A comment on Facebook got me thinking of moments in Lindy Hop. Not just good dances or dancers, but singular moments that make you reconsider every assumption you had about the dance. Twenty-four Robbers by Skye and Frida or anything by Stefan Durham and Bethany Powell are great performances as a whole, but I’m talking about a short sequence, a single move, or even a footwork variation that turned the entire scene on its head.
Everything that happened in something like the ubiquitous ULHS 2006 Liberation final isn't the same because the whole thing rocks from start to finish. There isn't a single defining moment.
Similarly, lots of aerials and assorted “flash and trash” can make a crowd jump or stop the heart for a few beats, but what separates the following moments is how they affected the Lindy Hop scene afterwards. In honor of one of my favorite websites, I'm presenting my picks in chronological order.
Skye Humphries and the rest of the Minnie’s Moochers were all regarded as good dancers and the future of Lindy Hop after their landmark “Love Me or Leave Me” performance in 1999, but what happened here helped to push Skye to the head of the class. At 2:13, the ever impulsive teenager has an idea, but doesn’t quite know what to do with it. He drops, twists, rolls on the ground and ends up in a half split in the blink of an eye, all without ever breaking his connection with his partner, Caitlin George. It earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. It was so nuts that people still talked about it years afterwards.
To this day, Skye still can’t tell you what he was trying to do there. By his own admission, he was just a kid flying by the seat of his pants, but that's why this moment is so memorable. Plenty of people were just starting out around this time. The other heats in this contest include future instructors and promoters like Damon Stone, Hilary Alexander, Jeremy Otth, Naomi Uyama, and Kevin St. Laurent just to name a few. You can even see Nina Gilkenson rolling on the ground at the end of the clip, already trying to recreate the moment. Everyone was still struggling to figure out what the dance was. This kid got up in front of them, obliterated the line between thinking and doing, and showed them what the dance could be.
Matt & Nina Rock the House: Nina Gilkenson & Matt Smiley ULHS 2002 Liberation Final
When The Ulitmate Lindy Hop Showdown first started in 2002, no one really knew what to expect other than lots of drinking and dancing to fast music. Mostly at the same time. The competitions didn’t have the bad ass rep that they do now. The first step was this spotlight in the fast division finals. If you watch the rest of this final, you’ll notice that everyone is just trying to survive. However, Matt & Nina stormed into their spotlight making a statement from the start with an aerial that lacked anything resembling subtly or humility as indicated by its name: Matt & Nina Rock the House. This was followed by the lesser known “Nina Fixes her Strapless Bra" variation that Matt follows like any astute leader should.
This was the FIRST Lindy Hop video to go viral on the Internet, predating YouTube or any other popular video sharing site by three years. This spotlight put ULHS on the map of major Lindy Hop events and combined with the Mad Dog routine, made fast dancing cool again. (Mad Dog was performed at ALHC in October of that year, but was limited to VHS & DVD release. ULHS was in November, and the more famous Mad Dog routine wasn’t performed and recorded until New Year’s that winter.)
Fidgety Feet: Naomi Uyama & Todd Yannacone ULHS 2005 Liberation Final
It didn’t take very long for ULHS to become THE event to attend. Part of that was because promoter Amy Johnson made sure that the event lived up to its own name as you can hear in the beginning of this clip when the Wolverines Big Band roar into an authentically tempoed version of “White Heat;” at which point, everyone in the room panics because the band is screaming in at just about the same speed as the legendary Hellzapoppin’ performance by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. But even those guys got to rehearse their choreographed routine and use multiple takes to get it right. The competitors in this division had to social dance to a live band in front of a live audience. The “good” news was that they only had one chance to get it done. Everyone does fine for the most part, but Todd & Naomi pull away from the pack doing footwork variations in a contest that was usually won with Big Air.
If Matt & Nina made fast dancing cool, then Naomi & Todd made it look easy. I still get chills hearing the crowd go rabidly nuts while Todd & Naomi breeze through variations that everyone learns in their beginner classes, but rarely use after. Karen Turman talked a bit more about it in her series on the background of her “Evolution of Lindy Hop” routine. I like to think that the screaming is due to everyone realizing how many shoes they're going to wear out trying to match that demonstration of footacular dexterity.
In 2008, The International Lindy Hop Championships was in the same position as ULHS was in 2002. Filling the role of Matt & Nina, Max & Annie threw down an aerial worthy of an NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest reaction. That aerial was the coup de grace to a masterful set up. First, Max catches the hat tossed from the crowd just as the song changes mid-routine. After he awkwardly places it on his head, most people immediately start to wonder how long it can stay on. After Max & Annie hit their first aerial with the hat going nowhere, you know that it's now on in so many ways. After that, you're half cheering and half expecting failure to come by way of the breeze generated from dancing so fast. But then Max & Annie take that expectation and stuff it into your face.
The explosion in the room when Annie lands was the collective realization that anyone hoping to make any kind of impression in that division for years to come would have to top that. The standing ovation at the end would be the first of many for Max & Annie at ILHC which would just get bigger and bigger each year.
SWIVEL! Frida Segerdahl & Skye & Humphries ILHC 2009 Classic
It’s hard to predict what will stick with people when choreographing a routine. Even harder still considering Skye & Frida didn’t have a routine ready by the time they arrived at ILHC in 2009. When I talked to Skye earlier that summer, he had a completely different song in terms of tempo and feel in mind for that division. While putting this routine together, Frida looked at all the accepted rules about posture, balance, and lines and decided to break them all, and in the process, made you love every second of it.
It rocked so many worlds that follows everywhere were waving their hands in the air like they just didn't care. Even top level dancers with their own strong sense of style quote it. all. the. time. Frida and Skye managed to put together a 1st place performance, but more importantly and more difficultly, they added to the vernacular of the dance.
The ultimate creative goal in a dance like Lindy Hop is to forge your own style. All accomplished Lindy Hoppers recognize this and work pretty hard towards that, so that gives you an idea of how influential this simple swivel variation is. More than that, Frida reminded everyone how you innovate something new out of something familiar. This is how Lindy Hop stays relevant for generations that keep learning something new about themselves from the changing world they live in. The only question now is: What's next?