AIR pt 12: The Movement Meets The Music

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.”

While it took some time, the combined effects of Janice Wilson’s Hellzapoppin’ contest at the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival, the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, and Mad Dog had a tremendous influence on the scene.

The most obvious was the re-emergence of faster classic swing era and hot jazz music at dance events. People were now encouraged to work on their improvisation skills at faster tempos like they previously did to slower, groovier music.

This led people to mine and more vintage film clips for more ideas to move to this music instead of trying to force hip hop or other modern movements into the music.  Since most of the Lindy Hop clips had already been found, the search expanded into tap and other jazz inspired black dancers of the past from the Nicholas Brothers to Josephine Baker.

Al Minns & Leon James circa 1961

Austin & Alex Dryer Great Southwest Lindyfest March, 2003

Writing more about the initial revival era in the 1980’s, historian and performer Bob Thomas gives the reason for this appeal and forecasts the emergence of the return to the “Old School” way back in the 1999 WLHC debate,

“The early Lindy Hop (1920’s-30’s) was clearly African-American in style and it is that style that seems to most appeal to the most Lindy Hop dancers. I think it is the desire to keep an African-American style in the Lindy Hop that leads people to speak of the “true Lindy Hop” style. I, too, believe strongly that the African-American influences are integral to Lindy Hop’s excitement and appeal.” [1]

Most of those “newly discovered” film clips emphasized solo movement.  It gave people greater options to contribute individual stylings in their coupled dances as well as something to do when there were no partners available.

This was particularly beneficial for women since Lindy Hop, like most partnered dances, tends to draw a disproportionately larger number of women than men.  I think this contributed to the rise of “All Girl” workshop weekends and a number of all female performance groups.

Cotton Club performance at the 2005-2006 Rhythmic Arts Festival.

Dancers were finally beginning to understand how to learn from the past and use that knowledge to shape their dancing in the present.

[1] “Some thoughts from Bob Thomas, faculty member of dance at Roger Williams University and director of The Kamikaze Jitterbugs. Submitted to John Tomeny, Thursday September 23, 1999” TC Swingin Hepcats web site World Lindy Hop Championship Debate 2000 archive last accessed July, 2007


  1. Alice said,

    October 5, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Too short! Make your sections longer, you tease us!
    Other than that, sweet vids! I’ve haven’t ever seen some of those before!
    Post more, you’re as addictive as bad tv shows.

    • Jerry said,

      October 5, 2009 at 8:28 pm

      Ha! You’re the first person whose said that one of these is too short.

  2. Katie said,

    October 11, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Hey Jerry,
    If it’s not too late to archive, other than my little comment, something I heard from one female teacher is that an even bigger reason people decided to organize all-female workshops than “teaching women what would help them most” was that male teachers were constantly hired as “you and…who do you want us to bring in for you?” whereas even top-level female teachers were generally only hired as part of a couple or as some male teacher’s follow he wanted to have brought in. What I heard from this female teacher was that even more than being about giving women classes oriented towards them, it was about giving excellent female teachers gigs and asking them who they wanted to bring in.

    What you said, and the structure of most other workshops’ classes (moves-heavy), probably made this economic/respect idea actually workable. But according to at least one person, that wasn’t the #1 reason they were organized. (If you’d like to contact me privately–I presume my e-mail address shows up for you since I have to put it here–feel free, and I’ll tell you who I’m pretty sure it was who said this so you can verify and explore.)

    Really enjoying this series–thank you!

    • Jerry said,

      October 13, 2009 at 2:51 pm

      #Katie, I actually know who exactly you’re talking about since she’s related that to me before. She’s not the only one either. This could be an interesting separate post . . .

  3. Thom said,

    October 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    That’s an interesting comment above. I’ve noticed something similar about the blues scene in Europe. Blues is significantly less developed here than it is in the States, but it’s growing. Anyway, events are often marketed as being with the headline male teacher, with the follower sometimes not even mentioned. There are exceptions, and it’s no comment on the guys themselves, who are indeed great dancers. But so are the followers they teach with, so there’s something quirky going on there – and it’s probably not deliberate, or even conscious, on any one individual’s part.

  4. December 4, 2012 at 12:59 am

    […] looking back to the past for inspiration, Lindy Hop re-matured as a dance and Lindy Hoppers became more fluent in the language and history of jazz. This enabled them to identify and connect to the kind of music they want to dance to, and […]

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