About the Project:
What’s in a name?
An air step’s name is a surprisingly useful thing. When you’re trying to figure out what air step you’re about to execute with your partner, how it works, or what to shout while you’re in the middle of an improvisational jam circle, you’d be surprised how much a name can help or hurt.
In April and May of 2020, we used the sudden free time of the COVID-19 quarantine and our FaceBook network of dancers to search for the original names of air steps, and gather information about what other common names there were for the Air Steps in the modern era. We were fortunate to have the input of many Air Step experts from different generations of dancers.
One thing you will notice about the modern names is that they come from a wealth of sources — rockabilly culture, European Rock n’ Roll dancing, influential teaching couples with imaginative names, and names that have passed down a teacher-to-student legacy, some of them from the very originators of the moves.
However, one of the things we have also noticed is that many of the historical names have been forgotten in the modern scene. Lindy Hop legend Ryan Francois has pointed out that not only does remembering the names respect the dance’s history, there’s a reason the original dancers named a step the way they did. And, if you know that name, it can help you understand how they thought about that step, how they did that step.
This is the beginning of a series where we will go through the core repertoire of airs steps handed down by the Lindy Hop pioneers of the 1930s through 1980s, from both our Harlem and SoCal elders. When possible, we will title them by the names the original dancers used. As we publish each each new air step, here are some things to look out for:
You will notice that the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers — the source of most of our classic air steps — tended to name air steps after the flyer’s general action and trajectory: “Around-the-Back,” “Handspring-Front-Flip,” “Over-the-Shoulder.” You will see that as a common thread through many of the steps.
1930s and 40s SoCal dancers, though, seemed to have only a handful of air steps, which they tended to give more impressionistic names, like “Flying Dutchman,” and “Sky Whip.”
Modern dancers of the 90s and 2000s, often because they did not have the original name at their fingertips, have renamed most of the original steps — “Knickerbocker,” “Pancake,” and “Lamppost,” are just a few of the dozens of examples, as you will see. These names tend to reflect the common trait in language that shorter, catchier terms that stick out are more likely to become the popular terms. They are linguistically infectious.
When you see it all together, we think you’ll agree it’s a rich tapestry of variety, individuality, and function in Swing Dancing, and how much it all rests on the foundation of great generations of our elders.