When we start Swing Dancing, while doing our first triple steps, we’re often introduced to it as an art form from the 20’s to 40’s. But rarely do we get a deeper look into its history. Especially in Germany, we think of the anti-fascist dance movement of the 40’s (as depicted in “Swing Kids”), or the typical 20’s and 30’s flapper girls in fringy dresses and feathery hair pieces. Only later on our dancing journey do we get a sense of its actual Black American roots. By hearing people talk about it within the scene, searching and exchanging music, finally watching Hellzapoppin’ and learning about Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Al Minns, Dawn Hampton and so many more… Slowly but surely, everybody who’s been a dancer for a hot minute will get an idea of its history.
Though Swing in general, and Lindy hop in particular, are vastly celebrated art forms that are becoming more popular by the day, their Black American roots are often overshadowed, as they would be in a systemically racist society. It became apparent that the historical context and overall cultural heritage of Black Americans was neither valued, nor taught or talked about enough.
This sparked a big discussion about ignorance and cultural appropriation within the scene.
The belief that dance is not and shouldn’t be political, runs deep.
People sometimes seem to think that context is not important. That dragging politics into this hobby of ours, would ruin the fun. But knowing the roots of the dance, acknowledging that Black American culture is very different from our own white culture, and therefore has different values, aesthetics and dynamics, only deepens our connection to the dance.
” Still, the argument is that Lindy is a happy and pure dance and therefore can’t be associated with politics (…). But, who says that being political inherently negates all joy? (…) [for many Black folk] it is the past which is sad, while the future holds significantly more potential (Grey Armstrong for iLindy).“
If you love the dance and celebrate the music as much as we do, we’d like to invite you to learn more about the cultural background of Swing. If you’d like to pursue this great art form in a truly respectful manner, it is important to be educated about it.
This is why we’ve put together a non-exhaustive list of resources that will provide context to this dance we all benefit from.
Enjoy the reading
Picture by Gjon Mili for LIFE, with Willa Mae Ricker & Leon James. 23rd of August 1943
*Collective Voices For Change has a ressource page of its own that is much more detailed that what we share here. Go have a look (and a read) here.
What is CVFC? In their own words: “Collective Voices for Change (CVFC) is an international initiative committed to building a new and equitable social fabric in the Jazz dance community.” If you want to support this goal, you can donate here.
– Swingin’ at the Savoy, Norma Miller
– Stomping the Blues, Albert Murray
– Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, Wynton Marsalis
Although Marsalis is a controversial figure due to his conservative views (more in this – partial- article), his understanding of Jazz as a form of pure democracy is an interesting tool to think about jazz culture.
– Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance, Jacqui Malone
– Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen, Sherrie Tucker
– Swing Shift: All-Girl Bands of the 1940s, Sherrie Tucker
– Notes and Tones, Art Taylor
– Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis
– Jookin’: The rise of social dance formations in African-American culture, Katrina Hazzard-Gordon
– American Allegory: Lindy Hop and the Racial Imagination, Black Hawk Hancock
– Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music, Robert Farris Thompson & Lowery Stokes Sims
– Let’s Talk about Lindy Hop and Blackness – How did we get here? – YouTube. This is Jo Hoffberg interviewing Grey Armstrong about his “Let’s talk about Lindy hop and Blackness” series of articles.
In this video, Remy talks in an uncomplicated and approachable manner about casual racism, tokenism, cultural appropriation, the importance of context and his vision for Lindy Hop. The video has markers to help you navigate the conversation if you want to get quickly to a special point.
(Here is a Link to a google document with all the ressources mentioned in the conversation)
– Song of Salomon, Toni Morrison
– Beloved, Toni Morrison
– Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
– The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
– Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
– The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
– Erasure, Percival Everett
– How the Word is Passed, Clint Smith
– Corregidora, Gayl Jones
If you’d like to purchase any of these books, please consider supporting the amazing Albatros bookstore of our fellow dancer Michael.
– Why We Matter, Emilia Roig
If you have never really understood what intersectionality means, or are confused by systemic oppression, start with this book. It is really well written, has both deep theoretical insights as well as personal anecdotes and is ENTIRELY ON SPOTIFY IN GERMAN for you to listen to! How great is that? Open it here in Spotify
– Was weiße Menschen nicht über Rassismus hören wollen, aber wissen sollten, Alice Hasters
– Afrikanische Europäer, Olivette Otele
– Afropean: Notes from Black Europe, Johny Pitts