How Do You Introduce the History of Lindy Hop to Your Students? [updated]

9:20 Special beginners lesson

9:20 Special beginners lesson

You’ve got an eager group of strangers who showed up for their first lindy hop lesson at your dance venue. For some, this is their first exposure to lindy hop, or to any kind of dance instruction. You hear nervous laughter and whispering, all eyes on you.

What is the first thing you tell them about lindy hop?

Here’s what Iris Dolowitz Tarou of the 9:20 Special dance in San Francisco says:

“Lindy Hop is the original form of swing dancing and was created in the 1920s and 30s by African American youth in Harlem, New York. They were creating this dance to the popular music of the time which was big band swing music.”

iris quote.jpg

Iris later adds that 9:20 Special and the larger lindy hop community take seriously the history of this dance. She encourages people afterwards to grab one of the history of Lindy Hop brochures that are on a table in the front of the room. She then starts her class.

There’s a lot to like about this. It’s short, to the point, and handles all the basic who, what, where, and why questions. And it leaves them with something to do afterwards.

At the same time, it’s challenging to represent the complex and nuanced story of where our dance came from, and who the principal innovators and drivers were, in a short amount of time. Do you mention Frankie? Do you bring up all the dances that influenced lindy hop? What about the continuing legacy of African-American dancers after that period?

You don’t know why your students are there, or how interested they are in the background of where this dance came from. And you might feel uncomfortable representing the Black roots of lindy hop if you are not from that culture.

There is no perfect approach for every situation. Iris admits she tried various phrases before landing on the one she shared with me. But saying something is better than saying nothing about where this dance came from, and who pioneered it.

With all that, how do you introduce lindy hop to your students? Let’s share what works for your audience from your experience.

UPDATE June 16: Check out how Cat’s Corner in Montreal introduces lindy hop to their students, in this video.

[PHOTO CREDIT: 9:20 Special beginners class by Rik Panganiban. Photo of Iris by Tim O’Brien]