In its development, Lindy Hop combined elements of both solo and partner dancing by using the movements and improvisation of black dances along with the formal eight-count structure of European partner dances. This is most clearly illustrated in Lindy's basic step, the swingout. In this step's open position, each dancer improvises alone; in its closed position, men and women dance together.
Revived in the 1980s by American, Swedish, and British dancers, Lindy Hop dancers and organizations can now be found in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
An influential predecessor of the lindy was the Charleston swing. Barbara Engelbrecht explains that "this swing infused the Lindy Hop’s basic step - the syncopated two step, with the accent on the off beat-with a relaxed and ebullient quality. And this relaxed and ebullient style of execution gives the impression, like the music, of the beat moving 'inexorably ahead'. The dancers feet appear to 'fly' in syncopated rhythms, while the body appears to 'hold' the fine line of balance in calm contrast to the headlong rush of the feet." According to Stearns and Stearns, the lindy flowed more smoothly and horizontally that the earlier two-step, had more rhythmic continuity, and was more complicated.
At the Savoy, black musicians and dancers, armed with the musical innovations of Louis Armstrong, helped develop the formula for what was eventually called swing music, which swept the country during the Great Depression.
The historical influence of the Texas Tommy and the hop is rarely cited and often disputed. The first generation of Lindy Hop is popularly associated with dancers such as "Shorty" George Snowden, his partner Big Bea, and Leroy Stretch Jones and Little Bea. "Shorty" George and Big Bea regularly won contests at the Savoy Ballroom. Their dancing accentuated the difference in size with Big Bea towering over Shorty. These dancers specialized in so-called floor steps.
The stage was set for movement innovations with the appearance of a group of Kansas City musicians in 1932. The power and drive of the Bennie Moten Band "generated a more flowing, lifting momentum. The effect on the dancers was to increase the energy and speed of execution."
As white people began going to Harlem to watch black dancers, according to Langston Hughes: "The lindy-hoppers at the Savoy even began to practice acrobatic routines, and to do absurd things for the entertainment of the whites, that probably never would have entered their heads to attempt for their own effortless amusement. Some of the lindy-hoppers had cards printed with their names on them and became dance professors teaching the tourists. Then Harlem nights became show nights for the Nordics.
Charles Buchanan, manager of the Savoy, paid dancers such as Shortly Snowden to "perform" for his clientele.
In 1935, "Shorty" George Snowden was unseated by a twenty year old dancer named Frankie Manning. Manning was part of a new generation of Lindy Hoppers, and is the most celebrated Lindy Hopper in history. Al Minns and Pepsi Bethel, Leon James, and Norma Miller also feature prominently in contemporary histories of Lindy Hop. Some sources credit Frankie Manning, working with his partner Freida Washington, invented the ground-breaking 'Air Step' or 'aerial' in 1935. One source credits Al Minns and Pepsi Bethel as among those who refined the air step. An Air Step is a dance move in which at least one of the partners' two feet leave the ground in a dramatic, acrobatic style and most importantly it is done in time with the music. This type of move is now widely associated with the characterization of lindy hop, however, air steps have historically been reserved primarily for competition or performance dancing, and are generally not executed on any social dance floor.
The Lindy Hop is popularly thought to get its name from famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, nicknamed "Lucky Lindy" in 1926. After Lindberg's solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris in which he "hopped" the Atlantic, Shorty George Snowden was dancing in a marathon contest at the Manhattan Casino in Harlem when a reporter asked him what dance he was doing. The headlines in the newspapers had stated "Lindy hops the Atlantic", so he told the reporter, "I'm doing the Lindy Hop".
Lindy Hop entered mainstream American culture in the 1930s, popularized by touring dance troupes (including the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, which were also known as the Harlem Congaroos, Hot Chocolates and Big Apple Dancers), dance sequences in films (such as Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races) and dance studios (such as those of Arthur Murray and Irene and Vernon Castle). Lindy Hop's movement to the west coast of the United States is popularly associated with Dean Collins, who brought Lindy Hop to Los Angeles after (according to popular opinion) learning it at the Savoy Ballroom in New York.
Lindy Hop moved off-shore in the 1930s and 40s, again in films and news reels, but also with American troops stationed overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom,Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other allied nations. Despite their banned status in countries such as Germany, Lindy Hop and jazz were also popular in other European countries during this period.
In 1944, with the United States' continuing involvement in World War II, a 30 percent federal excise tax was levied against "dancing" nightclubs. Although the tax was later reduced to 20 percent, "No Dancing Allowed" signs went up all over the country. Jazz drummer Max Roach argued that, "This tax is the real story why dancing ... public dancing per se ... were [sic] just out. Club owners, promoters, couldn't afford to pay the city tax, state tax, government tax.
There are thriving communities throughout Europe (including Slovenia, Russia, the Ukraine, Hungary, Estonia and other Eastern European countries, Belgium, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Germany and Lithuania), in Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The small village of Herräng in Sweden (north of Stockholm) has unofficially become the international mecca of Lindy Hop thanks to the annual Herräng Dance Camp run by the Harlem Hot Shots, which celebrated its 25th year in 2007, and where Frankie Manning has taught every year since 1989.
Lindy Hop tends to be concentrated in small local scenes in different cities in each of these countries, although regional, national, and international dance events bring dancers from many of these scenes together. Local swing dance communities in each city and country feature different local cultures, though they do share common general traditions and practices, which is the impetus for the Lindy exchange, enabling different communities to share their ideas with others.
Many Internet forums have emerged in these dance scenes. These message boards serve to provide information to dancers about Lindy Hop and dance events in the geographic area. Yehoodi has become the largest of these and now caters to an international audience, although many smaller local forums (such as Swingmonkey.com and Windyhop.com) also exist. Local swing dance related Internet forums often reflect the local variations in scenes' cultures and dancing. Because swing dancers travel to dance quite regularly, Internet forums, calendars & listings (such as SwingOutOfTown.com and LindyExchange.com) are an important medium for communication between local scenes, and for dancers visiting a particular city or country.
Lindy Hop today is danced as a social dance, as a competitive dance, as a performance dance, and in classes and workshops. In each, partners may dance alone or together, with improvisation a central part of social dancing and many performance and competition pieces. Solo sequences in Lindy Hop are sometimes executed as part of a partner dance when one or both of the partner initiates a "breakaway" causing the partners to separate their connection and dance solo with each other using (if at all) visual lead and follow cues. These sequences may include Charleston moves, traditional jazz dance moves (such as boogie steps, Shorty George, Suzie Q, etcetera) and contemporary jazz, hip-hop, and modern dance movements.
Lindy Hop has been featured in the mass media since its inception.
In the 1953 episode of I Love Lucy called "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined", Lucy dances Lindy Hop with a "cool cat" dance partner in a showcase at Ricky's nightclub but can't do the dance properly due to the dilating eyedrops the eye doctor gave her.
Lindy Hop is featured in several music videos, including Marilyn Manson's Mobscene, the 2002 music video to Elvis Presley vs. JXL remix of A Little Less Conversation and the 2007 music video to Christina Aguilera's song Candyman.
The Lindy Hop was the dance Homer Simpson performed as a panda in The Simpsons episode 'Homer vs Dignity' season 12.