The following is part three of a questionnaire that Skye Humphries filled out for an article entitled “The Party’s Just Begun” that appeared in August 31, 2008. It only used a few sentences out of the 12 page response that Skye sent back. It’s a print magazine, so it’s not available online. Skye sent this to me last summer just to read. I thought it was too interesting not to share so I asked him permission to post it here. Since it’s pretty long, I’m chopping it up into four parts. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here, and part 4 here.
In the last decade, swing dancing in general has seen a surge in popularity – what accounts for that? Can you explain the time line?
Well certainly Neo-swing in the 90’s gave a certain form of the dance and music a new kind of visibility. Clubs put on Swing nights, young people flocked to bars and clubs and dance classes.
While the scenes co-existed, (with more or less overlap in different regions) they were never identical. When Neo-Swing faded, Lindy Hop had gained new enthusiasts but didn’t disappear. [Lindy Hop] had been around before and continued after. Many young people were exposed to it though college started Swing clubs and the demographic began to shift towards a younger crowd.
I think the Internet also had a large impact. Message boards like Yehoodi started to create social networks that served to draw people deeper into the dance and the increasingly international community of dancers.
Recently, I think Youtube has had a very large impact as videos become widely distributed and the video watching habits of people change. There wasn’t a venue or a style of watching short videos that showcased dance until Youtube came along.
Some of the most famous Lindy Hop clips were made for viewing in nickelodeons back in the day. Youtube has recreated an environment in which people watch clips like they used to in the earlier days of cinema. I think it makes them receptive to watching something like Lindy Hop, which is so good for viewing in that context and then pursuing [as] an interest.
Of course partner dancing seems to be gaining in popularity these days, and that certainly seems to be fueling some of the renewed interest in Lindy Hop.
Why is the Lindy Hop an important art form?
Jazz is one of the most (if not the most) important art-forms to come out of American culture in the last 100 years. Jazz music stands as a crucial cultural achievement of the 20th century. In America and in the world there is little that can challenge its stature.i
I would argue Lindy Hop is crucial to understanding Jazz. It is intimately connected to Jazz music–to its development, to its appeal, and to its popularity. The way that people made sense of Jazz music for at least 30 of its most crucial years is by dancing. The dancing co-evolved with the music and I would argue the pinnacle of that evolution was reached in the Lindy Hop.
It is a modern American Art-form- an urban folk-dance that allows the individual an incredible degree of self-expression while linking that expression to the expression other people. The individual finds expression but must grapple with their community-must take into account their partner and the music and the dancers that have come before them and the dancers that are around them. It fosters an incredible sense of community without sacrificing the unique identity of the individual.
Lindy Hop is an important art form because it is a form that has manage to persist and grow for the last 80 years; because it is as applicable today in Russia and Korea and Australia and Sweden as it was in Harlem in 1930.
Lindy Hop is an important art-form because it is the working class equivalent of the cultural flowering of the 1930’s and the Harlem Renaissance.
Coming out of the African American community in Harlem, Lindy hop has spread around the world and continues to thrive.
It is art-form that is open to everyone and makes sense of the life of an individual in a modern urban context. As such it is still as meaningful and useful as when it was created.
It is an antidote to modern urban technological isolation and ennui. It is an art-form for the people and by the people.
Many historical accounts of the Lindy Hop allude to its African roots. Can we consider the Lindy Hop to be a way to record history? If so, how?
Lindy Hop carries its history with it. And it pulls together what came before it as well.
Lindy Hop has no rules. Its identity is based on continuity rather than a strict set of rules or techniques. Lindy Hop is in some ways just an innovation on earlier dances like the Turkey Trot and the Texas Tommy. Lindy Hop changes organically, but to still be Lindy Hop it needs to maintain some connection to the past.
Rather than conserved from above, Lindy Hop changes from the ground up and is constantly looking back to move forward. Lindy Hop is the perfection of the notion of a usable past; it provides a pragmatic link to history. Lindy Hop doesn’t just record history, it puts it to work in the service of the present.
Charleston is a perfect example. [It was] a popular solo and partnered dance before Lindy Hop came on the scene. [Then] it became an integral part of Lindy Hop- though dramatically altered and tailored to fit the music of the day and the feeling of the dance- it is still Charleston.
Lindy Hop comes from Harlem, and it comes out of the Harlem Renaissance. It is an important petal in the greater cultural flowering that was occurring at that time. It was the art and recreation of everyday people- working class African Americans- at an incredibly important juncture in their history and the history of America as a whole.
The fact that the dance has spread all over the world and continues to thrive and grow 80 years on is testament to the power of that cultural achievement.