The 1920’s Original

 

This below is not a story about me, but about one of my inspirations through namesake and passion for the Lindy Hop dance (and dance in general). Prior to learning about Shorty George Snowden’s personality, I myself tended to put comedy and technique into my dancing as he did. My reasons for it are to make the interaction both comfortable and fun.

(text grabbed from Kansas City Lindy Hop Society)

Of the three first generation lindy hoppers, the most noted, and certainly most written about, was Shorty George Snowden. Shorty George was the top dancer at the Savoy from its opening in 1926 to the early 1930s. Barely five feet tall, he was recognized as a comic dance genius. When paired with his most well known partner Big Bea (who towered over him), what resulted were dance steps and patterns that were both wildly entertaining and technically brilliant. While some accounts credit Shorty George with introducing the first break-away pattern, he is most remembered for two things: his signature move, aptly named the Shorty George and giving Lindy Hop its name.

The Shorty George dance step was a self parody of his already very short stature. This step involved forward motion with acutely bent knees swinging from side to side. This move, or one very similar, is said to have been originally done under the name boogie walks and the Baltimore buzz.

The Dance Style Acquires a Name

While no one disputes Shorty George’s claim to popularizing the Shorty George dance step, the initial naming of Lindy Hop is another matter. Charles Lindbergh completed his non-stop flight from the United States to Europe on May 21, 1927. This was at a time when this dance style was becoming all the rage in Harlem, throughout New York, and up and down the entire East Coast. Now consider two things:

  • The terms hop and hopping were common vernacular for dance and dancing during that time.
  • The worldwide reporting of Lindbergh’s feat (akin to the first Moon landing) undoubtedly included some accounts that regarded his flight over the Atlantic Ocean as a hop.

The point here is that the term Lindbergh Hop was likely already a part of popular culture prior to the very specific date and time Shorty George is said to have, by some accounts, spontaneously named this new dance style Lindy Hop. In fact, some reports have it that among dance circles the term Lindbergh Hop was being used to describe the Savoy dance style months, perhaps a year before his mention of it to an inquiring reporter. With that said, what follows is a distilled account of how Lindy Hop acquired its name:

The place and time was (pick one, several different accounts have been reported),

  • One evening following Lindbergh’s flight to Paris.
  • September 1927 at a dance contest in Central Park.
  • 1928 at a dance marathon at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.
  • June 17, 1928 at the Manhattan Casino Ballroom in New York during a dance marathon.

The circumstances were that a news reporter, unfamiliar with this new dance style, went up to Shorty George, the declared winner in the Central Park version of the story, and asked what it was they were doing. Shorty George then thought for a moment, and replied,

“The Lindy Hop, we’re flying just like Lindy did!”

Another account reports his reply as,

“I’m doin’ the Hop, the Lindy Hop!”

The “one evening following Lindbergh’s flight” version claims his inspiration came from a newspaper headline that happened to be laying nearby.

Regardless of who it was that initially used the term Lindy Hop or when it was used, Shorty George will forever be recognized as the individual that mentioned it to the reporter, who then went on to make the name stick. Perhaps the final word on this matter should be left to Frankie Manning himself who on this subject is quoted as saying,

All I can say is that I heard the story from Shorty George himself. The other fellas from that time were standing around listening and they didn’t say ‘Aw, come on Shorty, quit the BS,’ which they would have said if it wasn’t true.

So ends the first generation of Lindy Hop and the dancers that gave it its original style and name. Throughout the 1930s, a new generation of lindy hoppers emerged. This second generation would go on to introduce Lindy Hop to a worldwide audience during the Golden Era of Lindy Hop Swing.