To learn more about the history of Rock n’ roll dancing we have to dive into the pond of the ever swinging African American dance communities. In the early 1920’s, Jazz was the popular music and people danced to the swing style Jazz. There were different kinds of swing dances, like the Charleston, the Balboa, the Shag and the Lindy hop.
The Lindy hop is the style this article will focus on, as it has influenced the style of Rock n’ roll dancing we mainly know today. The Lindy hop found its way to the public in Harlem, New York, at the Savoy ballroom where a group of professional dancers called Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers performed their dance to the public. Before this dancing group performed this dance style the Lindy hop was a social dance practiced among African American youth in the United states of America.
A social dance, also known as steetdance or vernacular dance, are dances that find their origin outside of the dance studios.Most of these dances evolved in open spaces such as the streets, the park, dance parties, school yards or nightclubs. The dances are often tied to a subculture or the geographical area that they come from. They are improvisational and encourage interaction with spectators and other dancers. Think Jumpstyle, pogo or even air guitar and headbanging. Lindy hop started out the same way.
The Whitey’s Lindy hoppers toured the world, appeared in Broadway productions and a number of feature films making the Lindy hop a popular dance. White youth started to take interest in the dance as well and came up with a dance called the Jitterbug which is pretty much a nickname for the Lindy hop, the only big difference is that the Jitterbug has more uncontrolled movement going on and is less choreographed.
Fun fact: The term jitterbug is an early 20th-century slang word for alcoholics who suffered from the “jitters”.
Through the 1930’s, Lindy hop fused with other dance styles and the style of popular music changed. Jazz faded away and rhythm and blues became the new hype. Dances like the Boogie-woogie and the Jive were born.
During the 1940’s, American soldiers introduced dances like the Jitterbug, the Boogie-woogie and the Jive to Europe. From there on both styles evolved in different directions. Jive was added to the Latin ballroom repertoire, leaving out the acrobatics. The Boogie-woogie became what most people today would call 50’s style Rock n’ Roll dancing.
Now the music which most of us consider to beRock n’ roll didn’t exist until the late 40’s early 50’s but dances like the Boogie-woogie and the Jive already were immensely popular, only they were not called Rock n’roll until they were used to dance to the rockin’ tunes of musicians like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry lee Lewis and little Richard.
So, What happened to Rock n’ Roll after the 50’s?
Did it just fade away? You might think these nostalgic dances are long gone, but truth is, they never really left in the hearts and minds of those that love to dance. They even inspired the world of sports.
In the 70’s a new style of athletic, competitive form of dancing was invented in Germany: Acrobatic Rock n’ Roll. In Acrobatic Rock n roll the main focus is on the acrobatics inspired by the Lindy Hop. However, the dancers do not wear jeans and petticoats, it is a serious sport so appropriate attire is required.
Nowadays the whole retro and 50’s culture, style and dancing are making a comeback. Retro events are gaining popularity. Radio modern’s Retro swing parties, for example, is a well known event that originated in Belgium and is now taking over The Netherlands one swinging retro party at a time. The parties usually start with a short basic dance course (workshop) in Lindy hop, rock n roll or Jive followed by a live band and a DJ that play the golden oldies of years gone by. The heart and soul of these parties is the dancing, all is centered around getting people, young and old, on that dance floor to forget about their worries and swing the night away.
With events like this, Rock n’ roll, the Lindy hop and other swing dances are in demand again. So, if you are into retro style and dancing, if you like the dresses, the shirts and the hairdo’s you might want to give Rock n’ roll dancing a try. It is a fun way to meet new friends and get some exercise at the same time. What are you waiting for? Ladies, Get out that Petticoat. Gents, grease up your hair.