Twenty Years Ago: the Gap Ad Fuels Neo-swing Craze

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By 1998 there was already a significant "neo-swing" movement happening throughout the United States and elsewhere. Bands like Royal Crown Review, George Gee's Make Believe Ballroom Orchestra and Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers had been performing for nearly 10 years to large audiences around the country. The Derby nightclub in LA had been offering swing music and dancing every night a week since 1993. Movies like "Swing Kids" in 1993 and "The Mask" in 1994 and "Swingers" in 1996 prominently featured swing dancing in the storylines. 

Still, for many swing dancers of that era, what we called simply "the Gap Ad" was a pivotal moment for us. Here's the ad, if you've never seen it.

The Gap clothing commercial was notable for a number of reasons. It was one of the first uses in a commercial of the "bullet-time" filming technique, made famous by the "Matrix" movies. It combined a "classic" jump blues song ("Jump and Jive" by Louis Prima) with a young, attractive, energetic group of dancers in modern casual clothing. It featured lots of flashy aerials. 

In short, it was the perfect fuel to spread even faster an already vibrant dance movement. 

When you met another lindy hopper, one way to learn about them was to ask "Are you pre-Gap ad or post-Gap ad?" Which is to say, "Were you into lindy hop before it was mainstream?" 

Twenty years later, a lot of the commercial still works. It's got great energy – everyone looks like they are having a blast. The aerials are sold well by the dancers, even if they aren't particularly impressive by today's standards. The worst aspect of it is how unrelated their dancing is to the actual music. 

Whatever it's virtues and faults, the Gap Ad was arguably responsible for thousands of new dancers coming into the scene who might never had discovered it otherwise. So if this odd commercial was a significant part of your dance story, bust out those khaki pants and tank tops and "jump and jive" once more.