Title. Double click me.
Title. Double click me.
Title. Double click me.
Vintage Swing Dancing and 1950s Teen History
(1950s rock n' roll, 1950s juvenile delinquency, teen idols, 1950s teen fashions,
hot rod culture, rock n' roll dance styles, teen movies of the 1950s.)
What is Smooth Style Lindy Hop?
If you are new to swing dancing, perhaps a better question might be "What is Lindy Hop?"
Lindy Hop really caught on during the Big Band Era of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Innovators of the dance style include names such as “Shorty” George Snowden, Norma Miller, Mama Lu Parks, George Lloyd, and of course, Frankie Manning.
One white dancer in particular, Dean Collins, who had learned from the black dancers, later went to Hollywood where he was hired as a choreographer and dancer for several Big Band era musicals. As an instructor on the West Coast, he also turned out many students who also participated in the movies.
When Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” became a hit in 1955 after its inclusion in the juvenile delinquent movie “Blackboard Jungle”, Rock N' Roll music became the dance music style for teenagers and young people in general, and exploitation filmmakers immediately tapped into the then-controversial music style for quickie exploitation musicals.
Movies such as “Don’t Knock The Rock!,” “Shake, Rattle, and Rock!”, and “The Girl Can’t Help It" featured popular Rock N’ Roll acts such as Little Richard, Bill Haley and the Comets, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and The Platters, to name a few. (Despite the exploitive nature of these movies, they do give a visual glimpse of 1950's teen culture history.)
And dancing to these Rock N’ Roll pioneers on film, were the Lindy Hopping friends, students, or colleagues of Dean Collins, dancers such as Gil and Nikky Brady, Lou Southern, Freida Angela Wycoff, Joe Lanza, Lennie Smith, and many others.
Lindy Hop was born in the late 1920's in Harlem, New York. It is a partnered dance style that evolved from the Charleston dances of the 1920's, and it was popularized in primarily African American neighborhoods on the East Coast. It got it's name when reporters had asked dancers what they were doing. "The Lindy Hop" was the answer, "hop" of course being a slang term for dance and "Lindy", after Charles Lindbergh's then-recent and highly publicized trans-Atlantic flight. It is the "ancestor" of most of the more popular styles of swing dancing.
When Caucasian dancers started frequenting these black night clubs in New York and began learning how to Lindy from the black dancers, the dance received another name, “Jitterbug.” “Bug” was another slang term which meant dancing, while “jitter" was a slang term for “whiskey.” So in other words, “whiskey" or even “drunk" dancing!
Dean Collins' style of Lindy Hop became very popular in Southern California. Students of his, students of his students, as well as dancers who he came into contact with and influenced, continued working in the movies.
Big Bands didn't exactly “die” with the end of World War 2, but they did fade in popularity, giving way to both crooners such as Perry Como and Jerry Vale, and bebop jazz. Bebop jazz is where we see the somewhat temporary “demise” of Lindy Hop, with signs at jazz clubs saying “No Lindy hopping!” (as shown in the Ken Burns documentary “Jazz.”)
As a side note, there are some Lindy Hop sites that actually state, incorrectly, that Rock N' Roll ended lindy hopping and even swing dancing in general, which of course, is a complete fallacy! (Watch any old clip of any after school TV dance show like “American Bandstand” in the 1950's and even into the early 1960's, and you'll see that the kids are indeed swing dancing!)
Rock N' Roll of the 1950’s is a music genre based on blues. Lindy Hop is an African American dance style. Blues, like jazz, is also an African American music form. Lindy Hop and Rock N' Roll were also a part of youth culture. It was only natural that Rock N' Roll would help revive Lindy Hop, and swing dancing in general.
The advent of the Twist and various other contemporaneous fad dances of the early 1960's eventually signaled the “demise" of swing dancing within teen/youth subcultures, but not within professional dance circles. Though teenagers gradually (though not immediately) stopped swing dancing by the 1960’s, the dance continued to be taught in dance studios. One professional dancer, Skippy Blair, taught Lindy Hop at one of these chains, using her own innovations with changing and evolving music styles for admittedly, an older clientele, particularly at The Arthur Murray chain. Her modern innovations would eventually lead to the development of West Coast Swing.
Swing dancing continues to evolve, but the particular era in the history of swing dancing that we at Fremont Adult and Continuing Education’s Swing Dance Program are interested in, is the often misunderstood, but certainly energetic (and in our opinion, fun!) latter 1950’s Rock N’ Roll Era. We reach out to the Rockabilly Community, the subculture that loves the 1950's Rock N' Roll Era and brings it into the modern world, but we also reach out to the local Fremont and Bay Area community at large, folks who may not necessarily be into living a "vintage lifestyle" per se, but would like something fun and local to do with friends and loved ones, while meeting new people.
And swing dancing certainly is healthy. We'll be having a blog up soon on the cardiovascular and muscular health benefits of swing dancing, as well as how it can even offset the effects of alzheimer's! (So check back on our blog page, soon!)
For those who are into the vintage lifestyle and are interested in the Rock N' Roll Era of Lindy Hop history, below is a listing of 1950's Rock N' Roll films that feature what we now term today as "Smooth Style" Lindy Hop, the style of Lindy Hop directly influenced by Dean Collins.
Rock Around The Clock
Don't Knock The Rock!
Shake, Rattle, and Rock!
The Girl Can't Help It
Bop Girl Goes Calypso
Hot Rod Gang
Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman
Riot In Juvenile Prison