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”
Naomi Uyama likes to use the phrase “Traveling was the internet” when talking about the ol’ days of Lindy at the turn of the millennium. I think that it could be reasonably be argued that the Lindy Hop community evolved at the rate it that it has in the past 10 years because the available technology greatly facilitated the communication of ideas, and more importantly, helped to foster friendships over great distances; linking small, isolated scenes into a global community. But unlike a lot of online social networks these days, the whole point of ours is to meet in person and dance. There’s no replacement for seeing and experiencing dance in person.
One particular network grew between a group of younger dancers from Ithaca, NY, Washington, DC, Southern California and a few points in between. They would form the foundation for Mad Dog. Many of the trends that I’ve discussed previously were not going unnoticed, and the members of Mad Dog moved to contribute an alternative to the ever solidifying conventional wisdom. With the difficulties of articulating a point about dance over the internet becoming apparent, the logical alternative was to demonstrate it on the dance floor.
The Mad Dog concept was very simple: get as many top tier dancers together and dance with as much energy as possible. The logistics of coordinating over 20 people scattered throughout the country, with some of them just learning the choreography the same weekend of the event, demanded that everything be as simple as possible. Andy Reid was responsible for choreographing the beginning and end of the routine with everyone dancing together to a live recording of the Dorsey Brothers’ “Well Git It.”
Simple as it was, the choreography bucked the competition rules that encouraged and rewarded formation dancing. However, the format of the routine matches the structure of most traditional swing music where the whole band usually plays the beginning and closing of a song while sandwiching individual instrumentalists who take turns soloing. Despite the ground breaking “Love Me or Leave Me” routine, most choreography circa 2002 still tended to mimic drill squad-like formation changes favored by West Coast Swing teams. It’s basically everyone doing the same moves while moving around the dance floor. Although The Rhythm Hot Shots from Sweden employed jams in their performances for years, Mad Dog popularized jam elements to the point where the they are now almost standard for Lindy Hop team routines.
As a number of people have pointed out, including some members of Mad Dog themselves, the actual dancing in the Mad Dog routine is less than up to par compared to what those dancers were capable of at the time. However, technical proficiency wasn’t the point. What made the Mad Dog performance unique was that it was the first routine designed to convey a very specific message to the Lindy Hop community: Dancing is fun.
One of the reasons why I think Mad Dog is start of the “Old School” era in Lindy Hop is because part of the concept of the routine was to invoke the aesthetic of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. That was fading from the dance amidst all the changes in those years. Al Minns once said that it should be hard, if not impossible to compare Jazz dancers like Lindy Hoppers because, by default, their individuality should separate them from each other.
That aesthetic is exemplified in the Big Apple Contest routine from the movie, “Keep Punchin.’” In that clip, everyone moves differently while still following the same basic choreography. The effect heightens the energy, while still providing a sense of unity of movement.
There’s a section near the beginning where all the dancers are still in a circle doing “Applejacks,” twisting their feet into the ground while bringing down their outstretched hands. They do two bars facing the inside of the circle, then they then turn around and repeat the motion, building a cacophony of movement, before they skip out and dramatically land into the “Gaze Afar” pose in almost precision discipline. All throughout the applejack section, they’re just barely together until that single thunderous moment where they stop as one body reaching out and punching the audience in the face with their enthusiasm.
It’s the American ideal in dance form. Working and creating as a group, challenging and uplifting those around you while still maintaining a sense of individuality. That individual energy in turn galvanizes the group whether it’s in the Big Apple by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers or in a jam recreated by Mad Dog. While no one will argue that Mad Dog could compare to those original dancers, they certainly reminded the new generation of dancers of what was and what could be.
There’s a bit of irony in the idea that people had to look back to history and tradition to find inspiration for their wake up call to the rest of the community to get them to break out of their stylistic and musical boxes.
As if to emphsaize that point, The Houston Hep Cats, who also had some members participate in Mad Dog, went as far as to recreate the “Keep Punchin'” routine in the Cabaret division at ALHC that same year. It was one of the first times that routine was broken down and performed live.
Despite coming in 5th place (out of 6 teams), Mad Dog generated some of the strongest word of mouth coming out of ALHC. The composition of the team was also a factor as it was comprised of some of the most recognized and admired dancers of the time. It caused West Coast Swing dance promoter, Bill Cameron, to invite the whole team to repeat their performance a few months later at his New Year’s Eve crossover event in Danvers, MA. It was here that someone recorded the performance, and then subsequently unleashed it online through Mad Dog’s impromptu website.
The releases of that video along with clips from the first Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown from that winter were Lindy Hop’s first significant encounter with the concept of viral marketing. Word of mouth finally accompanied by the ability to see the performances all over the world within a few days of those events rather than waiting for the release of the event DVD months later was usually the case at the time.
 The ALHC rules even spell out, “Team formations are emphasized.” ALHC 2007 rules.
 In his paper “On the Question: ‘Why Do Philosophers Neglect the Aesthetics of the Dance?’” one of the points that Francis Sparshott addresses is that the dearth of philosophical thought on dance throughout history may be because it is so ephemeral. It has only been recently, within the last generation actually, that the technology has allowed people to discuss and compare specific performances.
On the Question: “Why Do Philosophers Neglect the Aesthetics of the Dance?” Francis Sparshott Dance Research Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Autumn, 1982), pp. 5-30. Stable URL:
Dance Research Journal is currently published by Congress on Research in Dance.