Swing and Lindy TermsSwing and Lindy Terms
Hi Lindy Hoppers!!!
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Maxie and Colleen
Maxie and Colleen
c. 1942

Prefatory Note

A long time ago, we used to teach Lindy Hop. We don't do this anymore (mainly because of work responsibilities) and we reccommend that you seek out current instructors in the DC Area. This section is included as a historic artifact that demonstrates the difficulty of developing instructions for dancing. If you can't take live lessons, video is the absolute next best thing. The best of the "dance lesson" websites is Unlimited Swing that lets you pick and choose from LOTS of instructors. If you go through our curriculum, you'll probably laugh at our attempts to use clumsy math-like nomenclature to get points across. We experimented with animated GIFs to teach Charleston (Lesson 3) because in 1998, it could take five minutes to download a grainy 20 second video. Times have changed....

Understanding Swing and Lindy terms

We have taken these definitions from the New Harvard Dictionary of Music, not only to impress you with our erudition but also to start right at the source: the music. When all is said and done, Lindy Hop is nothing more than interpreting Swing music with your body.

  • SWING: A popular, dance-oriented big band jazz style that flourished in the 1930s. Featured are combinations such as five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, and often a vocalist. Piano, guitar, string bass and bass drum smoothly accentuate each beat in 4/4; a "swinging" rhythmic pattern is played on the ride cymbal. Compositions are based on popular songs (especially 32 bar AABA forms) and 12 bar blues. The repertory ranges from complex, entirely written arrangements to impromptu versions in which simple riffs provide thematic material and accompaniement to improvisations.
  • BOOGIE-WOOGIE: A piano blues style featuring percussive ostinato accompaniements. These steadily repeated bass patterns, one or two bars long, delineate the 12 bar blues progression. Melodies range from repeated figures, reinforcing the explicit beat (including tremolos, riffs, rapid triplets) to polyrhythmic improvisations. In other words, the Left hand keeps the rhythm, (or bass line, or ostinato), while the right hand sends the message. Boogie Woogie originated in "Turpentine Camps", in which low-paid workers would live together in a remote location gathering the sap from pine trees; often, a pianist would be hired to entertain the men at night --- the style permits one person to be both rhythm and harmony. Our favorite Boogie is "Pine Top's Boogie" by the legendary Pine Top Perkins.
  • LINDY: A social dance of the U.S., originating in the late 1920s in New York City and at first associated with the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. It was danced to music (principally swing) in fast duple meter and was characterized especially by "breakaways," in which the partners in a couple separated and improvised steps individually. It incorporated movements in which partners swung one another around, and it sometimes took on an acrobatic character. Known from the 1930s also as jitterbug, it was widely danced until well in the 1950s and the advent of Rock'n'roll.

The generic swing definition of 4/4 time refers to four quarter notes per bar. "Duple Meter" means that you speed this up by putting eight eighth notes per bar. Hence, the famous song "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar", an exhortation to put some heat into the music.

Here is a good Mnemonic, or memory device: If you say this phrase: "Step, Step, Triple-step, Step, Step, Triple Step", you will get a good feel for this "swinging" rhythm. One of our very favorite swing songs is "Flat Foot Floogie" --- in Brooklynese, the verse sounds like "Flat foot flee-oo-gee Wit De Floy-oy floy"; this leads us to "Step, Step, triple step,step, step,triple step."

LINDY or JITTERBUG: The correct name for the dance is "Lindy Hop". "Jitterbug" has an etymology similar to words like "Egghead", Beatnik", "Hippie", and "Punk". In each case, the dominant culture applied a pejorative term to a developing youth trend; by virtue of the social momentum generated by the trend, the word lost its negative connotation and was adopted by the participants in the trend. In Harlem slang, a "Jitterbug" is an alcoholic who experiences Delirium Tremens (violent shaking and hallucinations.) Those who did not care for the lively antics of the early Lindy Hoppers derided them as "Jitterbugs."

As time passed, the media called the dance "Lindy" and the people who danced it "Jitterbugs". Finally, with passage of time, Lindy became the "Jitterbug's Dance" or just "Jitterbug."

Lindy Hop passed from the American scene when the music stopped having eight beats per measure (about 1957). Several variants evolved to permit partner dance to newer musical forms. In 1988 people began to reconstruct the dance from interviews with "Originals" like Frankie Manning and archival motion picture footage. Alas: you can only do Lindy Hop to eight count Music.

Photo: Max Dorf This is a picture of our good friend, the late Max Dorf, King of Balboa and all-around great guy. He is dancing with his partner Colleen. Unlike Dean Collins, Max served his country as an enlisted man in the Navy. Max served in both WWII and the Korean War. For my money, Max was one of the greatest dancers that ever lived.


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