How to Share the Black Roots of Lindy Hop: A Curated List

BHM with joshua and ana lisa.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about “Commemorating Black History Month” and asked for suggestions for how we could be recognizing the Black roots of our dance and music. Well, lots of you had some fantastic suggestions that I wanted to share here.

At Your Venue / Dance

  • We have a beginner packet that has a brief history and links to classic clips and documentaries. We also run a Lindy & Blues social that always plays at least 75% black band leaders. I think it’s also really important to highlight the connection between Lindy/Charleston and modern black dances. Lindy Hop is a part of a long, living lineage of African American dances, and we should celebrate all of them! [Elaine B.]
  • With Black History Month and Women's History Month back-to-back, I've just decided that February and March are Black Women's History Months. I have been creating our weekly dance events with a theme around one Black woman personality or Black female band. And creating 2 or 3 weekly posts around the same theme, whether it's inspired by a timely birthday (Lil Hardin Armstrong, Blanche Calloway, Nina Simone, Ida Cox, Mildred Bailey, Sweet Emma Barrett, Sarah Vaughan, ...) or just something else to get out there in front of dancers.  This week, for example, it's Bessie Smith, whose first recording, "Downhearted Blues," was recorded on February 16, 1923. [Lucy F.]
  • We're doing Black History Month at Savoy Mondays (taught by Joshua McClean and Ana Lisa Sutherland), where they are teaching history as well as choreo from Frankie and Norma. [Heather M.]
  • In Seattle, at Elaine and Stefan's monthly dance Revival Rhythm - Swing & Blues Dance, DJs (myself included) are always requested to play at least 75% black bandleaders. At this month's dance, they are giving it special credence, and reached out to me as a reminder in light of Black History Month. I plan to DJ a set featuring 100% black bandleaders this Saturday!  [Chelsea D.]


In Class

  • The first hour, of the first two hour session, of our Swing I class is devoted entirely to the history of Swing dancing from the early days of the slave trade to present. It includes a contrast in the music & dance of African & European cultures during the mid 1800's and how those cultures collided in America through slavery. How early jazz music and dance migrated west for the rebuilding of San Francisco after the great earthquake and how it was their we find the first video of the "Texas Tommy" and it's "breakaway" technique that marked the birth of modern swing dancing. And how that particular dance then migrated back east to land in NYC in the early 1920's.  [George H.]
  • In classes we try to weave in history and cultural context regularly throughout each (and all) series, so it doesn't dominate any one class, but becomes a familiar refrain and motif. [Leah J.]
  • I usually cover some of the social and political issues from the history that goes with the dance and music... little things like “this was a number 7 hit for Erskine Hawkins (his song), but a white band covered it and it went to number 1”.  [Leah J.]
  • It’s important to frame swing dance in the context of the time and what was happening in Harlem. We talk about the significance of the Savoy Ballroom as the “incubation” space for the first and second generation Lindy Hoppers and discussed the famous black swing bands that played there and inspired many dancers. And play some Basie and Chick Webb tunes as the favorites of the Savoy! It was easy for us to have an 8 count class completely dedicated to Frankie’s favorite moves. [Mimi L.]
  • We do a video history lesson every week after a 5-minute break in the middle of class – we show Shorty George, then Hellzapoppin', etc.  But we don't just show it and say "look cool dancing" – we provide context, like that the host from “After Seben” is in blackface (and then talk about blackface), that the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers scene from “Hellzapoppin'” was actually filmed on the opposite coast from the rest of the (entirely white) cast.  [Pomona L.]
  • We tell all of our students, multiple times, "hey, we're white, that's weird, considering the history, and who originated that dance." and "it's also very weird that you're learning this in a classroom context! the original form of this dance was picked up from going out dancing and/or from having a friend or family member show you some moves in your living room." We feel like it's our duty as white Lindy Hop teachers to produce dancers who will make the scene a better place – and it's long overdue that that doesn't just mean "good dancer", but also "aware of (some) history of oppression of black people in media and culture and respect for them and their artforms." [Pomona L.]


  • We include info in weekly emails to our students about the history and legends of the dance.  [various]
  • For Black History Month, we are posting a clip or doc every day featuring original dancers and musicians to reinforce what they’re learning in class. [Elaine B.]
  • I just shared this video on my scene's Facebook page and encouraged people to go to Black History Month events hosted by the local black cultural association. [Anna K]

Other Ideas

  • I run a book club on African American dance and culture. [Shelby J.]
  • I have been really adamant about teaching the girls I nanny the history of the music and dance that I love so much. We have been reading Norma millers kids book “stompin at the savoy”, and Josephine bakers kids book , and this beautiful children’s picture book about Nina Simone. We have conversations about civil rights and the importance of giving credit to where all this came from and how it began. The girls want to learn more and how to dance. [Jessica C.]
Nina- Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone.jpg

It’s not too late to share your own ideas and actions to celebrate the Black roots of lindy hop. Hit us up in the comments or this contact link and we'll add it to the list!