Lindy Hop developed primarily in Harlem, New York, during the 20s and 30s. Blending African movements with European structured partner dancing, and incorporating aspects of the Charleston, the Texas Tommy, tap, and jazz, the resulting dance was energetic and flamboyant.
The development of Lindy Hop is particularly associated with the Savoy Ballroom. There were many dance halls in New York at the time, but The Savoy Ballroom was ‘it’ as far as Lindy Hop was concerned. Occupying an entire city block, it could accommodate 4000 dancers: that’s over half of the undergraduate population at Aberystwyth! With live music every night of the week played from two stages (for a quick turnaround between bands), the Savoy was home to some of the biggest names in swing: musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Cab Calloway played there, and dancers such as Frankie Manning and George ‘Shorty’ Snowden worked hard to out-do each other’s moves. The Savoy was racially integrated, so dance styles from different ethnic backgrounds could be mixed up to give the beginnings of Lindy Hop as we dance it today. You can see some of the dancers from the Savoy in films such as A Day at the Races (1937) and Hellzapoppin’ (1941).
The Savoy is also where Lindy Hop allegedly received its name. During a dance marathon, a reporter asked George ‘Shorty’ Snowden what he was dancing; George apparently replied that he was doing the Lindy Hop. This is taken to be a reference to Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight from New York to Paris across the Atlantic in 1927 (there are reports of a newspaper headline of “Lindy Hops the Atlantic”).
By the mid 1940s, the big band era had started to fade, and eventually Lindy Hop followed suit. This was partly a generational thing: people who had grown up with the dance music of the 20s, 30s and 40s were approaching middle-age and their children responded to different types of popular music (such as rock and roll).
In the last few decades, though, Lindy has been revived: in the 80s some young dancers sought out those original Savoy swingers and learnt the style from them. Through the 90s the Lindy ‘revival’ built up momentum, with several films featuring ‘swing’ dance styles (see Malcolm X (1992), Swing Kids (1993), and The Mask (1994)). Today, Lindy Hop is a world-wide phenomenon, with studios in every locale, from Aberystwyth to New Zealand!