A Lindy Hoppers Guide to the BBC's "Lindy-a-thon"

On the Swing Dancing subreddit on Reddit, we came across this fascinating post by “The_Nubbin” (aka Benjamin Cook) describing a recent lindy hop performance on the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. For those that don’t know Strictly Come Dancing is an extremely popular British television dance competition show, where celebrities are paired with dance professionals to compete in different ballroom and latin dance styles. (In the US, it is known as Dancing with the Stars.)

On a recent episode, the competitors engaged in a “Lindy-Hop-a-Thon.” Here’s how it went, get ready…

Ugh, right?

My knee jerk reaction as a lindy hopper was to cringe and decry the bastardization of our dance on another popular television show. Then I read the reddit commentary by Benjamin Cook, a lindy hopper for more 13 years and an assistant for the show. He breaks down several points about this production:

1. The show’s producers picked the song. Jenny Thomas (the choreographer for this and Lindy legend) made them acutely aware that it’s not a swingable song, but once they’d picked it you’ve gotta make do, right?

2. We had an hour and a half with each couple, and were only allowed to give them pieces/moves and not full choreography. Imagine trying to get a beginner couple to do a TV standard performance lindy dance after one class. Sure, the pros have dance coordination, but most of the celebs have never danced before in their lives, and learnt it 2 days beforehand in addition to their solo other style. Welcome to TV.

3. You love swingouts. We love swingouts. We taught them to 3 couples who had the brain space to learn it, but we needed to get everyone through a bunch of other unique repertoire so that they were able to put something together for the show.

4. To put together enough dancing, they had to integrate their new Lindy/authentic jazz steps with any similar-enough stuff they knew already. That might mean Charleston, it might mean jive, it might be lots of other things. Often, jazz steps were some of the easiest things to get people dancing enough Lindy-related material.

5. It’s fast. Do Your Thing is 250bpm, and everyone had to be prepped accordingly. In the end they decided for it to be down 4% after numerous calls and emails: so 240 bpm. Also- what percentage of the Lindy community can swingout at 250 before their first -year- dancing do you reckon?

Finally, 6. This is an entertainment show, with dance as a medium. You can’t be so precious so as to miss the forest for the trees: We got to put Lindy Hop on the most popular program on TV in the UK. Sure, it’s not how Alice and Remy do it in those YouTube clips you love, or the raw style and energy of the Harlem Hot Shots, but cut a little slack to 14 people who just threw down in a style they’ve never done before and brought our underground culture a little light in the wider world.

Basically, Jenny Thomas the choreographer had a near impossible task, and she did the best should could, with the dancers, the song, and the extreme time limitations she had to work with. Given all that, I’m kind of shocked any of their movement was even halfway decent.

I found this to be an enlightening glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of producing a show like Strictly Come Dancing. The Benjamin closes with “I thought they did a great job, and I’m super proud of what they did!” I can only agree.