The very first known form of swing was the Texas Tommy in 1913, which later changed to the Mooch and Sugar in 1916 and even later called the Break-A-Way by 1919. During the 1920's when the Charleston was becoming all the rage, the Breakaway and Charleston would start to mix with and was forming a new yet unnamed dance style with a few other dances thrown in the mix.
In 1927 this style was finally acknowledged and given a name by a fabulous swing dancer named George "Shorty" Snowden. 'Shorty George' from New York's Harlem was to re-name the 'break-a-way' the "Lindy Hop or Lindbergh hop" after the famous pilot "Charles Augustus Lindbergh"
(Lindbergh made his thirty-three hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean to France successfully on May 20, 1927.) There are two main stories about the name that go something like this (the 1st one being the main one, second being more correct):
1) In September, 1927, a newspaper reporter having never seen this style of dance before walked up to the winners at a dance marathon contest in Central Park in New York, (known as the un-official start of the Harvest Moon Ball Contest (later to be tried again in 1934). This reporter asked the winning couple (Shorty George!) what it was that they were doing, as he had not seen it before. Shorty thought for a second and replied "the Lindy Hop... We flying just like Lindy did!". The newspaper reporter did an article on the contest in his newspaper and described what he saw calling it the "Lindy Hop."
2) A dance derby (marathon) which started on 6/17/1928 at the Manahattan Casino, (155th Street and Eighth Avenue in Harlem, New York.) Shorty George (#7) was Dancing in a (supposedly non segregated) dance marathon and decided to do the Breakaway, a reporter for the New York Graphic (?Walter Winchell maybe?) observed and came over and asked what kind of dance he was doing, Snowden without stopping, thinking quickly replied "The Lindy Hop... Were flyin' just like Lindy did!"... supposedly he reported this in his article. Fox Movietone News also captured Shorty's feet in this derby on film. Shorty became one of the remaining four couples out of eighty left dancing before the marathon was closed down on 7/4/1928. The New York Times announced: "NEGRO DANCE DERBY ENDS.; Stopped After Sixteen Days by Order of Commissioner Harris." However there are publications that use the term Lindy Hop (dance) prior to this date, so number one is maybe closer to the correct story.
The Lindy was going to become famous in a rapid pace of time, so fast most instructors around the country had no idea about it. The Woodland Daily Democrat Newspaper on September fourteenth of 1927 Miss Sullivan said that "the Lindy Hop" placed third in the annual Dance Masters of America (D.M.A.) conference held in New York and was described by Miss Sullivan when asked about the Lindy Hop, however it was the Lindbergh Wave Waltz that took third and that is what she described (dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum-dum-de-dum), it was obvious she had no idea what the reporter was talking about. The Kinkajou was first and the Dixie Stomp being second place and the Lindy Wave Waltz was third.
In the last 90 years the Lindy has become the first form of swing as we know it today (the Great Grandfather of all Swing if you will) and along with the Charleston were the main dances of the 1920's. The Charleston mixed in with the Lindy, as well as other prior forms of dance such as the Texas Tommy, Turkey Trot, Apache Dance, Black Bottom, The Shimmy, The Strut, Cakewalk, The Frisco, Foxtrot, Tap and more. These dances were known as "Jazz Dances." The Lindy was the first form of swing "White America" had seen and was about to fall in love. Some of these folks would go to the famous "Savoy Ballroom" in Harlem and watch the "African-American dancers" strut their stuff.
Many of these dancers in 1920's were teaching many of the "White Folks" to do these dances, thus, they were making a "honorable living" in a very racist period of time. This became very competitive among some of African-American dancers, some would clip papers to their back with phone numbers or a studio name written on them while they danced. If you liked the way a dancer danced you could then get in touch with them and take lessons. Through this type of competition, the dancers would start to do more wild and crazy stuff to get the attention of the spectators.
As time went on, dance contests became more and more "attention getting." In the 1930's a dancer named "Frankie Manning" *claimed to add the first Air-Step" (lifts/ flips) into the Lindy (Al Minns and Leon James as well). These and other "Air-Steps" or Aerials had been done for years before in other dance styles such as the tango, waltzes, Flash and Acrobatic dance acts, apache dance etcetera,through many exhibitions by professional club entertainers, but supposedly had not yet been done in the Lindy, especially with the speed in which they would be done, plus add the element of surprise and these aerials would become completely unique to the Lindy Hop.
In many interviews Frankie describes how his first "Air-Step" took place: "Frankie and partner were practicing for a dance contest to try and beat then King "Shorty George Snowden" at the Savoy, Frankie and partner, worked out a back flip they *saw (??) and it worked, they did it in the contest and beat Mr. Snowden."
Also in a book called "Swing as a Way of Life" (1941) states that "young dancers like Al Minns, Joe Daniels, Russell Williams, and Pepsi Bethel produced the "Back flip, Over Head and the Snatch!." At any rate, this started the attention getters on to a new agenda... Aerials!
Over the years aerials became a main attraction in Lindy competitions and exhibitions, however, aerials were not permitted at most clubs and ballrooms during any social type dance while on the dance floor except during exhibitions or contests as too many dancers and people around these dancers were getting hurt. Even the famous Harvest Moon Ball eliminated Aerials during the contests for a brief period of time.
The Savoy Ballroom opened in 1926 and was the main haunt for Harlem's dancers. During this time the original Lindy or Break-A-Way looked more like couples Charleston, with a splash of the other dances thrown in rather than today's style of Lindy. Shorty George was at the head of the pack during this time frame. The Savoy would later prove to be the breeding ground for swing as the main dance.
In the early 1930's, Hubert "Whitey" White was the head bouncer at the Savoy and noticing an opportunity to make some cash decided to form a group called "Whitey's Hopping Maniac's," later to be known as " Whitey's Lindy Hoppers ". It was a pretty open market for him as his only competition was "Shorty George and his dancers" who were doing most of the exhibitions and shows around town in ballrooms and clubs such as the Cotton Club at the time, Shorty would join Whitey's very first group as well but later quit.
Whitey had auditions and picked some dancers to start his group. This was to become the form of Lindy Hop we know today. During the Lindy Hoppers reign, the Lindy was to take on a newer "Sophisticated or cleaned up look." The Hoppers went on to become the main Swing groups of the time and traveled all over the world performing in many exhibitions, movies, and stage shows. About the same time ... Dean Collins was to bring Savoy Style Lindy, a smoother and slower form to Los Angeles in the early 1930's which gave birth to today's modern West Coast swing.
When Benny Goodman became the "King of Swing," the Lindy Hop would become known as the "Jitterbug." The term Jitterbug would eventually be applied to all styles of swing over the years and the term Lindy Hop would almost be forgotten about as the term Jitterbug took the reigns. The main way to tell if the "old movies" (1930-50's) feature Lindy, West Coast (called rock and roll) or East Coast Swing is:
1) If they do Sugar pushes its West Coast Swing (Dean Collins choreography).
2) If no Sugar push its Lindy (probably Whitey's Group).
3) If however there is no Sugar push, Whip or Lindy Circle then it is East Coast Swing (standard movie choreographers/ stock dancers).
Another form of swing that was extremely popular among white America about the same time was the Shag.
As time progressed on, many factors would come into play to change the look and feel of the original Lindy. Music being the main factor of change as it seemed every ten years the music changed. ie: Ragtime to Jazz to Big Band to Big Band Swing to Rock and Roll to Bop to Motown to Soul to Funk etcetera and many secondary styles of music surfacing as well such as Latin music, Psychedelic, Folk Music, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Rock a Billy, Country Western, Beach Music etcetera. These music changes would give new semi-pro dancers who could care less about the past (somewhat same as today) a new lease on the dance but were doing it differently as the older dancers either got married, had kids, died, became handicapped for various non dance reasons, overwieght and didn't want to go out, or just got older as well as other factors to long to go into here, so the dance was changing but was still the same.
Another main factor was that many "exhibtion dancers" of the day were trying to invent their own versions as well (example Champion Strut), usually unsuccessfully as that was the thing to do for many years, similar to the Line dance craze a few years back, everyone became a choreographer. New dancers are always gullable when the words "New Version or improved or updated, modern etcetera are used to sell them, however the older pros who lasted kept it somewhat in check as they usually taught the best. These newer "semi-pros" were similar to going to a chiropractor to have your tonsils removed.
Jitterbug/Lindy or whatever you want to call it stayed as King for many era's, but alas, all must give way sooner or later. The Twist dance became the death blow for the Lindy Hop/Jitterbug in 1959. (See Twist page as to why.)
Many folks ask what style of swing/Jitterbug is best, West Coast, East Coast, Whip, Push, Lindy, Shag etc. However, there is no best style. The best style would depend on what type of music you are dancing to at the time, Geographics, the theme of the dance being held, the speed in which the music is played and the dance knowledge of you and or your partner. If you're partner only knows one style of swing, then their style would be the best style to dance with them at that time. If they only know one style they usually will declare that the style they know is the best style above all others and usually will make derogatory statements.
Swing (Jitterbug) is a wonderful dance form in all it's versions that fits all types of music, Personalities, Finances etc. Calling yourself a swing dancer means you can at least do the basics in many forms of swing and a few well. So learn to swing dance whatever style, you're unique and your dances should be varied and your style should represent your knowledge of dance that other, newer dancers (and they are the majority) don't possess, and not limited to only one. However you will eventually find you like them all and soon you will understand the importance of them all as well as understand why there are different styles to begin with. So enjoy them and mainly smile, laugh and have fun.
During this time, many things were being named after Lindbergh, even Al Smith tried to start a dance named after him (Al Smith Hop). Eleanor Powell did a "Jig Hop" in the "Fine and Dandy" Broadway play in 1930, which is related. Also there was a dance called the "St. Louis Hop" in 1926 and is described in Betty Lee's Book, it is a form of swing. In 1914, a dance called the "Aunt Jemima slide" may also be related. The November 1927 Dance Magazine has Lindy and Lindy Hop Lessons advertised by Charles Sadler and Prof. L. Gonzaga.