Lindy hop is only one of many swing dances popular today, and there are thriving local communities throughout the world. Structurally, lindy hop's basic step the swing out combines both closed position and open position, and is clearly related to the Charleston. It is the most popular swing dance in most swing dancing communities, and its revival in the 1980s has since seen local communities develop in many cities.
Internationally, similar patterns are found in other countries, from Canada to the United Kingdom, though universities play a smaller role. Local dance communities are largely representative of the more affluent or dominant cultural groups within their wider social context. In cities such as London there are often more older dancers, as the higher costs of living in these cities often prevent many younger or less financially able dancers attending as many dances or events as they might wish. In Australia the general population of lindy hoppers is younger, with most dancers in their teens and early twenties. This is largely the result of promotional activities by larger dance schools, for whom this group offers an ideal market, and by (once again) the time and financial resources demanded by lindy hopping.
For countries such as Australia and New Zealand, travel adds an additional financial requirement, as the largest and most respected teachers and events are located in the United States and Europe. Similar comments may be made about the lindy hop community in Singapore. Korea and Japan offer slightly different examples, though there is again a preponderance of younger, middle class youth in these local communities. The lindy hop communities in Russia, however offer an interesting contrast. Dancers in these cities are occasionally subsidised by wealthier countries, and as an example, Russian dancers have received subsidised passes for large dance camps such as the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden.
This emphasis on travel is encouraged and facilitated by the preponderance of online communication in lindy hop culture. Many Internet forums have emerged in local lindy hop 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 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 are an important medium for communication between local scenes, and for dancers visiting a particular city or country.
Despite these differences in taste, lindy hop is historically and practically associated with artists such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Lionel Hampton and so on. Lindy hoppers are particularly fond of big band arrangements by and featuring these (and other) musicians.
Live music is still very popular with lindy hoppers, and many dancers have formed close relationships with local artists in their own communities. Newer artists such as George Gee (bandleader) and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra have proved particularly popular with lindy hoppers. Despite this relationship with live music, recorded music, DJed by dancers, is the most popular musical medium for lindy hoppers today. DJing itself has assumed great significance in lindy hop culture, with dancers and DJs alike hotly debating which types of music should be played, and when. The SwingDJs discussion board is a clear example of an online community within the lindy hop community which has developed solely around the playing of music for dancing lindy hop.
Lindy hop today is not only influenced by historic dance forms, but also by popular contemporary dances and music such as soul, groove, funk, hip hop, West Coast Swing and salsa while others explore jazz, tap, blues and other traditional jazz and African American dances as resources to expand and enrich lindy hop.
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 moves (such as boogie steps, Shorty George, Suzie Q, etcetera) and contemporary jazz and modern dance movements.
Choreographed routines are frequently danced on the social floor as well as in competitions, performances and classes, with some of the most famous examples including:
Dance floor etiquette varies in each scene, where, for example, one scene may encourage men to ask women to dance; another encourage advanced dancers to ask beginners; and, in a third, only friends ask each other to dance. In some scenes it is considered rude to leave a partner without having a second dance, while in many scenes there are unspoken conventions about teachers dancing with students, more experienced dancers dancing with beginners, and so on. There are no consistent rules between local scenes, though there are often national or international patterns.
Social lindy hop not only involves partners dancing unchoreographed dances, but also a range of other traditions and activities. Jam circles, are a tradition dating back to the 1930s and earlier in African American vernacular dance culture, and have much in common with musical cutting contests in jazz. Malcolm X describes 'jam circles' in his autobiography as a loose circle forming around a couple or individual whose dancing was so impressive it captured the attention of dancers around them, who would stop and watch, cheering and clapping. This tradition continues in most lindy hop communities today, with other couples interrupting, joining, or replacing the original couple in the cleared 'circle'. Dancers usually leave or enter at the end of a musical phrase.
Many lindy hoppers insist that these jams be unchoreographed, with dancers entering or leaving the circle independently, though many jams are choreographed, whether as part of a performance, or simply because a local scene does not practice unchoreographed jams.
The jam format is often used to celebrate a special event (a birthday, engagement, wedding, etc), to welcome a visitor or to farewell a local. These jams are often announced by the DJ, the focus dancer or couple begin in a cleared circle, with other dancers gathering to clap and cheer. These watching dancers will 'cut in' or 'steal' one of the partners in a couple, or the 'special' dancer to dance with them in the circle until they are in turn replaced.
Social, dancer-run lindy hop dances are held in a range of spaces, from private parties to church and town halls, bars, gymnasiums, university halls, night clubs, pub function rooms, and any other space with enough room for a dance floor. Individual events may attract anywhere from ten to a thousand dancers, and may run from as little as half an hour to all night. Music may be provided by DJs, by live bands, or by music left to play unattended on a sound system, depending on the local scene's conventions and the nature of that particular event. DJs and bands may play a range of music from the 1920s to today, tending to concentrate on big band music from the 1930s and 1940s. Live bands play a wide variety of music for lindy hoppers, from big band standards and blues to original compositions. There are ongoing debates about the types of music most appropriate for lindy hop and other swing dances, with the discussions focussing on whether the music should be historically accurate (ie matching a dance style with the popular music of the day) or include other musical styles and forms.
Social dances attract dancers from a range of ages and backgrounds, and dress may range from rigorously 'vintage' or historically accurate to a particular 'swing era' (1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc) to casual sports or street wear, again depending on local culture and the event itself.
Lindy hop is generally considered a very dynamic form of dance. Lindy performances may combine choreographed routines, improvised sequences, solo and partner dancing and frequently feature the aerial (dance move) steps for which it is perhaps most famous. Contemporary lindy hoppers often recreate or perform historical choreographed routines found in films or taught by 'swing era' dancers such as Frankie Manning. The most well known of these include the Lindy Chorus, the Hellzapoppin' routine from the film Hellzapoppin' and the Big Apple from the film Keep Punchin'. Performances are often held at social dancing events as part of a brief floor show, often to showcase a visiting teacher, a local troupe or to display a particular dance style. Solo performances and performances by couples are as important as troupes, and performances of all types are often integrated into a social dancing event rather than held as separate events. There are exceptions to this, with The Rhythm Hot Shots touring internationally and holding swing dance shows as part of a teaching tour. Lindy hop dance schools and clubs frequently include a performance troupe, with membership in these troupes determined by a range of factors, from general auditions, by invitation, as a prerequisite for a teaching position with a school or to display a rare dancing skill or style.
Performance groups that had an impact on the development of Lindy Hop include the following:
Lindy hop performance troupes are often quite different to a professional modern dance or ballet company. They are usually amateur groups, their members may vary in experience and ability, and they often serve as promotional vehicles for lindy hop schools and clubs. Lindy hop's nature as a predominantly social dance with its roots as a self-learned vernacular dance, combined with the comparative lack of experts, resources, and public demand in many local communities also contribute to its differences. As does the fact that most lindy hoppers come to the dance in the twenties or late teens, rather than as children who train for many years before joining performance groups.
Reasons to form or be in such a troupe vary, but usually belong to one or more of the following categories:
There are a range of competition types, and competition nights frequently feature categories in each of the following styles. There are some exceptions, such as the Hellzapoppin' competition, which only features the 'no-rules' competition format.
Almost all of these competitions are couple dances, though some involve elements of solo dancing. Many lindy hop competitions distinguish between professional and amateur dancers, include invitation-only categories, offer cash prizes and are judged by well respected lindy hop dancers. Most are not regulated by any national or international body.
Partners dance to different tempo and style songs, either in 'all skates' where all dancers are on the floor, or 'shines' where couples take to the floor alone, usually at phrase-long intervals.
Entrants are judged on their ability to 'lead' and 'follow', though criteria and judging style and importance vary between competitions and scenes.
The 'no-rules' approach was just that - any dance move or style was allowed - again a reaction to the heavily codified showcase style competitions. Despite this 'no-rules' mandate, couples are frequently disadvantaged if they use extensive choreography in their performance. No-rule competitions often involve some degree of audience approval judging.
These competitions usually involve the turn-taking and shine/all-skate formats described in the Jack and Jill section, though in a range of combinations. While they may also be invitation-only, they are frequently open to all competitors, from all experience levels.
Despite the emphasis on partner dancing in these sorts of competitions, there is often much interaction between competitors and between the audience and competitors, frequently in the employment of comic devices (such as "silly walks" or impersonations) or showy and physically impressive "stunt" moves such as aerials. This type of interaction is typical of the call and response of West African and African American music and dance. In this call and response, audiences and fellow competitors encourage dancers with cheers, shouts, applause, physical gestures and other feedback.
See List of lindy hop moves for a list of lindy hop dance moves.
See also: Connection
Dancers at social events usually have a wide range of skill levels, so cooperating with one's partner matters as much as dancing skill. Dancing with a new partner is a study in flexibility and calibration. What can the new partner do? What are his or her limitations? What does he or she like to do? Dancing with a regular partner is an opportunity to play and practice difficult moves, such as aerials (which are dangerous without regular practice).
More important than moves is connection (in simple form, any point of body contact between partners is connection), which allows both partners to communicate. Social dancers are generally concerned about connection, whether their partner "feels good," rather than whether their partner is capable of doing a number of moves in succession. This connection also allows both partners to style with each other and the music, resulting in a totally improvised, musical dance.
Dancers with a good sense of musicality respond to all elements of the music to which they are dancing. They may choose to accentuate certain elements to make an artistic statement about the music through movement. When watching dancers with good musicality, viewers should be able to "see" the song in the dancers' movements, so that even without music, the song would still be recognizable through the dance itself. In jazz music, there are many elements in a song to which a dancer could respond. These elements could be the melody, the counter-melody, the phrases and breaks in the melody, the beat, the back beat, the drums, the bass, the keys of the piano and any other musical or rhythmic components.
Musicality develops slowly over time. New dancers frequently focus on moves independent of the music, whereas more advanced dancers will match their movements to what they hear in the music. In order to dance with musicality a dancer must have a strong sense of rhythm and a good ear for music, as well as a solid base of knowledge about the techniques and basic moves for his or her style of dance.