Swing dancing in Hellzapoppin

Most Famous Swing Dancers in History

Swing dancing (especially Lindy Hop) is my personal favorite dance of all time – it’s fun, energetic, free-flowing, and brings back memories of the good ol’ days (including the awesome swing dance clothing)!

However, many people don’t know much about the dancers that made swing dance what it is today.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of swing dance, some cool facts, and the most famous and well-respected swing dancers in history.

Swing Dance History

Swing dance is actually quite a broad term for various types of partner dances that evolved between the 1920s and 1940s. You might have heard of the likes of Charleston, Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Shag. All of these are bundled in the collective term of swing dancing – each with their own styles and unique moves. The thing they have in common is that these dances are danced to jazz music, which was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s (also called the “Jazz Age”).

Savoy Ballroom

Blues music began to take over in the late 1940s, and the swing dance revival took place some 40 years later, in the late 1980s. Today, swing dancing remains very popular, with many places around the world teaching the likes of Lindy Hop, Charleston, and Balboa.

Famous Lindy Hop Dancers

Lindy Hop is my personal favorite, and there are so many famous Lindy Hop dancers to commend. Here’s a list of notable Lindy Hoppers:

George Snowden

George "Shorty" Snowden

George “Shorty” Snowden was the actually the inventor of Lindy Hop, along with his partner, Mattie Purnell in 1928. He initiated the very first performance group for Lindy Hop – the Shorty Snowden Dancers. There is a classic Lindy Hop move named after him called “Shorty George”.

Frankie Manning 

Frankie Manning

You’ve probably heard of the name Frankie Manning if you’ve been ever been to a Lindy Hop class. He is arguably the most famous swing dancer in history. As one of the best dancers performing at the Savoy Ballroom, Frankie was a talented choreographer of famous Lindy Hop moves, such as when he introduced aerials in a dance competition in the mid 1930s. After taking a break for several decades when WW2 started, Frankie was a major player in the swing revival of the 1980s, and carried on teaching Lindy Hop to the next generation of dancers.

Norma Miller 

Norma Miller

Norma Milled, also known as the “Queen of Swing”, started dancing Lindy Hop as a teenager. She was the youngest member of the original Lindy Hop group “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers”. Norma is a Lindy Hop legend for helping to popularize the dance, as well as fuel its revival in the 1980s. Norma would regularly perform and teach at the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden until she was 98 years old.

Swing Dance Facts

Here are some swing dance facts you may not have known:

  • Swing dancing is featured in several films, including Hellzapoppin’ (1941), Swing Kids (1993), and Swingers (1996).
  • Household radios in the 1920s allowed jazz music to play prominently, thus sparking “The Jazz Age”.
  • Lindy Hop’s name was inspired from the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh aka “Lucky Lindy”, who ‘hopped’ the Atlantic ocean in 1927 with his transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. However, it is believed that a reporter came to the Savoy Ballroom and asked George Snowden “What do you call that dance?”. The dance was still too new to have a name, and Shorty noticed a newspaper with the headline “Lindy hops the Atlantic!” and off the top of his head told the reporter “It’s called the Lindy Hop.”
  • Many people interchangeably use the terms Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, and Swing Dancing, even though seasoned dancers see Lindy Hop and Jitterbug as two different dances – with Swing Dancing being the genre.
  • The xylophone was a common instrument in Jazz and Swing bands from the 1920s and 1930s, due to its bright and distinct sounds (which was perfect for swing dancing).