LINDY HOP HISTORY
Kurt Lichtmann
Faculty, Ithaca College & Cornell University, Ithaca NY
"The opinions expressed are my own, and not to be construed as official posiitons or opinions of either above institution."


What is Lindy Hop? Just as swing music was the perfect mating of African and European musical temperments, classic Lindy Hop was the perfect marraige of African and European dance temperments. Partnered Jazz Dance: each of those three words is loaded. "Partnered" because that is the European dance tradition, with its' varied repertoire of moves, steps and techniques. "Jazz" because that is the African-American tradition - expressive full body free solo movement. And "Dance" is the core issue: movement that is a part of the music, creatively expressing the music, expressing our individual and collective feelings in the moment - with all three parts as a musical conversation/play with a partner. Can you see why the African-American was chosen by destiny to manifest this music and dance?

Savoy Ballroom:From the late '20s to the mid '40s, hundreds of large dance halls sprang up across the USA, hiring a similarly huge number of traveling big bands. But, the volcanic center of creative magic was Harlem's 4000-capacity Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue and 140th Street. In the '90s, dancers often talk about "Savoy Style." What does this mean?

Want to dance Savoy Lindy Hop correctly? Then, according to original Whitey's Lindy Hoppers superstars Leon James and Frank Manning, don't be real concerned about "correctness!" It's primarily NOT about stylings, moves or patterns: all that is secondary. Dancers in the '90s tend to get hung up on copying external forms, thinking that this is "Savoy Style." On the contrary, constant personal creation of new moves, and even new dance styles, was the realcore of "Savoy Style." ("I never could copy the other guys anyway!"- Leon James). Consider this: does a particular posturing or styling define the joyous openess of "Savoy Style?"  Nah!  Savoy Style is more accurately thought of as glorious, creative, free-swingin' freedom! Yeah!

A  variety of Lindy (aka Jitterbug) styles have survived into the '90s. Some refer to only one these as "Savoy Style," whereas several current major Lindy styles originated in that famous dance hall. Let's also keep in mind, that as far as number of dance styles go, high-visibility is just the tip of the iceberg: there were in fact 1000's of unique "Savoy Styles."

1. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers:The most documented (movies) is the ultra-performance style of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. This was one of several names for the all-star team of manager/agent Herbert White's 12 Lindy dance troupes. Original Lindy Hopper Frank Manning is the living source of info we have on this style. Kept alive in the '90s by Sweden's Rhythm Hot Shots, among others.

2. Steven Mitchell (& Virginie Jensen), prime-mover in the Lindy Hop revival, is currently teaching a very free and open approach! He has gone right back to the essence of the dance as "partnered jazz-dance." Although at one time a key player in defining a particular style of Lindy as "it," he has seen into the very core of the dance: the music, your own body, and your partner are your only guides. Right on, dude!

3. Others: numerous popular nationally and internationally known instructors teach historically accurate and contemporary evolutions of Lindy variants.

An early divergence in "Savoy Style" occurred when frisky Frank Manning debuted the first aerial move (a back-to-back flip) at a Savoy contest against teammate "Shorty" George Snowden From that ecstatic moment (and the roar of crowd approval), many teenagers began to explore acrobatic and dance possibilities. Others, including Shorty, dedicated themselves to floorwork. In the '90s, repeated surgeries have prompted some the most gifted professional aerialettes to give up the drastic stuff. However, aerials in varying degrees remain the inviolable birthright of the young and frisky.

The far-flung influence of Whitey's Lindy Hoppersre-emerged in the mid '80s when team members Leon James and Al Minns helped fuel the Lindy revival in NYC. In 1999, team choreographer and luminary dancer Frank Manning, at the age of 84, maintains a busy (floor-blound!) international teaching schedule.

Dancers: Leon James and Willa Mae Ricker, 1943 LIFE

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