AIR Pt. 6: Groove Is In the Heart

This is part of a paper I wrote entitled “Artistry In Rhythm: Dialogue Through Dance in the Lindy Hop community.”  Previous and future posts can be found by searching my blog for the category “Artistry In Rhythm”

The combination of those trends mentioned in the previous posts contributed to the development of certain dance habits in Lindy Hoppers that were collectively called “Modern Savoy Lindy” or “Groove Lindy.”  By some accounts, dancing like this already existed in some scenes such as Chicago and San Francisco. Some of this can be also be attributed to the influence of was being seen of WCS performers at crossover events.  However, the buzz from the Minnies’ Moochers performance provided the spark for its nationwide popularity.[1]

One characteristic of this so called “groove” dancing is what Julius Yang dubbed as “micromusicality.”[2] This is the tendency for dancers to move their bodies to match the melody line of a song, and in some excessive cases, try to accent as many individual notes as possible.  This had the important effect of inspiring dancers to progress away from simply executing random moves in time to the music, and become more in touch with the music.

Here’s an example of the type of dancing done circa 2000.

In my neck of the woods, before the Moochers people were dancing strictly Dean Collins/Hollywood style, and they were doing it totally wooden and unmusical.* We would dance through breaks, we were totally unconcerned with where the music was taking us. If there’s one thing the Moochers did that’s more important than anything else, it’s that they got us – ALL of us – to stop blindly leading patterns and start listening to the music more.[3]

However, it had its drawbacks.  The characteristic 4/4 pulse or bounce became lost as dancers eschewed footwork to use the ground to help them articulate upper body isolations. This bred the tendency for people to stop footwork altogether and even drop the elastic lead follow dynamic of the dance.  Lindy Hop instructor, Damon Stone, compared this style, which some people took to derisively calling “wiggly hop,” to how he defined Lindy Hop:

“One of the things that defines lindy hop to me is the continual movement of the dance. The dynamicism of the swing out, circle, and lindy turn present in nearly every move. The improvising and embellishment of style while still retaining that feel and flow of continual movement. Using the center rather than the arm to initiate leads. A pulling and pushing of the beat, borrowing time so certain parts of a figure may have the feel or possibly even a visible delay which is resolved with a sensation of speeding up, only to achieve that hang or stretch.

Most of the groove style seems to be based on disrupting the flow of a move to allow for freestyle improvisation… regardless of the style of music. I would agree that a lot of the dancers of this lindy funk seem to prefer the later forms of swing music and its derivatives, but the dance itself does not depend on this music.”[4]

Long time dance, Allen Hall wryly commented “that it is like dancing with someone else who is dancing with themselves.”[5]

As Damon mentions, although this preference of dancing style was typically done to post-WWII modern jazz music, people increasingly danced in that manner to any kind of music.  In addition to this music, more and more pop music used by WCS dancers was being introduced via crossover events and disseminated through the growing number of exchanges.

Adding to the style’s amorphous definition was the fact that no instructors, particularly established ones, took ownership of the so called groove style. This allowed it to spread through the public with little sense of how the dance worked in terms of connection techniques and rhythmic timing.

Probably the people most closely associated with this style would be Paul Overton and Sharon Ashe who gained a considerable reputation while they helped to establish the prosperous dance community in San Francisco, CA during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  They were both known for their teaching style which could be interpreted as micromusicality and their musical tastes in later jazz.  Paul’s article on their web site on how to collect jazz music was one of the most often cited resources for beginning Lindy Hop jazz collectors for many years.[6] However, consistent with his stance during the 1999 WLHC debate, both he and Sharon preferred to take very passive leadership roles.[7]

Many years later, Paul elaborated on his laissez-faire style leadership role in the community

“I have always sided with the folks who had faith in the dance, that it would survive in some form or another no matter what happened to it. On the other side of the coin have been the religious preservationists who have sought to freeze the dance in time or apply rules to it that prohibit it’s growth. Change is frightening to them. Change is natural to me. Why should the dance be immune to the cyclical nature of things? Why should new ideas that excite the enthusiasts be cast aside? It’s a mystery, but many people do feel that way and it’s always baffled me.”[8]

As noted previously by Janice Saylor, the decline of workshops coincided with the increase of exchanges.  So rather than being taught in any organized or authoritative way, the groove movement was spreading informally usually by misconstruing what many instructors were trying to teach at the time.

I think that aspect of it appealed to some people’s vision of Lindy Hop as the antithesis to the perceived rigorous structure of other dance communities, particularly ballroom dance.  Unlike Hollywood style where people could draw concrete inspiration from vintage clips, “Groove Lindy” was more amorphous.  It could mean whatever people wanted it to mean.  It allowed people to live out their image of Lindy Hop as a rebellious dance and reprimands from vintage dance enthusiasts only fueled that image.

All these factors fed into each other as Nicole Frydman noted earlier. One of the other driving factors in the spread of “groove” dancing was the dependence by the growing number of events, particularly exchanges, on music provided by DJ’s.  This had the effect of not only spreading the popularity of the same types of music, but of specific songs.  This in turn encouraged people become intimately familiar with some of the more popular songs.  Julius Yang commenting on SwingDJs.com on the effect of this reliance on recorded music:

“In my opinion, the heart of lindy hop is improvisation and when you dance to the same canned music week after week, it really affects that aspect of one’s dancing. How many times have you seen an entire roomful of dancers hit the exact same breaks in a popular DJed song? Personally I don’t think micromusicality could have developed without the advent of DJs, so advocating DJed music over bands definitely has some sort of effect on the dance.”[9]

The dancers of Minnies’ Moochers did not really dance that manner, but that is how it was interpreted.  With no one formally teaching this new “style”, it grew and spread casually through the increasing number of exchanges. Those event attendees in turn took those experiences back to their home scenes and the understanding was watered down further.

The ultimate affect on the social dancing in individual local scenes varied from city to city, so it is hard to quantify exactly how each scene was or was not affected outside of anecdotal evidence gleaned from informal observations on Lindy Hop discussion boards over the years.  However, I can offer my own experience working with the first DC Lindy Exchange in 2002.  During our planning for the event, one of the priorities for the committee was to mitigate DC’s reputation for fast, “Hollywood” style dancing in order to increase the events appeal to people from “other” scenes.  I remember on particular meeting where we tossed around various possible motto’s many of which centered around that theme including one suggestion that we make clear that DC did not refer to “Dean Collins” style dancing.  This affected selection of dj’s and recommendations for bands.


[1] It’s next to impossible to actually document who was dancing to what music and how at any given period.  Some places might not have experience Hollywood or Groove, or maybe they did in different orders or only in incremental doses.  I’ll confess that I’m going mostly on anecdotal evidence.  An intensive study of how each scene developed would be helpful, but such a project is beyond my means, if not interest at this time.

[2] “Is the national lindy scene becoming divided?” discussion thread on Yehoodi.com posted by “julius” aka Julius Yang on 5/10/02 http://www.yehoodi.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=346436&highlight=&sid=ea9f8a52fe3fd26efdad6ed7b408a683 last accessed July, 2007

[3] “Marking time in the Lindy Scene” discussion thread on Yehoodi.com posted by Marcelo aka Marcelo Teson on May 6, 2008 http://www.yehoodi.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=924288#924288 last accessed 8/18/09

[4] “What Is Lindy Hop?” discussion thread on www.Yehoodi.com posted by “dormouse” aka Damon Stone on 11/19/02 http://www.yehoodi.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=57267&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=30 last accessed July, 2007

[5] http://www.yehoodi.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=46334 last accessed July, 2007

[6] http://www.paulandsharon.com/music.html

[7] Some other people were certainly accused of teaching it.  Bill Borgida, who is credited with first gathering and instructing the people that eventually made up Minnies’ Moochers, once said in a workshop I attended at Lindy U that “We don’t teach ‘wiggly hop’ here.”

[8] “Faith vs Religion” blog post on Rex Monday by Paul Overton on 10/26/08 http://rexmonday.blogspot.com/2008/10/faith-vs-religion.html last accessed 8/18/09

[9] “And we thought lindy hoppers are a tough crowd” discussion thread on www.SwingDJs.com posted by “julius” aka Julius Yang on 2/17/06 http://www.swingdjs.com/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?t=1346 last accessed July, 2007

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3 Comments

  1. dogpossum said,

    August 27, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Sorry to just drop in partway through this discussion…

    All this is interesting stuff, and I recognise some of the things I’ve seen happening in Australian lindy hop over the last ten or so years. Yet I don’t think this history maps precisely onto the Australian experience. Even more specifically, I think that that high cost of airfares until about 2003 (and even since – it’s still expensive to fly to our geographically distanced exchanges) as well as other factors contributed to quite unique local, city-based scenes. Each of these had their own history and creative development happening.

    The distinctive, local culture of a dance scene was brought home to me listening to a younger American teacher discussing lindy hop. She made a comment somewhere along the lines of “we used to be all into groove, now we’re interested in historical dance”. It really struck me that she was generalising her experience not only across her local community, but internationally to Australian lindy hop. It was also patently inaccurate – some Australian dancers were into a more groove style, but on the whole, a timeline of 90s historical lindy – groove – hardcore historical lindy (to generalise) simply doesn’t apply to many Australian dancers. Melbourne perhaps bears the most in common with this overview, but it’s certainly not true of Perth or even Sydney.

    But I think your points regarding the creative changes of lindy hop in the post-revival era are very useful: they emphasise the mobility of dance and its place as vernacular culture, responding to contemporary cultural and social factors. I’m also interested in the role of history and ideas about history within specific communities, and the ways in which they’ve been employed in hierarchies of cultural power and influence. But that’s a discussion I should keep to my own blog, rather than cluttering up your comments.

    But it’s very interesting to read your close analysis from an inside-America perspective. For us in Australia the American lindy scene largely exists in personal anecdotes from returning travelers, on youtbue and on discussion boards, twitter and facebook. All these give us an idea of the flavour, but also keep the physical reality of international dance at a distance…

  2. Mike said,

    June 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I love that video of Lindy circa 2000. Groove Lindy was so much fun.

  3. September 6, 2011 at 12:12 am

    […] so much. While I generally like the musical direction of our scene, I do wish that not all of the Groove era stuff was tossed away. There’s some quality stuff there, especially from the album where they get […]


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