Guess what! That’s right, another new series! I’ve also thrown up a black-and-white picture of people swing dancing, just to keep switching things up around here. (Actually, Wham! beat it out.)
Usually at Swungover I try to come to some sort of conclusion about something before I post it, even if it’s just a temporary conclusion. But there are lots of questions regarding the scene that aren’t easily answered, if they are answerable at all— debates with plenty of good points on each side of the issue. So, that’s what this new series will tackle. It’s called The Great Debate, where I’ll try to present a few different sides to the more puzzling arguments attacking the swing scene. And, here’s the thing: I’d love for you, dear readers, to please go crazy in the comments or on your own blogs, offering your own opinion on things. (Just please leave the trash-talking to other forums of discussion than the Swungover comments section.) Also, if there is a debate you’d love to have discussed here, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear what other people think are the great debates of the swing scene.
We’ll start off the series relatively simply with this first question:
Should Lindy Hop be danced to non-swing music?
By the schizophrenic Robert White (and Robert White)
The reason almost every dance exists in the first place is because of the music that inspired it.
Almost every beginner Lindy Hopper goes through a phase where they hear a song and say, “Hey, you can Lindy Hop to this!” It’s perfectly natural, and you should not be ashamed if you’ve gone through this phase, or are still going through it.
However, I think this phase comes about because, for most people, Lindy Hop is the only social partnered dance they know, and they love music, so they try to express themselves to other music using the only tool they have—Lindy Hop. But most other forms of music already have dances that specifically evolved to express that particular music. Hip Hop music has Hip Hop dance, and if you tried it for awhile, I would almost garuntee it’s actually a much more pleasing way to express Hip Hop than to force Lindy Hop to it.
Lindy Hop is a dance created specifically to express yourself to swing music, and that’s where it lives. Here’s where some of you who may have agreed with me (Mr. No) so far, may suddenly disagree with me: I think Charleston music is no exception. Lindy Hop should not be danced to Charleston music because Charleston has already specifically evolved to perfectly express Ragtime and Dixieland music and rhythm. (Not to mention that it seems slightly odd to Lindy Hop to music that was often created a decade before Lindy Hop as we know it existed.)
Frankie Manning himself, in the documentary Ken Burns’s Jazz, Episode 4 states that “Lindy Hop itself is done to swing music. If you know what a swing is, it’s very smooth and it flows…before that you were doing Charleston.” (Dean Collins, Norma Miller, and countless other old-timers have said very similar things, regarding swing rhythm being an intrinsic part of Lindy Hop.)
Now, I’m not suggesting you have to do only original pre-1930s Charleston steps if you dance to a pre-1930s song. You can easily further evolve the Charleston by adding your own flavor, personality, and making up new Charleston moves, but it’s the foundation of a dance that’s the point here. Charleston is a dance that doesn’t move horizontally much, and puts more emphasis on vertical rhythm, just like a Charleston song. And, more important to this debate, the foundation of Lindy Hop as we dance it today was built for swing, as in, music with swung rhythms from the early/mid–1930s and after.
Trying to dance Lindy Hop to other forms of music can easily become a simple case of misuse; like using a sports car to haul lumber when there’s a perfectly good truck in the driveway.
Lindy Hop is a street dance, not a planned thing with such strict rules as “You can’t dance Lindy Hop to other music.” Frankie Manning himself supposedly showed how one could dance Lindy to a Hip Hop song, inspiring Steven Mitchell to create many “Hep Hop” steps and even an album of Hep Hop music.
Dancing is about joy—so why stop people from having joy dancing the dance they know to other music than swing? Besides, it might inspire the dance to grow. Nothing encourages growth better than forcing something outside of its comfortable box, and dancing to different music might inspire new moves and variations that can evolve once again to fit the Lindy’s original swing rhythms.
Besides, Lindy Hop might not be able to afford to be picky about what kind of music it’s danced to. We’re already a small sub-group within a small scene of partnered dance lovers. Once people start putting stipulations on what is or isn’t Lindy Hop, then you stifle creativity, you limit possibilities, and you turn people away, people who don’t want a hint of a ballroom-like regulation put on their dance.
Professional Lindy Hoppers, perhaps, are at a point where they care about being so authentic that they only dance to certain styles of jazz. However, the swing scene as a whole primarily consists of people who simply enjoy dancing and meeting people and aren’t so worried about being authentic or professionally expressive dancers. (Even pros will dance Lindy Hop to other music, as many cross-over Jack and Jills will show.)
We also, as a scene, have a far greater ability to hear different music than the original Lindy Hoppers did. It IS possible for us to have a Charleston band one night and a swing band the next and a Blues band the next. So, in one sense, it might be more natural for us to expand the dance than it would have been for an old-timer who might have only danced Lindy Hop only to swing music because that was the only music they heard at the dance hall that wasn’t a Waltz or Latin dance number.
Regarding doing Lindy Hop to Charleston songs, many great dancers have altered their rhythm and move choice to dance Lindy Hop to a Charleston song with great looking results that fit the music nicely. The same thing has happened recently with Soul music.
This is because one of Lindy Hop’s strengths is the very foundation Mr. No spoke of: Its basic lead and follow mechanics, allowance of solo expression, and 8-count basic can easily be adapted to support different dance forms.
To go back to the Charleston topic; Charleston was a beat that evolved into swing music and a dance that evolved into Lindy Hop, so surely it’s not a stretch to “devolve” the Lindy Hop foundation to its roots, and do the same with some of its modern moves, to create a style of Lindy Hop that fits Charleston music.
Besides, there’s all sorts of “transitional jazz” songs whose rhythms are between Charleston and Lindy Hop that make a “strictly swing” policy tricky. Think Fats Waller’s “24 Robbers.” It’s impossible to say that Skye and Frida’s routine to that isn’t “Lindy Hop.” (Mr. No would like to point out at this point that while the piano in the song “24 Robbers” often has a Charleston rhythm, the brushes on the snare go back and forth between a slight Charleston emphasis and a more swung rhythm. Fats Waller can’t be easily labeled.) (Mr. Yes would like to point out that he didn’t interrupt Mr. No’s argument, so Mr. No should kindly shut his port hole up.)
So, where would you draw the line? When is a song too Charleston to Lindy Hop to? I think the answer to that can only be decided by what people feel like dancing to the music. For instance, if people thought you should only ever dance Lindy Hop to swing music, we would never have this routine:
Aside: Okay, so this was a great excuse to post this routine by Jeff and Liz. It was the perfect ending to the Lindy Focus (always a great-spirited event) showcase contest, and what the video doesn’t show is the entire room, judges as well, giving a standing ovation to the dancers. Many people were tearing up. The flash mob was a complete surprise to everyone who wasn’t in it. It was kind of bizarre, suddenly having a third of the audience stand up and walk out onto the floor in the middle of a couple’s showcase routine.
This routine made a lot of people happy, feel like they were part of a supportive greater community, and probably made them very excited to dance soon after the contest. That to me is the spirit of what Lindy Hop is about, so to me, it’s Lindy Hop.
When I heard the Frankie Manning Hip Hop story, I heard that Frankie danced to a Hip Hop song because he was showing that the particular Hip Hop song he was dancing to had a similar accent as swing. And, a lot of Soul music is a close relative to swung rhythms. However, I still contest that you have to alter the dance so much to fit the new music that it becomes something other than Lindy Hop.
If you danced your classic “Lindy Hop” to Soul music, it wouldn’t make sense. However, you can use some of your Lindy Hop lead and follow mechanics to create what becomes an undefined Lindy/West Coast/Soul hybrid.
So, I guess instead of saying “You can’t dance Lindy Hop to non-swing music,” perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that “You can dance Lindy Hop steps to non-swing music if you want, but at that point, it’s no longer Lindy Hop.”
This is reinforced by almost every international-level Lindy Hop contest, which almost always only use swing music. (Though some of them often use music that could be described as more Charleston in rhythm, which begins to blur the lines and make my argument tricky. Perhaps the use of Charleston music is because of a scene-wide popularity in Charleston music, and the scene as a whole hasn’t questioned whether Lindy Hop is still considered Lindy Hop when danced to it or not.)
The Blues dance scene has always understood the connection between the music and the dance, as Blues dancers use many Lindy Hop mechanics, but know that what they do is it’s own dance, evolved specifically for the type of music they dance to. So they call it Blues, not “Slow Lindy Hop” (which itself is only a small, specific subcategory of Blues).*
So, like the routine Mr. Yes mentioned, a performance can be incredibly charming, well-danced, and have a very positive spirit (all things that make up great Lindy Hop), but moving to the rhythm of a Reggae-ish Pop rhythm takes the swing rhythm out of the dance and thus, to me, makes it officially NOT Lindy Hop. Yes, it might have inspired people to dance and be happy, but I’d argue that good movement and storytelling are what make this routine inspirational, not the fact that there is Lindy Hop in it.
In that light, such a performance would be more of an artistic or theatrical piece that experiments with taking Lindy Hop outside of its foundation, and would therefore, in my opinion, be a perfect submission for a Cabaret contest. (And I’d hate to be the act that would have to follow Jeff and Liz’s, by the way. At Lindy Focus IX, no one had to.)
The mere fact that Charleston music is often used for Lindy Hop competitions shows that the scene as a whole is open, at least to some extent, to allowing Lindy Hop to step outside this strict “swing-only” definition of it. This means not everyone thinks Lindy Hop is intrinsically tied specifically to swing music. If you can make an exception for Charleston music, you should be able to make an exception for any music that inspires someone to do Lindy Hop.
And, if you expect people to adhere to a certain idea of Lindy Hop, perhaps contests should define what they think Lindy Hop means. Maybe, just so all competitors are on the same page, a contest should be billed as a Lindy Hop contest done to swing music from 1935 to 1945 between 180 BPM and 250 BPM.
Otherwise, the dance is done by people, and it is us, the people as a whole, who really decide what Lindy Hop means. For instance, Frankie Manning, though a great source, is not the only person who has a say in what it means. A hundred years from now, “Late-2000s Style Lindy Hop” might come into vogue, and people will assume that to us, Lindy Hop meant a dance done to early jazz music of all kinds. (It will also mean there will be a whole new generation of people trying to imitate Skye.)**
So, what have I left out? Where does the debate go from here? What do you agree with/disagree with? What are the problems inherent in these specific ways of thinking? What are some other ways to look at the problem?
Note: Our West Coast Swing Siblings
I would consider this debate rather low-key in the modern Lindy Hop scene; it’s probably not the first thing on a lot of people’s minds. However, the West Coast Swing scene has, for several years now, been in the middle of a severe identity crisis.
The “swing” in West Coast Swing came from its roots in Western Swing and Rhythm and Blues music. However, watch almost any modern West Coast Swing choreography, and you’d be hard pressed to find a swung rhythm. In a sense, the younger generation took over, and most of them prefer to dance to contemporary popular music. The result is that people are constantly questioning if contemporary West Coast Swing is still at its heart the same thing as the original dance, and, if it still actually swings at all.
My answer to the West Coast scene (not that anyone has—or ever would—ask me) is to acknowledge that the musical differences between contemporary Pop music and classic Rhythm and Blues music are so great that the dances that would do justice to them warrant different contests at this point.
So, the big events could have both a “Classic West Coast Swing Music” comp and a “Contemporary” comp, at least for the top dancers (the lower levels could dance to a mixture in their contests), though I imagine this would be tricky to do with their points system, and would add another dozen contests to events already filled to the brim with them. Besides, I’m sure someone has already mentioned this to them and there’s some reasons why it’s not a good idea. Or, maybe I’m late in thinking it’s still a big problem; maybe contemporary has won? Does this mean no more harmonica song? (The “Splanky” of the West Coast Swing world? By the way, Mary Ann Nunez is a badass.)
If West Coast Swing goes all contemporary, though, we officially get to take back the term “Swing dance.”
*— However, apparently the Blues scene is having some similar debates at the moment. Thanks, Chelsea!
**—Okay, so its always easy to make people-imitating-Skye jokes. And, I promise I’ll stop, because, really, the scene is growing out of it and a lot of young artists are emerging from the Skye imitators that once numbered the ballrooms.
I hope the readers know that Skye Humphries is one of my favorite swing dancers to watch (just like many of you) and I think is one of the greatest Lindy Hop artists of the new generation. However, I think many of you will agree that Skye’s dancing is often so different from everyone else’s that attempts to imitate his style, rather than simply be inspired by it, come off as, well…. Maybe I’ll put it this way: You can be inspired by Louis Armstrong’s singing, like Billie Holiday was, and take elements of his style and make it your own. Or, you can try to imitate Louis Armstrong exactly: gravely voice, scatting, phrasing, all of it. Which one of would you rather listen to sing, Billie Holiday or a Louis Armstrong imitator? Which would you rather be? (You know, leaving out all the years of pre-adolescent prostitution, drug use, and living with national racism.)
However, in the spirit of this great debate series, I should mention that often artists get a great deal out of imitating those they look up to. They learn to live in that dancer’s shoes for awhile, learn a little bit about how that dancer thinks, even. The problem, I think, comes when it’s adopted by a dancer in place of their own voice.
Besides, you know, we’ve all tried a blatantly-Skye move or an entire blatantly Skye dance before. Or, at least, I know I have. Anyway, this is all SO not important to the debate. End of footnote tangent.
Special Thanks go out to champion high-school debater (and modern lawyer) David Lee who helped look over the post and make sure I didn’t say anything stupid.
60 responses to “The Great Debate: Should Lindy Hop be danced to other music?”
As someone who enjoys Lindy, Bal, and WCS, in no particular order (though with more wcs experience) it’s a funny question. For instance all the Lindy dancers I’ve heard talk on the subject have very very strong feelings that the music should have a more ‘authentic’ feel. In WCS on the other hand the discussion is much more about specific songs, and the contemporary versus blues or possibly funk and soul, seems to run along generational lines.
Personally I’d prefer that no decision was made. I’d rather dance to as many kinds of music as possible and at some dances exactly that happens. My main concern is that a song has energy.
You’re at a wedding. You’ve jerked stupidly in a circle with other guests most of the night, but you and your partner can lindy hop, and a decently paced, pleasant modern pop song comes on with a bit of a swing. It ain’t Two O’Clock Jump, but it’ll do. You dance, feel so much better.
Dancing to non swing music is almost always better than not dancing at all.
My feeling is along the lines of what Mr No wrote:
“You can dance Lindy Hop steps to non-swing music if you want, but at that point, it’s no longer Lindy Hop.”
I think there’s still massive scope for progressing and innovating Lindy Hop whilst still keeping the swinging music part of it. I’m even willing to concede that the music doesn’t even have to be from 1932 – 1947! ;).
Having said that, I think it’s kinda nice that we use our skills to mess around dancing with swing music’s neighbours, because that’s where creativity can blossom and something completely new might develop. Just as long as everybody understands and is respectful of the differences.
Good points and well written. I believe I’m more of a miss No, even tho I loved Liz’ and Jeff’s routine. For me the dance comes from the music, and certain music makes you move in certain ways. When I dance I prefer to work with the music, not against it. So if somebody puts on hip hop/r’n’b I prefer to do my own thing and shake my booty around instead of trying to do Lindy that doesn’t have room for that kind of movements. In the same way I love doing Lindy to a really swinging song when I can really feel that my body does things that just feels so right. And it breaks my heart a little when I see people doing Lindy with a styling that just doesnt feel right to the music that is played. That’s why I really liked Jeff and Liz, they addapted to the music they had chosen, and they’re damned cute, how can you not love it, it’s like not loving puppies.
so, mr no’s argument is that you can only lindy to swing music? I’d say he needs to define “swing music” better. is any song that is built on swung notes a swing song? or is it only music from a particular era that happens to be swung? swung notes are prevalent in many different styles of music, and some even match the bpm of traditional swing. without a clearer picture of what mr no means by “swing music”, the question is moot. and depending on how tightly he defines it (and lindy hop itself), the question itself disappears)
Well I know what IS, and I know what ISN’T, and in between it’s just a whole grey area where everyone will feel something different.
ah, the Potter Stewart philosophy of swing music!
I like where you’re going, Greg. I think defining swing is near the heart of this matter. It’s actually spurred a conversation at our house involving Kate’s fancy musical dictionaries, lots of drumming on legs and scatting, and the idea that there are three levels to the definition of swing: a swung textbook rhythm, an intermediate layer including emphasis on that rhythm (what would make the difference between Chick Webb and a “sweet” swing song’s drummer playing the same textbook swung rhythm), and a the “grand” layer, involving all the different nuances and characteristics of the swing music’s era.
But I’m interested in hearing what you think swing music might mean to Mr. No, or, really, what you and others think “swing” might mean in the phrase “Swing is intrinsically linked to the definition of Lindy Hop.”
Not knowing much about music theory, or anything beyond a sketchy history of the evolution of proto-Lindy, I’m not sure how precise I can be on this. I mean, what song was playing the first time someone did a swing out?
I’m honestly not certain what Mr. No means, particularly. Even in the 30s and 40s, “swing music” was rather multi-stylistic, ranging from big bands, to improvisational jazz, to jump blues and boogie woogie (and probably many others), all of which incorporated or were based around swung rhythm (which in my mind is basically just the drawn out first note and shortened second note, be they quarters or eighths, be it 4/4 or something else).
But I’m not sure how Mr No differentiates that music from any modern music which is based on or incorporates swung rhythm. Hell, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is swung. (That entire style of hiphop is called “new jack swing“!) And what about the modern movements that are clearly and specifically fusions of swing with other styles? Where he draws the line, I have no idea.
Which leads to my biggest confusion regarding Mr No: he says “You can easily further evolve the Charleston by adding your own flavor, personality, and making up new Charleston moves, but it’s the foundation of a dance that’s the point here. Charleston is a dance that doesn’t move horizontally much, and puts more emphasis on vertical rhythm, just like a Charleston song. And, more important to this debate, the foundation of Lindy Hop as we dance it today was built for swing, as in, music with swung rhythms from the early/mid–1930s and after.”
If you can evolve the dance, why can’t you evolve the music? So long as the music has swung rhythms (“the foundation of Lindy Hop as we dance it”!), why not Lindy to it, regardless of how non-30s/40s/50s era swing it sounds?
(can you tell I like parentheticals?)
I think most people would agree that when your dancing Lindy Hop patterns to different music, you dance differently (if you’re dancing to the music). I think most would also agree that at some point the music is so different that the dancing isn’t Lindy Hop anymore.
So it’s a semantic issue – how big a fence do you want to draw around dancing music and still call the dancing Lindy Hop. As you mentioned Lindy Hop isn’t about codifying or prescribing, so perhaps we can all just agree to disagree on how big the fence should be.
I guess the other part of this is that to say “Lindy Hop should only be danced to swing music” one also needs to define what swing music is. That’s opening up a whole other can – there’s plenty of disagreement among music nerds and musicians about what swing (the quality) and Swing (the genre) are. Some food for thought: Does Swing music need to be Big Band? Does all Big Band music swing? If it’s not from 30s-40’s is it Swing? What if it’s a contemporary band playing in the same style? Do you need a full rhythm section in order to swing? What if a banjo replaces a guitar? What difference does amplification make? What about the newer genres of Neo-swing and Electo-swing? What if a song changes rhythms, either subtly or obviously?
No. No. Could be. Yes. No. Still okay. Gets louder. Kinda. A song can have swinging parts and non-winging parts to it for sure.
*non-winging = non-swinging. Typing fail.
I’ll second Peter’s comment about dancing at weddings, and extend that to any other out of context location where two Lindy Hoppers might find joy in whatever music is playing.
I’ll add that I’m a product of my geography, and this trend of dancing to “soul” music baffles me. Most of the music I hear that people DJ as soul is Carolina Shag music, which I’ve been beat over the head with since birth. It does not move me to dance Lindy, it reminds me of family (a lot of my relatives shag) and being stuck in my Mom’s car being forced to listen to the oldies radio station in eastern North Carolina. While I’m with Mr. Yes on rare occasions, when it comes to hearing soul music I just can’t bring myself to enjoy dancing Lindy Hop to it. This music is too loaded with other associations. Also, the music Lindy Hoppers characterize as soul is markedly different from soul music played in the mod/scooter community. Lindy soul tends toward the pop of that era, while these mod soul DJs dig deeper into obscure artists, DJ exclusively on vinyl, and will pay hundreds of dollars for a single record to add to their collection (which makes it impossible to share mp3s and makes their collections that much more impressive). I’m getting way off track here…back to the topic at hand. Whether it’s Lindy soul or mod soul, I still don’t want to Lindy Hop to it.
I once had a birthday jam to “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” by Prince. We all had fun with that. Isn’t that all that really matters when you’re dancing?
I think that my answer is “Sometimes, but not always.”
There are a lot of aspects of modern lindy hop that we’ve created. We’ve expanded the dance past what was being danced in the 1940’s, and similarly, our music has evolved (both forwards and backwards in time). Lindy hop as an art form and a way of expression is what draws us to as many creative outlets as we can find – including new music. But if we want to make sure we’re still dancing Lindy Hop, and not “some dance with these patterns that we all do and learn in giant workshops that evolved from the swing era but now is different” then we need to keep our roots in the late 30’s – 40’s – in the same way I think that we should look at the old clips for inspiration and to keep us grounded in Lindy Hop.
Thank you Bobby for an awesome post! It is good to include both sides in a conversation and to acknowledge that not only do different dancers have valid opinions on both sides, but any one dancer can prioritize one or the other side at different times. I think it is important to reflect on the perspectives and values of dancers in order to see why someone would prefer a stricter or more open approach.
Mr. No states that dances evolved with the music and so the dance that evolved with the music is best fitted to be done to that music and only that music. Why does Mr. No believe in this stricter standard? Someone would say he is just a snob. Perhaps, he has these standards because the standards are a relection of the reason he dances in the first place. For me, a Lindy Hopper who prefers traditional swing music excludes other music from the definition of the term Lindy Hop because he dances to express a certain aesthetic (an aesthetic that is contemporaneous or in the spirit of the Lindy Hop greats from the 30s and 40s). Mr. No would like to be judged as a contemporaneous dancer to Frankie and company. Mr. No is primarily looking to join the community of original swing dancers. He might look at joy as a secondary concern. Namely, you experience joy when you dance well to a song with a dance that is aesthetically tailored to that song. For those like Mr. No, you can’t take away the steps of Lindy Hop from the music that created it. They are a beautiful whole. Dancing to it and its music is to participate in something wonderful.
Mr. Yes, as Bobby says, is dancing primarily for joy. Thus he judges whether to dance Lindy Hop to non-swing music based on whether the dance creates those feelings. In this sense Lindy Hop itself is not viewed as an aesthetic tied to a certain time or music but rather as a tool to be applied to any music for the sake of the joy of creativity, expression, or other motivations. Mr. Yes might argue for a more expansive definition of what swing music is than Mr. No would, namely they might say that any song they can dance the moves of Lindy to is “swing music.” They seek not to be contemporaneous to the original Lindy Hoppers but to take original dancers gift of Lindy and make it work for them.
Perhaps you would describe the motivations differently or you might have different motivations at different times. Nonetheless, I find it helpful to think about these overarching aims when I approach questions like this. Usually the debate turns into a semantic debate about the terms Lindy Hop or swing, when what is more important is exploring more of your own motivations and purposes for dancing.
I’m a No and a Yes
I’m a NO because
when I’m dancing Lindy, Balboa or Balswing, swing music is the only music that feels right and informs your dance. What you do comes right out of the music and you don’t have to put it in yourself – swing inspires swing dance. I cringe when people assume that because some 50’s rock track is fast you can ‘bal to it’ – it just doesn’t work like that BUT
I’m also a YES because
We started with a small scene and wer’e growing because we often go out to local rock & roll and jive social dances where they play 50’s and modern music. We dance our dance to their music, people like it, get curious, ask what it is, we give them fliers, they come along out of curiosity to our place and then we play OUR music. We got a lot of people who never danced lindy or balboa and we won them over in a way we could never have done if we didn’t dance to their beat. They get to like the dance and they get to prefer the music. Sometimes you have to pick through the crap to get the strawberrys.
David: Your description of the motivations is fair, but I think you’re also missing a big part of why this argument exists in the first place. There’s an economic issue at work here.
In the minds of most traditionalists, dancing to non-swing music (loosely defined) imposes an externality on the rest of the swing community. That is, when one person dances to a non-swing song, it imposes costs on the rest of us in addition to whatever costs and benefits the dancers or DJs themselves consider. As I think we all agree, Lindy Hop done to Swing music (loosely defined) lends itself to a natural aesthetic, to certain moves, and to certain types of connection. When a large proportion of dancing is done to non-swing music, those attributes become more difficult for each of us to express.
Think of Lindy Hop done to Swing music as something like a dialect of a language. If people speak the dialect less, then it begins to die out. New people learning the language may not speak the dialect at all, or their fluency with its intricacies may decline. It doesn’t matter how well I speak the dialect, if I have no one to speak it with properly, that skill is useless to me, and the utility I get from speaking my dialect is unobtainable.
A lot of the discussion we hear is something along the lines of “is ‘vintage’ Lindy Hop a dialect, or is it the language itself?” That definition will always be fluid, just as the definitions of actual languages are fluid. But that semantic difference is irrelevant, because the economic principle is the same in either case.
As a DJ, I follow something like a 95% rule. 95% of my music ought to be something that an original dancer somewhere in the U.S. claiming to be doing the Lindy Hop or Jitterbug might have danced to, whether it’s by an original band or a more modern one. Songs that fit that definition can vary a lot, and the way that people naturally dance to them can vary a lot as well, just as they may have varied a lot for the original dancers dancing them. I want generally to recreate the musical experience of being a vintage Lindy Hopper, and I want people to feel and express the dance much as the original Lindy Hoppers felt it. But, I think we can accomplish that goal while still letting 5% of our music acknowledge that the whole historical recreation concept is ultimately a charade. :-)
@Lee, nice insights from the perspective of an economist. Doesn’t your analysis of external cost depend on the overall goal of the scene being to preserve the original aesthteic of the dance? I think that’s precisely what’s at issue and why I posted my analysis of the motivations behind the two debaters. Namely I think Mr. Yes would have no problem if the dialect changed cause it’s all lindyhop to him. It’s not a cost to Mr. Yes, cause he doesn’t see the dance as changing.
In a big scene, dancers aren’t as affected if there is a sizable nonswing music lindy scene, because there is a sufficient number of people that will share their approach to dancing and musical preference. In a smaller scene, you are often times dependent on the organizer. If the organizer only plays rockabilly, then perhaps Mr. No would need to learn boogie woogie dance in order to feel comfortable in that scene. Or in a small scene, Mr. No should learn to DJ, play for dancers, and hope they like it.
Generally, whether it’s all called lindyhop or given separate names (like boogie woogie, charleston, lindyhop, Blues, soul, etc), the dances are close enough that they both draw from the same small population of people interested in a swing dance.
I’ve always been a ‘yes’ to this question, for most of the reasons brought forward by Mr Yes. I think Lindy Hop’s great strength is in innovation, and being overly prescriptive stunts that. Also, it’s fun to experiment. But Mr No had persuasive arguments too, for which I will give him due credit. Fabulous article!
I think the real answer comes down to the words “street dance.” If you start insisting on strict requirements for music types and steps you start turning lindy into something like competition ballroom, with its proscribed gold, silver and bronze steps. I think that when you start insisting that your swing dances follow rules like – we play music written between 1935 and 1945 with swung rhythms and …zzzzz – you have killed the heart of lindy hop far more than you do by dancing to Lady Gaga. I’m all for dancing to “authentic” music. When I DJ, it’s 90% of what I play. That said, what’s more awesome than playing Just Dance an having a the entire room of 100 people, beginners to pros rush the dance floor?
OMG yes! :)
If you dance Lindy to music that doesn’t swing, that is no different to dancing out of time as you are dancing in spite of the music, not to the music.
Having said that, I’ve done Lindy Hop to many a modern contemporary tune for the simple reason the track has swung and Lindy Hop was a more appropriate dance than a modern partner dance.
There seems to be this belief amongst many Lindy Hoppers that jazz=swing, non-jazz does not=swing when it comes to Lindy, so you get tracks played at supposed swing events which are awful to Lindy to as they are simply not suitable, despite the fact they are jazz or pre 1960s music like rock and roll.
If I were to play a track that didn’t swing but was jazzy or RnR at a Swing event, then people would probably try and lindy to it, yet if I were to play a modern pop song which did swing nicely, people would be more likely to complain than Lindy to it.
A friend on Facebook mentioned on a track she liked that was played at Swing Hour at a Modern Jive weekend [she’s not a lindy hopper] and when I observed that the track didn’t swing and would actually be quite difficult to Lindy to, I then got some abuse from some of her FB friends for daring to suggest such a thing. It was an old tune therefore it must be Swing was the basic argument. It was very strictly RnR as it happens with no syncopation – which would be nice to RnR dance to.
Dancing has changed and evolved to match the change in the rhythms of popular music rock and roll, boogie woogie, the hustle, modern jive are all adaptations and derivations of Lindy Hop and if you know them all you can pick and choose the one that fits if any do. And sometime Lindy is the preferable choice of dance style, despite the fact that it may be a metal track playing!
If one is being a purist and says that you must dance Lindy only to jazz tracks from say March 1930- July 1944, then how should you dance Lindy as there are a lot of different types of rhythms and melodies from within even that focused a period? And if you are a decent dancer you will change your Lindy to suit the varied songs from then too, so which particular style is then the definitive Lindy Hop? Not to mention different people have very different styles of dancing, so then which person dances do you say dances it correctly and to which song on what particular date?
Being authentic is not slavishly copying what people did in on a particular Tuesday in 1936, but dancing in a way that suits both your own dance style, your partner and the music being danced to – which is what was done then and always has been – by decent dancers that is.
I remember talking about this in Salsa when working out how it worked and the conclusion we came too was it the music made you want to salsa then it was salsa music. Again like Lindy, some people think Latin music=Salsa dancing, which is like thinking Western music=Swing dancing! And you have different Latin dances and timings to suit the different styles of Latin music and some smooth hip-hop/RnB is actually nicer to salsa to than some supposed ‘Latin’ music.
I agree with you, esp with the Salsa argument. Rob Thomas’s smooth is by far not a Latin song but goes great with a Cha Cha.
Does Mr. Yes have Thin Mints? Cause…that’s a pretty persuasive cookie to have on one’s side.
Ha! You’ve caught the subtlety of his argument.
I completely agree with Ian that limiting swing to certain criteria is far more a death knell than dancing to contemporary/alternate music.
I think that as swing is so enormously influenced by traditional music and because musicality is taught and practised to traditional swing music it is easy to fall into the mistake that this is the only way it can be done.
A significant change in the look due to the music does not make it more or less swing whether that change in music is from traditional swing to contemporary music or from 300bpm to 90bpm.
I think just because traditional swing is the best or most popular music to dance to, and typically the easiest to get great musicality, moves, connection etc to does not make it the only way to Lindy. I think it’s great that people want to be authentic, I’m one of them, but I would defend someone’s right to be alternative if it works for them.
Thank you both Mr No, Mr Yes and all the wonderful replies for some great food for thought!
[…] dancing/etc.” Generally, in the case of lindy hop, the question centres around “Can you lindy hop to non-swing music?” I’m still working through it in my head, but I figured I should put down my […]
I love swing music – it’s my absolute most favorite type of music. Always has been, always will be. I don’t dance to swing music because I’m trying to match the original swing dancers at the expense of my joy. Dancing to swing music IS my joy.
I get that most people don’t share my same passion as deeply, and I get why they are attracted to experimenting with swing dancing to other types of music. I know that some people get just as excited about jump blues, or groove music, or hip hop, and that’s cool. I like seeing people get excited. But I don’t attend events that cater to those tastes – it’s not because I’m a snob, or closed-minded, or because I think it’s “wrong”. I just don’t care for it.
I don’t say “Lindy Hop should only be danced to swing music”. I say “I’m happiest when I get to dance to swing music!”.
Wow, that was really dorky. But I’m trying to balance out some of the negativity that Mr. No used in his argument, and show the positive excited side of Mr. No’s point. :)
Side note: I think it’s interesting that most of this post was Swing vs. Charleston music, but most of the comments are Swing vs. Modern music…
Swing music is brilliant.
But, I love the amusement and surprise I experience when realising a well know pop tune has a swing to it – and the resulting mass amusement when I throw it into a DJ set.
A whole set of the kind of stuff would be excruciating – but every now and then it’s fun to throw “deeply dippy” into the mix and pull a ‘gosh, how did that get in there?’ face…
I will however only play music that I consider has swing, has that sideways feel, feels lazy and triple-steppable. But it may well have been released only last week – I couldn’t give two hoots about the era in which it was released.
Without defining ‘Lindy Hop’ and ‘Swing music’ clearly first there isn’t really any point to arguing I think, since everybody seems to agree that everybody should be free to dance to any music they like. What they disagree on is if it all should be called Lindy Hop.
For me I see some similarities from hanging in the goth subculture when I was younger. There was some of us that loved the Goth genre of music (evolving in the punk/postpunk era), whereas other people loved Goth as an identity and therefore reasoned that everything they liked therefore was also goth. To go back do dancing; if you’re dancing to rhythms that aren’t swung, you’re (hopefully) adaptning your dance to the music and I probably wouldn’t call it Lindy Hop, even if you use lead-follow mechanics that you learnt in Lindy Hop.
…and yes, there were different rhythms playing in the 30s and 40s at the Savoy Ballroom too, and guess what; when the bands played non-swinging music the dancers danced other dances than Lindy Hop.
I love swing music, love an awesome hard swinging lindy hop song, and think that lindy hop is perfectly fitted to this type of music. However, I also understand that fixing lindy hop in exactly that space will make it culturally irrelevant quite soon.
It’s an esoteric hobby performed by people with an interest in musical history. It not only has a learning threshold, meaning that you can’t just jump on the floor and be a proficient lindy hopper after one informal lesson, but it has a nerd threshold, which means that you have to be the kind of person who really gets into music that was popular with your grandparent’s parents. You end up being kind of a music geek by default because if you want to dance lindy hop, you have to dance it to this specific type of music. And oh, by the way, this style of music has since had offspring which have evolved in ways that no one could have imagined.
The point is that the large majority of people like to dance to music that they’re familiar with and can relate to. They want to go to the places they already go to and dance with the people they already hang with to music that they grew up with.They’re not bad people, they’re just working with what’s relevant to them, and not doing a lot of backwards looking historical stuff.
Lindy Hop as it exists today is a thing of beauty, but one on its last legs.
First of all, well put – on both sides of the coin!
I’m definitely a Mr. Yes. I’m a DJ in my local scene and play a mix of vintage and non-vintage era music. I call it a Swing dance but it’s more contemporary in nature than traditional. It has been received by mixed emotion. The “Lindy Hop purists” simply don’t come. The “West Coast purists” don’t come either (which our WCS scene has been in that same identity crisis issue as well, as Ballroom and Swing venues alike have been reluctant to dabble in it). The people who come are 1) Beginners to swing dancing; 2) Mr. and Mrs. Yes’s.
And I’m 100% OK with that.
You don’t need 100% vintage swing music played at a dance to call yourself a swing venue anymore than you need to be born in the US to call yourself an American. I’m not neglecting Lindy Hop’s roots though, 2/3 of my music is from the vintage era, playing some of the greats like Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Slim & Slam, and Louis Armstrong, but throw in a contemporary pop song like Christina Aguilera’s Candyman, KT Tunstall’s Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree, or Outkast’s Idlewild Blues in the mix, and you’d be surprised at the immediate response in energy and appreciation it can receive at a swing dance.
Like others have commented, I just want music that you can dance Swing to is all. I’ve seen entire exchanges designed around this principle with widespread success. If this means we’re creating a new age of Lindy Hoppers, then all the more power to us.
As you know, I dance many different types of dances, and I still like to dance lindy to a multitude of song genres. I even enjoy switching dances in the middle of a song just for the fun of it, assuming the lead can do two dances that mix well such as WCS and cha-cha. When you compare lindy, traditional or contemporary, to other dances, it seems silly that it would be considered a different dance just because the music is of a different time and people move their bodies to the different beats, syncopations, etc. The fundamentals are still the same. My feet will go to the same places no matter what music is playing. However, if someone suddenly tried to lead a rumba or a fox trot, I would have to completely change where my feet were going and the technique I was using.
I think you underestimate the debate that goes on in Atlanta simply because the “traditionalists” have won, partly due to the growth in popularity and partly due to the closing of the Marriott. There are many contemporary lindy hoppers who feel hurt, cheated, and disliked simply because they like to dance to Outkast and often get bored dancing to 30s style jazz for hours, and there are few who would entertain playing something contemporary. I often get dirty looks just mentioning it, even from those I consider friends.
I don’t think that it should matter what music is playing as long as you are having fun. For definition purposes, I would claim that since the steps are the same that it is all the same dance, but I would also explain that there are different styles and personalities thrown in according to the genre (which it should).
I hope I have not come across as aggressive, but this has been a touchy subject for me. It has caused me a lot of strife which is one of the reasons I have dropped out of the dance scene (the other being because I had a baby). I have tried very hard to make friends on both sides of the debate, which I feel I have been fairly successful, but I still do not feel totally accepted by the traditionalists. I am obviously an outsider and am “wrong” about my preferred dance music. I just hope that soon there will be another outlet for the contemporary dancers since it seems that Alan White (the only D.J. who would entertain our desires) can’t seem to get back on his feet.
I have a very strong Ms. No component, in that I would often rather sit out a dance than dance to a song that I don’t think has the right rhythm for Lindy Hop – even though I *hate* to sit out a dance! Still, I’m a Ms. Yes in that I think there are some, not a large proportion, but there are definitely some songs created after the swing era and considered to be part of some other genre that are perfect for Lindy Hop. If I name names that will start a side conversation, so I’ll just leave it as: there are songs that are good for Lindy Hop and songs that aren’t. The set of songs that can be lindy hopped to is not identical to the set of songs recorded in any specific era or restricted to any particular list of artists.
Also, I agree with Ian about the freshness and excitement of dancing to an unexpectedly lindy hoppable song. There’s nothing like having the whole room rush onto the floor overjoyed at the song choice – and at our venue it’s always a non-traditional song that will create that response. Maybe that’s because we only play non-traditional stuff 5% of the time?
There are specific things beyond the patterns that make it Lindy Hop. These things are built in the music and expressed in the dance, making it impossible to dance Lindy Hop to music that doesn’t have those elements. This fact is undeniable, it is a hard fact. For the most part both sides of the argument acknowledge this.
The real question is much broader than that: how much do we allow the dance to change and adapt. Where do the speakers of the language of lindyhop decide to draw the line for what is a regional accent, a dialect, or another language all together.
Because of this, there are many questions to debate before coming to a conclusive answer.
-One has to look at the music the dance was created to and its influence on the intrinsic elements of the dance
-The music that the dance developed to over the course of its history and its influence on the style/styles/intrinsic elements of the dance.
-The amount that the original creators of the dance changed it over time.
-The amount the original creators allowed others to change it over time.
-The amount the 1st generation dancers influenced the dance, and their allowance of others to change the dance.
-The cultural attitude of the original group toward dance in general.
-The attitude of the top or master dancers of the more recent past, as well as today’s top or master dancer toward what is and isn’t the dance in question
-The attitude of the general participant in the distant past, the recent past, and currently, towards that is or isn’t the dance in question
Each of the above questions can be deeply debated, and quite possibly only a grey area will be agreed upon. Additionally the weight of each question could be deeply debated.
In other words, it’s a loaded question.
*orignal creators= manning, minns, snowden, etc.
*1st gen dancers= dean collins, etc.
I would also like to point out that the question of what should or should not be played at a dance is a separate discussion.
Love this post, Bobby. This is the exact argument that my club is currently fighting about.
It seems to me that this argument is not really about what type of music we want to dance to, it’s more about what our purpose in dancing is in the first place. If it’s to just have a good time, then sure you can probably dance to the music you like (within reason). Obviously, you shouldn’t swing dance to a waltz.
If, on the other hand, you dance because you want to keep the dance of the old-timers alive, then you should also think about their motivations for dancing, rather than just the movements that are on some old clip. The old-timers danced because they loved to dance, and they would probably dance to whatever was playing (again, within reason). They danced to express joy, and to have fun, and to show off. We shouldn’t lose that in order to say, “well, this music doesn’t have a swung beat so you can’t dance to it.” The old-timers started swing dancing as a way to rebel against their parents’s ballroom dancing (at least, so I’ve been told). They didn’t have any particular science to the dance, and if we want to capture the true spirit of the old-timers, we shouldn’t apply all these technicalities to the dance they invented with nothing more than a lot of soul and unbounded creativity.
Consider the following clip:
1. Edgar Cruz has arranged a rock song for classical guitar. When playing the song, is he playing classical guitar? If not, what is he playing?
2. Would the song be best expressed via its intended medium (electric guitar)? If so, is it “lesser” to play the song as a classical arrangement? Conversely, is this rock arrangement the best way to express the classical guitar? If he wants to play classical guitar, should he stick to playing classical arrangements?
3. Is Edgar Cruz applying externalities on the classical guitar community? (If classical players start playing more rock arrangements, fewer classical arrangements will be written.)
4. Would the original classical guitarists have played this song? Is it true the spirit of the original classical guitarists?
5. Does this performance advance the classical guitar? If so, would the performance of a classical arrangement have advanced the classical guitar more?
I don’t know; I’m asking.
I’m falling into the “NO” camp that says “Lindy Hop” fits certain music much better than other types of music and trying to force the square peg into the round hole when the wrong music starts playing is simply frustrating.
Thus, I react by sliding in other steps/moves that are certainly NOT Lindy Hop into the dancing activity and the result is not Lindy Hop but can be quite entertaining and mentally challenging.
So, much like a language, speak it where appropriate, learn the slang, and politely transition to the native tongue when traveling outside your borders.
I read this post a while ago but was reminded of it again when I was reading from Henry David Thoreau’s journals.
On Dec. 27, 1857, he wrote, “…The commonest and cheapest sounds, as the barking of a dog, produce the same effect on fresh and healthy ears that the rarest music does. It depends on your appetite for sound.”
Or may I add, dance? I love dancing primary to the jazz from the 1920s-1940s. But sometimes, especially when I haven’t danced in a long time, anything that has some swing to it will do. Personally, I would love to fill my dance craving with great swing music, but when I’m lindy starved, other kinds of music will do. It just depends on my appetite.
But I guess that doesn’t really answer the question then if it is still considered lindy hop. I guess I would have to say yes, though not as a Purist definition.
Citing the Blues scene having “always understood the connection between the music and the dance” is interesting because of the years of argument *within* that scene over dancing Blues to non-Blues music. I think the outcome there has been relatively quick, clean, and IMO to the best interests of most people: there’s now a definite split between Blues dancing and “Fusion” dancing, while in the WCS world (and apparently the Lindy world which I know little about), these arguments continue. I think a lot of the reason for this outcome was the endlessly patient explanations of the Blues aesthetic by Damon Stone.
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Your argument is illogical. If you would have said that you advocate tradition, that would have been great, but you are trying to say is that you can’t attain more pleasure from being creative and blending dances together, because if you “move your body a certain way to a different type of music,” it will be “forcing it.”
Thats not true. Its only forcing it if you miss the beat, silly.
It’s an interesting read this article and the comments. I’m from the West Coast Swing scene, and it has opened itself to a wide variety of music over the last few years. Today the big thing is “lyrical music” and top 40 electronic dance beats. West Coast Swing evolved out of lindy and has the same rhythms and essentially the same patterns and rules. At least it used to. Its hard to dance triples to lyrical music that hardly makes you want to move your feet at all, or the duff duff of top 40 dance that makes you just want to walk-walk everything out. So when you watch modern WCS done to this music, you see lots of duff-duff walk-walk without tripples, and lots of footworkless stretching lyrical lines with wavy arms. Can you dance WCS to contemporary music? Yes, but it’s more comfortable (because it fits better) if you change the dance to do it. Is it still WCS if you change the dance? That’s the raging debate now in the WCS scene. But then Lindy-Hop was born of Charleston and WCS was born of Lindy Hop because we changed the music, which naturally led to a change of the dance. If you don’t know WCS look it up on youtube and you will maybe be a little surprised, even worried at how much the performance shown above (SwingFX by Jeff and Liz) starts to look more like WCS. You change the music, and the dance will adapt. So the real question is … do you want the dance to change?
The question is: are you a purist or simply don’t care? I simply don’t care. I’ll dance to whatever the hell makes me feel like dancing, whether it’s Big Band swing, Dixieland, Blues, R&B, Western Swing, or even Hip-hop. While there is validity in maintaining a historical record of what the dance looked like back in the day, if that is your only goal with dancing, then don’t be surprised if interest in the dance dies out. For a dance to survive, it has to appeal to people. To appeal, it has to evolve as times change.
oooh, interesting. I have a question. Should the music be 4/4, 2/2 or 2/4 and should it be dotted or straight? Is it the beat/rhythm or the melody thats key?
I’ve been pondering if its possible to lindy hop to a polka? (I just want to find a tune I can dance to that I can play on a non chromatic instrument)
Try The Merry Christmas Polka by the Andrews Sisters.
[…] that we dance to is also be intertwined with the continued development of the dance. There is some debate as to whether “lindy hop movement” to “non-swing music” is lindy hop. […]
[…] This format inspired by Bobby White’s musings on swing music. […]
Yeah, this post is from a while back, but I’ll weigh in just because I had an experience yesterday where I was helping out demonstrating social dancing. The band that played there is known in our local scene as a swing band, but they really play in a mix of genres including rock and roll, rockabilly, neo-swing, I guess what you’d call retro swing and a few jazz standards. Because of the kind of event it was, they decided to go with a more rock and roll/rockabilly set, to which we were required to dance. I found it difficult to be musically expressive and to really emphasise the swung rhythm of the dance because the music wasn’t swing and it frankly isn’t the kind of music that *makes* me want to swing out. This may very well be because I’m simply not used to swinging out to rock and roll music, but I also agree wholeheartedly that lindy hop was made to be danced to music of the swing era (or now, music from the swing era being played by contemporary musicians). I happen to love the music of the swing era, others may not. If you don’t like it, don’t lindy hop (or Balboa, Charleston or whatever you do).
As an add-on to that, the more we dance to rock and roll or rockabilly in public, the more people think that swing is basically a variant of rock and roll. Gaaaahhh!
The debate that keeps in giving, I love it. :) Mr No makes valid points. However, I disagree overall, especially with the idea that wanting to dance swing to other music is a novice phase. For me it is quite the opposite. I started Lindy in 1998, and it didn’t take long to get bord of the same old songs played at every club. 15 years later I like to mix in tango, west coast, Lindy, shag, Charleston, balboa…. and dance to music I love (which covers several genres). Lindy to hip hop is awesome, blues, jazz, funk… bring it. I am far from a traditionalist when it comes to swing, I love the evolution and believe we should dance to the music that moves us.
I agree with everyone.
Lindy Hoppers Lindy hop to everything. Unless its fast then they Balboa. Dance #1 and dance #2 I call them. The music doesn’t seem to matter, 3/4 time, Lindy, 1917, Lindy, 1924, Lindy, 1928, Lindy. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The dance you’re doing DID NOT EXIST!
Why not do the twist or stage dive?
[…] any number of other articles out there on the subject – Bobby White’s The Great Debate on his wonderful blog Swungover is an excellent example – although in that article – […]
[…] The Great Debate: Should Lindy Hop Be Danced To Non-Swing Music? Currently in my drafts there are three other debate articles half finished. Maybe someday…. […]
Yes…if it swings. I love tradition, but I love innovation too. Maybe I’m a shameless heretic, but not every swing-era tune makes me want to leap onto the dance floor. Some do…some send me sauntering over to the snack table. After 3 hours of nothing but swing-era music, I get bored…in part because I’m a rocker, but also in part because not all swing music is created equal. Deejays, please play Sanford-Townsend Band’s “Smoke From A Distant Fire” or Toto’s “Roseanna” and watch what happens on the dance floor. I think the purists need not worry that our favorite dance form or the music that inspired it will go extinct. Great music and great dancing are immortal. Martha Graham said “Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.” I think we can and should Lindy Hop to music that inspires us. As long as it swings.
[…] White 的網誌文章 〈The Great Debate: Should Lindy Hop Be Danced to Other Music?〉 整理了這個大哉問下的各種正反方說法：一方支持用「對的音樂」跳 […]