Lindy Hop is a partnered swing dance, that evolved out of the Charleston in the late 1920s, in the ballrooms and on the streets of the African-American district of Harlem in New York City. The dance evolved alongside swing music itself, emerging in the late 1920s when hot jazz (born in New Orleans) was transforming into swinging jazz, and died out (as we know it) in the late 1940s as the swing era gave way to bebop and rock ‘n roll. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, as swing music spread across the USA and the world, Lindy Hop spread with it.
Legend has it that Lindy Hop earned its name in 1927 when one of its original dancers, George “Shorty” Snowden, was asked its name by a reporter, and dubbed it Lindy Hop after aviator Charles Lindbergh and his famous solo flight across the Atlantic that year (newspaper headlines read “Lindy Hops The Atlantic”). It is sometimes simply called The Lindy, it was commonly known as The Jitterbug. Hollywood films and US newsreels first showed Lindy Hop to the youth in the 1930s, and the US servicemen during World War II were widely responsible for popularising the dance in Europe and Australia in the 1940s.
While the acrobatic aspect of Lindy Hop is perhaps most familiar to many people, Lindy Hop has many characteristics. Though it can indeed be danced wild and fast, with spectacular airsteps, it can also be slow and smooth, elegant or sexy.
Lindy Hop is the mother of a variety of other dances, that evolved out of Lindy from the 1950s onwards, including Rock ‘n Roll, Boogie Woogie, Jive, West Coast Swing and Carolina Shag. These later styles are all danced to different music, have other influences, and are simplified, mainstreamed, institutionalised or just far removed cousins of Lindy. Lindy Hop is the original swing dance!
Although the origins of the dance are obscure, the dance has been traced back to blacks who lived on an island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina (which is why the dance is called “Charleston”). The Charleston dance had been performed in black communities since 1903, but did not become internationally popular until the musical debuted in 1923. The Charleston dance became popular after appearing, along with the song, “The Charleston”, by James P. Johnson in the Broadway musical Running’ Wild in 1923. Thus began the popularity amongst the Flappers of the 1920’s and is how most people think of the Charleston. The dance can be done by oneself, with a partner, or in a group, and is most often done to ragtime jazz.