Lindy: The First Generation

We here at Swungover used to refer to the first generation of Lindy Hop as “The Dark Ages” due to the lack of footage we, and the mainstream Lindy Hop scene as a whole, had of their dancing. Over the last decade, however, passionate researchers and YouTube have unearthed some wonderful gems of first generation Lindy Hop. Here is a list of them, and we will continue to gather them here as more become available.

After Seben (1929)

Though the modern scene has had After Seben around for decades, it has not had a beautifully colorized version until recently. This comes at us thanks to BlackPepperSwing who has been on the mission of colorizing some of our most treasured Lindy footage, bringing to life the dancing and vividly reminding us of the color of the artists who did it. The first leader appears to be “Twistmouth” George Gananoway (see “Rufus Jones for President,” below), and the third couple is “Shorty” George Snowden and most likely Mattie Purnell. We here at Swungover do not know the names of any of the other dancers. Please note that the actor at the beginning is a White man in black face, and this film is a part of minstrelsy, the stereotyping of Black Americans for White entertainment. You can also see an enhanced 40K version brought to us by EstiloSwing. Btw, the name After Seben is most likely the phrase “After seven (o’clock)” as it would sound done in a specific, stereotypical Black-American dialect of the time.

The Exile (1931)

This film and its director, Oscar Micheaux, was part of a 1930s renaissance in Black American film making. In fact, it is regarded as the first Black-American feature-length film with sound. At some point we saw information online that said the dancing group seen in this clip was affiliated with the Savoy ballroom, but we don’t know where that information came from. It’s certainly possible, as the film was made in New York/New Jersey, and the dance director was a Harlemite, according to IMDB. However, none of these dancers are doing Lindy Hop in the style of After Seben dancers; Perhaps we’re seeing more what the average Lindy Hopper of the early 1930s was doing, rather than the seasoned professionals. For all we know, we may also be seeing here more a demonstration of “The Breakaway” dance that helped shape Lindy Hop rather than what Lindy Hop had become to those higher-level dancers. That is all conjecture, though.

Manhattan Melody (1931)

<Sadly VintageSwingDance’s account has been taken down for copyright infringement. We will add our own version of this clip here soon.>

Here, vintage clip collector Bill Green at the YouTube channel VintageSwingDance brought us a few seconds (around 0:45) of “Shorty” George Snowden and an unknown partner dancing two years after After Seben. This clip is particularly cool because we see the follower do what appears to be a swivel at the end of their Swing Out, and also what could be described as a triple-step-style motion, two things that would come to shape Lindy Hop as we know it that we do not see in After Seben.

Harlem Contest Footage (1933-ish?)

This mysterious footage taken at an unknown time is very important to understanding the roots of Lindy Hop.

The announcer says the date is 1927, but they’re just referring to the year Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, not to the actual time of the contest. If we had to guess, we’d wager 1933-ish. (Even though abductive reasoning led us to believe this Lindy was a few years more lived-in than that of After Seben, we used fashion as a more precise way of determining the time. 1933 was apparently the year berets replaced the iconic 1920s cloche hat. This footage is full of berets, as well as more tightly-formed dresses than what was seen in the late 1920’s.) Though the announcer didn’t get the date right, they most likely got the place right: Harlem. “Shorty” George Snowden is almost certainly the short dancer with his characteristic round glasses dancing with the partner in the white dress. And we’re pretty sure that “Twistmouth” George Gananoway is the tall dancer in the satin shirt. And, interestingly, there may be an interracial dance couple at 0:14 (hard to tell with the film quality). The Lindy Hop here is full of the life we are used to seeing today in jams and at contest weekends — trick steps, dynamic movement, and crowd-surging energy. Though After Seben may be the first time Lindy Hop was captured on film, this footage is arguably the first time that Lindy Hop as we truly know it was.

Rufus Jones for President (1933)

The Lindy dancer at 19 minutes is almost certainly “Twistmouth” George Gananoway, as this dancer’s unique mouth shape very much fits that description. Twistmouth suffered a broken jaw which healed in a way that deformed his mouth. He also went by the nickname/ stage name “Susquehanna,” (a major river in New York, though we’d argue no nickname could be cooler than “Twistmouth”). It was Twistmouth that famously took a young Norma Miller into the Savoy ballroom to wow the crowd before putting her back out on the street (the Savoy didn’t allow children at that time). We sadly don’t know the name of his partner in this clip, or the other couple doing Lindy Hop near the end of the film. But what we do see is a prevalence of “slow motion” movement, Jazz Dance breakaways, and the hand gestures and minimalism that would inspire Leon James‘ dancing style.

By the way, the stars of this soundie are a young Sammy Davis Jr., and the singer Ethel Waters, who hired Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers for one of her tours, and features prominently in Norma’s book as a performer who tried to look after the interests of the young Lindy Hoppers. Please note this soundie includes heavily-stereotyped and racially-charged tropes about Black Americans.

Symphony in Black (1935)

At 3:00 minutes into this Duke Ellington soundie, an unknown Lindy Hop couple is dancing. As the leader is very tall and thin, we may be seeing one of the often mentioned 1st generation greats, Leroy “Stretch” Jones, but that is not based on any other information than what we discuss here. Leroy was one of Frankie Manning’s biggest idols, known for his strutting and Fred Astaire-ish ballroom style Lindy. Though the dancer above does fit the description of a “ballroom style Lindy Hopper,” he doesn’t really showcase much else, and so we may just be seeing an actor who did good enough Lindy to dance in the soundie. Famous jazz dancer and entertainer Earl “Snakehips” Tucker appears at 8:30.

Ask Uncle Sol (1937)

The latest film we’ve seen of the first generation (so far) is 1937’s Ask Uncle Sol, enhanced by A.I. for clarity by EstilloSwing. “Shorty” George Snowden and partner “Big Bea” dance a smooth and rhythmically-present Lindy Hop full of running steps and kick-ball-changes (as opposed to the Charleston kicks of After Seben) and comical steps made to show off their size differences. The concept of a “comedy team” — a partnership of dramatically different body types — would become a staple of the next generation’s Lindy Hop with partnerships like “Dot” Moses & “Tiny” Bunch, Gladys Crowder & Eddie “Shorty” Davis, Mildred Pollard & Al Minns, and Tiny Anne & Tony Small.

It’s fitting that this year, 1937, would not only mark the last known film of the first Lindy Hop generation, but also the film debut of the second. The torch would be passed to Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, who appeared in A Day at the Races.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below or at: robertwhiteiii AT gmail.com.


2 responses to “Lindy: The First Generation”

  1. […] The very first demonstration we have of Lindy Hop on film, After Seben, showcases a lift: Mattie Purnell & “Shorty” George Snowden do an early version of what many people today call a baby-doll drop. It’s followed by a partnered cake-walk, itself a strongly supported step. This lift was the climax of not just Mattie & Shorty’s routine, but the entire group’s routine. From this, we think it’s safe to interpret that at the time, this move was one of the most impressive trick steps in Lindy Hop. (Thanks to Black Pepper Swing YouTube for the amazing colorizing!) […]

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