Five Holy $#&%! Moments That Changed Modern Lindy Hop

A comment on Facebook got me thinking of moments in Lindy Hop. Not just good dances or dancers, but singular moments that make you reconsider every assumption you had about the dance.

Twenty-four Robbers by Skye and Frida or anything by Stefan Durham  and Bethany Powell are great performances as a whole, but I’m talking about a short sequence, a single move, or even a footwork variation that turned the entire scene on its head.

Everything that happened in something like the ubiquitous ULHS 2006 Liberation final isn’t the same because the whole thing rocks from start to finish. There isn’t a single defining moment.

Similarly, lots of aerials and assorted “flash and trash” can make a crowd jump or stop the heart for a few beats, but what separates the following moments is how they affected the Lindy Hop scene afterwards. In honor of one of my favorite websites, I’m presenting my picks in chronological order.

Skye Falls & Rises: Skye Humphries & Caitlin George NADC J&J 2000

Skye Humphries and the rest of the Minnie’s Moochers were all regarded as good dancers and the future of Lindy Hop after their landmark “Love Me or Leave Me” performance in 1999, but what happened here helped to push Skye to the head of the class. At 2:13, the ever impulsive teenager has an idea, but doesn’t quite know what to do with it. He drops, twists, rolls on the ground and ends up in a half split in the blink of an eye, all without ever breaking his connection with his partner, Caitlin George. It earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. It was so nuts that people still talked about it years afterwards.

The Aftermath

To this day, Skye still can’t tell you what he was trying to do there. By his own admission, he was just a kid flying by the seat of his pants, but that’s why this moment is so memorable. Plenty of people were just starting out around this time. The other heats in this contest include future instructors and promoters like Damon Stone, Hilary Alexander, Jeremy Otth, Naomi Uyama, and Kevin St. Laurent just to name a few. You can even see Nina Gilkenson rolling on the ground at the end of the clip, already trying to recreate the moment. Everyone was still struggling to figure out what the dance was. This kid got up in front of them, obliterated the line between thinking and doing, and showed them what the dance could be.

Matt & Nina Rock the House: Nina Gilkenson & Matt Smiley ULHS 2002 Liberation Final

When The Ulitmate Lindy Hop Showdown first started in 2002, no one really knew what to expect other than lots of drinking and dancing to fast music. Mostly at the same time. The competitions didn’t have the bad ass rep that they do now. The first step was this spotlight in the fast division finals. If you watch the rest of this final, you’ll notice that everyone is just trying to survive. However, Matt & Nina stormed into their spotlight making a statement from the start with an aerial that lacked anything resembling subtly or humility as indicated by its name: Matt & Nina Rock the House. This was followed by the lesser known “Nina Fixes her Strapless Bra” variation that Matt follows like any astute leader should.

The Aftermath

This was the FIRST Lindy Hop video to go viral on the Internet, predating YouTube or any other popular video sharing site by three years.  This spotlight put ULHS on the map of major Lindy Hop events and combined with the Mad Dog routine, made fast dancing cool again. (Mad Dog was performed at ALHC in October of that year, but was limited to VHS & DVD release. ULHS was in November, and the more famous Mad Dog routine wasn’t performed and recorded until New Year’s that winter.)

Fidgety Feet: Naomi Uyama & Todd Yannacone ULHS 2005 Liberation Final

It didn’t take very long for ULHS to become THE event to attend. Part of that was because promoter Amy Johnson made sure that the event lived up to its own name as you can hear in the beginning of this clip when the Wolverines Big Band roar into an authentically tempoed version of “White Heat;” at which point, everyone in the room  panics because the band is screaming in at just about the same speed as the legendary Hellzapoppin’ performance by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. But even those guys got to rehearse their choreographed routine and use multiple takes to get it right. The competitors in this division had to social dance to a live band in front of a live audience. The “good” news was that they only had one chance to get it done. Everyone does fine for the most part, but Todd & Naomi pull away from the pack doing footwork variations in a contest that was usually won with Big Air.

The Aftermath

If Matt & Nina made fast dancing cool, then Naomi & Todd made it look easy. I still get chills hearing the crowd go rabidly nuts while Todd & Naomi breeze through variations that everyone learns in their beginner classes, but rarely use after. Karen Turman talked a bit more about it in her series on the background of her “Evolution of Lindy Hop” routine. I like to think that the screaming is due to everyone realizing how many shoes they’re going to wear out trying to match that demonstration of footacular dexterity.

The Hat Trick: Annie Trudeau & Max Pitruzzella ILHC 2008 Showcase

In 2008, The International Lindy Hop Championships was in the same position as ULHS was in 2002. Filling the role of Matt & Nina, Max & Annie threw down an aerial worthy of an NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest reaction. That aerial was the coup de grace to a masterful set up. First, Max catches the hat tossed from the crowd just as the song changes mid-routine. After he awkwardly places it on his head, most people immediately start to wonder how long it can stay on. After Max & Annie hit their first aerial with the hat going nowhere,  you know that it’s now on in so many ways. After that, you’re half cheering and half expecting failure to come by way of  the breeze generated from dancing so fast. But then Max & Annie take that expectation and stuff it into your face.

The Aftermath

The explosion in the room when Annie lands was the collective realization that anyone hoping to make any kind of impression in that division for years to come would have to top that.  The standing ovation at the end would be the first of many for Max & Annie at ILHC which would just get bigger and bigger each year.

SWIVEL! Frida Segerdahl & Skye & Humphries ILHC 2009 Classic

It’s hard to predict what will stick with people when choreographing a routine. Even harder still considering Skye & Frida didn’t have a routine ready by the time they arrived at ILHC in 2009. When I talked to Skye earlier that summer, he had a completely different song in terms of tempo and feel in mind for that division. While putting this routine together, Frida looked at all the accepted rules about posture, balance, and lines and decided to break them all, and in the process, made you love every second of it.

The Aftermath

It rocked so many worlds that follows everywhere were waving their hands in the air like they just didn’t care. Even top level dancers with their own strong sense of style quote it. all. the. time. Frida and Skye managed to put together a 1st place performance, but more importantly and more difficultly, they added to the vernacular of the dance.

The ultimate creative goal in a dance like Lindy Hop is to forge your own style. All accomplished Lindy Hoppers recognize this and work pretty hard towards that, so that gives you an idea of how influential this simple swivel variation is. More than that, Frida reminded everyone how you innovate something new out of something familiar. This is how Lindy Hop stays relevant for generations that keep learning something new about themselves from the changing world they live in. The only question now is: What’s next?

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13 Comments

  1. Hannah said,

    June 26, 2012 at 7:52 am

    This is awesome! Thanks for putting this together 🙂

  2. Kelly Porter said,

    June 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Wow Jerry, You just took me in the time machine, hehe.

    I remember being in the front row of that 2005 liberation contest, it was my first time to ULHS– I had only seen rooms burst into that sort of hysteria at major concerts. It was worthy of the reaction– people lost their collective shit. ULHS made lindy hip again, for me, when there were a lot of nascent, weird and unattractive forms of groovy lindy lingering around. I suppose there still are, but ULHS began consolidating and showcasing the taste that began to define competitive lindy hop as fast, furious, and visually reverent to its roots. It’s still my favorite event– I think I’ve DJ’ed or judged for them now for like 5 or 6 years running?– it’s like the one event on my calendar that I still am giddy about like a month in advance.

  3. June 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Pretty sweet post. Thanks

  4. Alex Dupler said,

    June 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    awesome Jerry. when i saw the post title, the first thing that came to mind for me was the rhythm hot shots at Can’t Top The Lindy Hop. I guess that’s a whole polished performance, but I think given the time and how different it was from what other people were doing. Man I still get chills watching that ish.

  5. Tim McMahon said,

    June 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Best post in a long time about the freedom that raw energy creates in Lindy Hop..

  6. Hyong said,

    June 26, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    thanks jerry! my favorite post of yours. i also got into my way back machine. being in the room for some of those dances, especially the Mad Dog routine, remind me why i’m still around. fyi, i found the alhc mad dog routine here: http://youtu.be/lh_wJZ-kNAM

    i always loved how andy takes the kick in the gut from nina (?). that’s dedication to the routine.

  7. Max said,

    June 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I’m amazed that Mad Dog at Danvers got left off this list. Granted, it was comprised of the people on this list, but as far as “Holy $#&%!” goes, that was probably one of the biggest kicks in the @$$ to going from where Lindy was to what it is now.

    • Jerry said,

      June 28, 2012 at 11:32 pm

      That was a case of it being awesome as a whole. Lots of moments, but no single one like the rest of the list.

  8. June 28, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    […] Five moments that changed modern Lindy Hop Posted on June 28, 2012 by krister […]

  9. luh said,

    July 5, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Nice listing. I’m surprised that this video didn’t make it though: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDhui3j1ruE
    Maybe not this version, but the routine I had the impression was one of the most viral for quite some time on the internet together with hellzapoppin.

    • Jerry said,

      July 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      Well the premise of my post is moments that changed things. Not routines. This performance is notable for being entertaining as a whole, but there’s no single moment that stood out as being life changing.

      As for it’s vitality, I think part of that is due to the fact this was one of the first Lindy videos uploaded to Youtube (not this version) and it was incorrectly labeled as Hip Hop Lindy.

      On a side note, I was actually there that night, although I missed the performance. This was the first time that Max & Tommy (and their friend Paco) visited the US. They originally came for the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival the weekend before, and bummed around the US for a bit after that. They stayed with my friend Diane for about a week. This was the Saturday night dance with the Washington Swing Dance Committee. Right before this we met up with Skye and Naomi and then later David Rehm. The frenchies took workshops from them earlier back in France and were eager to catch up with them since they all lived in DC at the time. Other than those two, I don’t think any of us stayed for the dance though because we didn’t like the band. I think we went to see Finding Nemo or something like that.

  10. August 20, 2012 at 1:13 am

    […] There is something about being judged in an official capacity that drives people to be their absolute best; in this case, it means being more technically proficient, more creative, having more fun, and doing things that nobody else has done before. When you get the best dancers in the world in one place at one time and encourage them to try to one up each other, magic happens. […]

  11. Lisa G said,

    January 2, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I couldn’t get this Matt & Nina Rock the House to work – is there a new link?


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