History and the birth of Jazz Dancing

When hitting the low period in lindy hopping , what inspires you back to dancing ?

Take a break from dancing? Watch more fancy moves in youtube ? Copy or get private help from top instructors ? Pick up new dances ? Soak in the swing music for days ? Study and read about the legends ? Get motivated with new materials from HDC , ILHC alikes ? or attend more dance camps ?

Agent A hit the deepest pit of his lindy journey and stayed under for months . Dancing was difficult, unispired, unmotivated, unskillful even with the  best follow, music, great weather and all planetary positions perfectly aligned.

Nothing could pull Agent A out of the pit and back to his happy feet.

Just when he had given up hope and was about to bid farewell to dancing, he stumbled upon a book, at the least expected section, of a least expected neighbourhood library, on a fateful day.

The 48 pages thin booklet was life transforming for him. Altough all the information is commonly known in dance community and found  in many good websites and wikipedia , this book brought about magical moment, re-ignited the passion and breathed life back into Agent A lindy journey.

So, if tracing the root of swing dancing and lindy hop helps to catapult you back into lively swing dancing, JUYL presents you the history of Jazz dancing – simple text only format, in chronological order, and possibly european perspective.

All credits to Author: Nikki Gamble Publisher: Raintree Hardback


History of Key moments in the development of Jazz Dance

1844  Rivals William Henry Lane and John Diamond engage in a series of challenge dances.

1900s-1910s – Ragtime and Early Jazz

1900 The Turkey Trot is danced to Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’

1907 The Ziegfeld Follies opens. The revue-style show nurtures future dance stars such as Barbara Stanwyck and Paulette Goddard .

1913 Vernon and Irene Castle perform the Turkey Trot in the Broadway show, The Sunshine Girl.

1914  Harry Fox performs the foxtrot  on the roof of the New York Theater.

1920s – The birth of Swing

In the early swing era, jazz dance is both a social dance and a performance dance.Dances that develop in the ballrooms are incorporated into Broadway musicals

1923 The Charleston is performed in Runnin’ Wild and becomes a dance sensation.
(video: Charleston – Al & Leon . 1920’s Charleston . Charleston today )

1924 The black bottom is performed in  the show Dinah, and soon replaces the Charleston as the  popular dance of the day.
(video : black bottom 1 . black bottom 2 )

1925 Josephine Baker  dances the Charleston in her show La Revue Nègre at Théâtre des Champs  Élysées in Paris . This is the height of the jazz age in Paris.

1927 The lindy hop develops in New York. Lindy hop is both a solo and a partnered dance, which blends European partner dancing with the  movements and improvisations of African dance.

Trivia : How lindy hop got its name when there is technically no ‘hop’ in it .

Dance Marathons were popular at the Savoy Ballroom NY, and it is during one of these that the lindy hop apparently got its name. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was daring the first ever  solo flight from New York to Paris, and people were absorbed with his “Hop” across the Atlantic. George “Shorty” Snowden was  at the dance marathon when a reporter leaned in to ask what this crazy dance was called.

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

1930s  – Glamour in the Depression

Film becomes increasingly important in the development of jazz dance.

1933 Fred Astaire choreographs and dances in Flying Down to Rio. Astaire insists that dance sequences are filmed with no cutaway to the feet, face, or audience. (video: Flying down to Rio)

1933 Busby  Berkeley’s groundbreaking 42nd Street uses a chorus line, unusual angles and kaleidoscopic images and other new  techniques.
(video : 42nd Street )

1935 Shirley Temple and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson co-star in The Little Colonel. Bill Robinson dances his famous tap sequence on the stairs.

1935 Meanwhile in the ballrooms social dance is also developing. Benny Goodman’s new jazz music performed at the Palomar Ballroom leads to  the development of new improvised dance style – the Jitterbug.

1940s  – Flash acts and casual charm

Jazz and tap dance continue to feature in Hollywood films. Dance styles vary from the flash dance acts of the Nicholas Brothers and Jeni LeGon, to the graceful balletic style of Gene Kelly.

1940  Fayard and Harold Nicholas perform in Down Argentine Way . Their flash act routine is full of spectacular and dangerous acrobatic sequences .

1944 Gene Kelly stars in Cover Girl  opposite Rita Hayworth . He introduces special effects that create  the illusion that he is dancing with his reflection.

1950s  – Theatrical jazz

In the 1950s, a new dance style , theatrical jazz ,combines elements of ballet and modern dance. Jack Cole choreographer at Columbia Pictures. His innovations influence a whole generation.

1957 Jerome Robbins choreographs West Side Story . The musical score fuses big band jazz with Latin mambo. Robbins’ energetic choreography is used to contrast the ethnic backgrounds of the rival gangs, the Sharks and Jets.

1960s-70s  – Surviving Rock and Roll.

By the end of the 1950s jazz dance is under threat from rock and roll, followed by disco in the 1960s and 70s . Jazz survives in the theater and finds a new outlet in Cholly Atkins’ vocal choreography.

1964 Berry Gordy employs Cholly Atkins to add polish and class to the artists performing under the Motown music label. He works with Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and The Supremes among others.

1973 Kenneth  Macmillan uses Scott Joplin’s music ‘The Entertainer’ for his ballet Elite Syncopations.

1975 Bob Fosse choreographes the Broadway musical Chicago, introducing new jazz movements, the idea of Subtext, and the dramatic use of spotlighting .

1980s – Jazz dance revivals

Dancers and choreographers look back to the jazz dance styles of the early 20th century .

1984 Gregory Hines stars in The Cotton Club, in which he reproduces Bill Robinson’s stiarcase dance with footage from Robinson’s original dance blended with his own.

1985 Dance group Rhythm Hot Shots are formed, specialising in the revival lindy hop and other jazz and swing dances.


Frankie Manning : Ambassador of Lindy Hop
Jazz Dance
Steppin’on the Blues
Tap Dancing : Rhythm in their Feet
Tap roots : The Early History of Tap Dancing

Hellzapoppin’ (1941)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
West Side Story (1961)
Cabaret (1972)
The Cotton Club (1984)
Tap (1989)
Malcom X (1992)
Tap Dogs at Olympic Games, Sydney 2000
The spirit moves short clip
Swing in movies : extensive list

Contents referenced from the  Book Tap and Jazz  ISBN: 978-0431933092 .

Found in Singapore Library 792.78 GAM

Happy Swinging, Lindy hopping and Tapping !


5 thoughts on “History and the birth of Jazz Dancing

  1. Ooh oh, I also like the part in The Cotton Club where Richard Gere sings hi-de-hi-de-ho and high-fives Cab Calloway during the Minnie-The-Moocher act.

  2. Pingback: Lost mojo – seeking inspiration « Lindy Hop variations for followers

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