and when it's preferable to triple versus single step based on free motion. There are certain patterns you can use, but frequently dancers will completely improvise and do whatever they want, using their understanding of basic frame/connection awareness. I see the video posted above as an example of this.

Since Lindy Hop is a street dance, it can be different from region to region. During the resurgence, there were many overlapping styles across the US and there used to be a debate between savoy style versus hollywood style. Now-a-days, that debate is superseded by the fact that everyone pretty much understands that there is no distinct style all its own. Each and every person can have their own style. Despite the diversity, a convergence of style has been happening due to many reasons, including youtube and a preponderance of national level workshops every week of the year almost everywhere.

If you want to see good examples of lindy hop, search youtube for videos from ALHC (American Lindy Hop Championships), ILHC (International Lindy Hop Championships), and ULHS (Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown). There are also many many other examples to look for. Check out the new website: swingmap.com.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
it evolved from charleston via the breakaway. But that's just a theory
When Al Minns, Leon James and the Marshall Stearns demonstrated jazz dance, and started into Lindy Hop, they show the two-step as the basic step. Stearns and others have described "a basic step of its own- a syncopated two-step or box step."
You saw the post at the top of the page? Norma Miller agrees with the two-step origin.
So why does everyone say it came from the Charleston? Maybe two-step seems too pedestrian?

Norma must have known at one time that the group she danced in was billed as jitterbugs when the term became popular in 1938. See page 243 in Frankie Manning for the billing the group got in Swingin' the Dream on Broadway (1939) . The Amsterdam news used the term in 1942: 'Herbert Whitey's rug-chopping Jitterbugs," and "Whitey's Jitterbugs" (See Luck's in My Corner The Life and Music of Hot Lips Page" right now on GoogleBooks preview) Dancers in the Hill District (or Hill City) in Pittsburgh called the dance jitterbug in the late 30s, as related in Stearns Jazz Dance..

Not codified? There are dozens of "jazz steps," etc, that were created by performers and others, and incorporated into the dance, and many if not all of them have names. I'm pretty sure when I did some peckin' the last time I went to the swing dance, the people watching (with big smiles on their faces) recognized it as peckin'. (And that one came from the Chocolateers from Culver City, Calif. who did it in their Cotton Club dance routine and then in a film before it became famous.)
The upright posture of pre Manning Lindy hoppers seems pretty significant also, when it comes to cultural influences.

Here's something else I found. Lindy Hop... "Throughout the years has become a much more contrived and precise thing." So, these people in the 90s retro swing revival coined the term "street swing" for their less structured dance. If you know of an earlier use of the term, I'd like to hear about it. Stanford University (Powers) used the term in 1996 in a course description. (Have you seen the YouTube rant about use of the term Street Dance?)

I guess this is my effort to put in one place things that don't seem to fit in with the most repeated lindy hop stuff.

PS "JITTER BUG." a Fox Trot, was released early in 1934, before CAB CALLOWAY'S JITTERBUG PARTY, which was released in 1935. Only one or so verse from the song was used in the film. Calloway and his band had been performing it at the Cotton Club before it was recorded. Neither the song nor the film connects jitter bug with dancing in any significant way. Instead, the lyrics are about the drinking habits of the Calloway band members. Also note that jitter was then a commonly used term for nervousness.

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