Lindy Hop dancers bring back the roots of this black American dance

The jazz band swings hard like two black dancers from Charleston in the middle of a jam. The crowd roars as one kicks wildly in all directions, then drops into a jazz split. It’s not 1922, it’s May 2022 in Harlem, New York.

“I feel called to learn more about these traditions,” says Tyedric Hill. “I do a lot to make it visible – to make black people aware that there is a history worth learning and to be proud of.” Hill is a Columbus, Ohio-based practitioner of Lindy Hop, an energetic and joyful dance that originated in Harlem in the 1920s.

Today Lindy Hop is a global phenomenon with dance communities in places like Stockholm, Seoul and San Francisco. Much of this popularity dates back to a swinging craze in the 1990s, fueled by films like Swingers and Children’s Swing and a Gap clothing ad featuring mostly jitterbugging white dancers in khaki. In popular media, the dance has been largely portrayed by white and non-black dancers, obscuring its beginnings as a black art form.

But in recent years, a cross-generational group of black dancers, through efforts like the Lindy Hoppers Black Fundfought for their history and continued participation in this dance to be recognized and honored.

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were a professional group of exceptional dancers who formed in the 1920s at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. (Courtesy of the Frankie Manning Foundation)

Lindy Hop emerged as part of the explosion of black artistic creativity of the 1918-1930s dubbed the “Harlem Renaissance”. Musical legends Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald helped create the era soundtrack. New York may have been the center of activity, but black musicians, dancers, authors, poets and artists were producing incredible works from urban centers across the United States. Columbus, particularly the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood, was one such center where black-owned theaters, jazz clubs, and other businesses flourished.

Colleen D. Ervin