Understanding and respecting the origins of the Lindy Hop
Legend has it that the Lindy was created from an improvisation on the partnered version of the Charleston when Shorty Snowden, a marathon competition dancer, rocked back on his heels and swung his partner out, performing what is now called a breakaway. There's actually footage from 1929 to support this contention.[v] In it, Snowden and his partner are the final dancing couple. They begin with the Charleston and exit with a traveling Cakewalk. In between, during their beautifully smooth routine, Snowden does his famous breakaway—the forerunner of the Lindy Hop.
© Brenda Dixon-Gottschild 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Originally published on June 11, 2018, at www.lincolncenter.org/article/lindy-hop-origins
About the Author
Brenda Dixon-Gottschild is an author, scholar, dance historian, performer, choreographer, and professor emerita of dance studies at Temple University. She has written four books: Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance - Dance & Other Contexts; Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era; The Black Dancing Body - A Geography from Coon to Cool; Joan Myers Brown & The Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina - A Biohistory of American Performance.
Cover Photo © Kevin Yatarola
Photos 2–3: Courtesy of Life Photo Archive
Photos 4 & 5: © Kevin Yatarola
[i] "Swing dance" is an umbrella term originating in the 1980s when the Lindy experienced a renaissance, largely through the efforts of young white dancers. The authentic swing-era terms were Lindy and Jitterbug.
[ii] Giddins, Gary. Visions of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. p. 13.
[iii] Dixon-Gottschild, Brenda. Waltzing in the Dark – African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000, p. 71.
[iv] Ostransky, Leroy. The Anatomy of Jazz.  Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973 p.246.
[v] Full video: https://youtu.be/LcnpZfsfwDA
[vi] Dixon-Gottschild, op. cit., p. 73, quoting Norma Miller.
[vii] Dixon-Gottschild, op. cit., p.74, quoting Carl Van Vechten.
[ix] Back, Les. "Nazism and the Call of the Jitterbug." In Dancing in the City, edited by Helen Thomas, 175–197, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. p.183.
[x] Dixon-Gottschild, op.cit., p.219.