Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lindy Hop

There is no dance that better sums up our zeitgeist than the Lindy Hop.

You've seen endless variations of it in 1,001 Hollywood films set in the first half of the 20th century, from Barton Fink to The Cotton Club to Malcolm X. You can also see actual period footage of it in old films such as After Seben, Rock Around The Clock, Hot Chocolates, The Girl Can't Help It, Hellzapoppin', A Day at the Races, That Certain Feeling, Keep Punching, Symphony in Black, Radio City Revels, Stompin' at the Savoy, and Killer Diller.

There's also a short-but-excellent 1988 documentary, Call Of The Jitterbug, which contains extensive archival footage, and includes interviews with Norma Miller, Frankie Manning, and Dizzy Gillespie.

The Lindy Hop seems to run like an infinite silver cord along the entire length of time. Kids today see it done at Rockabilly festivals and assume it's a 50's/60's thing. Then they start to realize it was already a pre-existing dance when 50's kids were doing it in old rock and roll movies like Don't Knock the Rock. Then they discover it was a dance craze of the 1920s and 1930s. And then, digging back even further, we find the key moves of the Lindy Hop (the Swingout/whip/turn) were previously called The Breakaway, and that this in turn was derived from The Texas Tommy, circa 1900-1910. The Lindy Hop also encompasses The Charleston, which was popularized in 1923 but goes way back before that.

Before that, it's almost a certainty that these dance moves existed in the 19th century, before the activities of African-American culture were well documented. I'd bet money that some of them go back to antiquity.

The Lindy Hop has always been here, and always will be. It is ever shifting, mutating, sidestepping like Billy Childish's allegorical crab to avoid dilution. No flies on it. Long may it wave.

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