A Sampler of Lindy Hop Scholarship: The Savoy, Haptic Communication, The Texas Tommy and More

1952-Crowd-Outside-the-Savoy-in-Harlem-1952-Getty-Images-514880892-Bettmann edit.jpg

At Yehoodi, we think a lot about lindy hop -- its development, history, cultural significance, and its future. We know that you do too. Some of you have even done in-depth academic research into lindy hop, coming at it from a variety of disciplines, approaches, and perspectives. We wanted to feature some of the most interesting scholarship produced by lindy hoppers.

Here is a sampling of the incredible research projects that we’ve found that delve into swing dancing. Many of them examine lindy hop from from a historical and sociological lens. But other disciplines like also media studies, teaching practice, and even engineering are used to explore the artform. Thanks to the scholars who shared their work with us.

“The Lindy,” Margaret Batiuchok (1988)

 Charlie Meade and Margaret Batiuchok

Charlie Meade and Margaret Batiuchok

Margaret Batiuchok is a swing legend in her own right as a founding member and president of the New York Swing Dance Society. Way back in 1988 she completed a masters research project entitled simply “The Lindy”:

I want to present, on videotape, these dancers who have achieved excellence in Lindy dancing, to document the dance and the personal style and grace only they can offer. I will discuss the dance's basic form and its differences as exhibited by the various dancers' interpretations. I will discuss their personal backgrounds and influences and their attitudes towards dancing.

Margaret describes the characteristics of lindy that set it apart as a dance form. She provides a brief history of the dance, its antecedents, and larger cultural context:

Each dance follows a pattern: it is introduced by Black dancers, criticized and banned as shocking and immodest, then forced into acceptance by sheer popularity, public demand, possibly years later, in a watered down or modified version, one which the general public can easily learn and perform. It is then part of American culture.

The videos and master’s project are available from Margaret’s website SwingMB.com.

"Dancing Cheek to Cheek: Haptic Communication between Partner Dancers and Swing as a Finite State Machine," Sommer Gentry (2005)

Renowned lindy hop instructor and competitor Sommer Gentry took a completely different route to examine swing dancing in her dissertation at MIT. She examined the complex phenomena of “haptic” (touch) communication that occurs between leader and follower in the course of the dance. From her abstract:

To see two expert partners, one leading and the other following, swing dance together is to watch a remarkable two-agent communication and control system in action. Even blindfolded, the follower can decode the leader's moves from haptic cues. The leader composes the dance from the vocabulary of known moves so as to complement the music he is dancing to. Systematically addressing questions about partner dance communication is of scientific interest and could improve human-robotic interaction, and imitating the leader's choreographic skill is an engineering problem with applications beyond the dance domain. Swing dance choreography is a finite state machine, with moves that transition between a small number of poses.

We admit to being pretty overwhelmed by the depth of her analysis. But we loved this awesome video she created with her partner Dorry Segev to “Dance her Dissertation.”

 

“The Texas Tommy, Its History, Controversies, and Influence on American Vernacular Dance,” Rebecca Strickland (2006)

the-sun-december-27-1914-fourth-section-magazine-section-page-12 texas tommy edit.jpg

I really enjoyed learning about the Texas Tommy, a vernacular partner dance that preceded and influenced the lindy hop, which Rebecca Strickland describes in her master’s thesis at Florida State University. From her abstract:

The Texas Tommy was one of the first Rag dances to emerge in mainstream America. The dance first appeared in the slums of the port of San Francisco, known as the Barbary Coast, where sailors, prostitutes, and much of the city's black population congregated in the unruly dance halls.... It represented the naughty, seditious, but alluring Barbary Coast in San Francisco, as well as the dangerous wild west. The Texas Tommy became prevalent on the dance floor and grew to be the dance most closely associated with the new Ragtime music. In New York's social scene, the dance's wild, fast, and vigorous movement was particularly seductive to the younger crowd, who ultimately adopted it as a code of rebellion. Having found a national audience, the Texas Tommy left a legacy that ultimately helped initiate and influence the swing dances that followed.

As a San Francisco native, I found this particularly fascinating and relevant to me. 

"An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943," Harri Heinilä (2016)

This dissertation by Harri Heinilä takes a media studies approach to African-American vernacular dance, examining how the media covered those artforms from the 1920s to the 1940s:

The dissertation discusses how the Harlem-based jazz dance was recognized in the mainstream press, that means in outside of Harlem, non-African-American newspapers and magazines, between 1921 and 1943. The topic was examined by exploring how the Harlem jazz dance was perceived in and outside of Harlem. The Harlem-based jazz dance means jazz and swing music dances like the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, and Tap dance, which were danced and propagated by Harlemites in and outside of Harlem. In addition to the mainstream press, especially African American newspapers, dancers’ interviews, articles about dancers, their memoirs, various studies and various archives, were used for building up the picture of Harlem entertainment both in and outside of Harlem.

“Savoy: Reassessing the Role of the ‘World’s Finest Ballroom in Music and Culture’, 1926-1958,” Alexandre Abdoulaev (2014)

Alexandre Abdoulaev in his PhD dissertation at Boston University provides a very useful overview of incredible legacy of the Savoy Ballroom from its beginnings in the 1920s to its influence on popular culture through the 1950s:

The objective of this dissertation is to examine the cultural, social, and musical contribution made by the Savoy Ballroom to the promotion of African-American culture. The first and second chapters of this dissertation address the historical and cultural context of Harlem and the Savoy proper. The third chapter examines some of the emerging traditions behind the Savoy Ballroom's status as the ""World's Finest Ballroom."" The fourth and fifth chapters address the chronological and technical development of music and jazz dance at the Savoy, with particular attention given to the lasting impact of such advancements as the incorporation of swing feel into jazz. The sixth chapter examines the cultural impact of the Ballroom on contemporary and modern media, particularly print, music, film, and photography. Finally, the seventh chapter examines the Savoy Ballroom's participation in New York's World's Fair exhibition in 1939, and its impact on the worldwide export of Harlem's African-American culture.

“Frame matching and ΔpTed: a framework for teaching Swing and Blues dance partner connection,” Joseph Daniel DeMers (2012)

Joseph DeMers in a paper in the journal Research in Dance Education provides a new framework for understanding and presenting what partner dancers call “dance connection” or “dance frame.” He adopts a much more rigorous approach to unpacking what those terms means, breaking them down into five key factors:

  1. Posture

  2. Tone (i.e. muscle tension)

  3. Tension (and compression)

  4. Energy

  5. Direction of Energy

A useful read for dance teachers in particular.


Thanks so much to Alexandre Abdoulaev, Margaret Batichiuk, Joseph Daniel DeMers, Sommer Gentry, Harri Heinilä, and Rebecca Strickland for sharing their research projects with us. There is of course a lot more scholarship out there to explore, for those interested in delving deeper (many of which are behind a paywall, unfortunately). Lindy Penguin created a lindy hop bibliography they compiled back in 2014 that you might find useful.
 

If you know of other interesting research projects on lindy hop by lindy hoppers, please share them with us. We’d love to feature them in the future.