'50s JITTERBUG aka FAST DANCING
aka LINDY aka ROCK 'n ROLL

ancestry

Kurt Lichtmann
Faculty, Ithaca College & Cornell University, Ithaca NY
"The opinions expressed are my own, and not to be construed as official posiitons or opinions of either above institution."


Most of the Bandstanders learned FAST DANCING from older siblings, parents, and many learned it from peers. The most common Bandstand-style swing seen on camera was a 6-count pattern employing two tap-steps followed by a rock step, and a distinct "lift" on the taps. The TRIPLE STEP pattern can be seen on some proprietary videos playing in the Dick Clark AB restaurants, but it was less commonly copied by America's teens! . Also, uptempo rock and roll doesn't lend itself to triple-steps for the average person, neither then, nor now.

Currently, the triple-step pattern is sometimes incorrectly taught as "authentic" 50s rock'n'roll. Well, if American Bandstand is the model, I have to disagree. Every single old-timer I have met in the 15 years with my retro 50s band THE CORVETTES who learned to dance from watching American Bandstand (and didn't learn anything since then) used a tap-step. Justine Carelli was the number one most popular dancer on the show. And Steve Collanaro, one of Justine Carelli's regular dance partners for over a year, told me that had never seen the triple-step pattern on the show. At the very least we can deduce that he wasn't doing it.

Arthur Murray: The widespread influence of the Arthur Murray dance studios and TV show should not be underestimated. Plenty of people learned ballroom style swing (where the triple step pattern is favored) in the '50s (AND in the '40s!). Arthur Murray called it JITTERBUG, but this is not what the TV cameras transmitted to teens across the USA on American Bandstand.

New moves and new dances, such as The Strand and the Bop,"debuted" on Bandstand. Where did these dances come from? Here we have a continuation of the same old story that has grated on black dancers since the '20s. With a few exceptions, white teens, attending integrated school dances, "adapted" the moves from black teens, introducing the moves on Bandstand as their own (The '50s Bandstand crowd was 98% white). An important aspect of this "adaptation" involved another phenomenon well-known to black dancers: white males seemed to lack the hip-movement gene! They would try to imitate the black dancers, but in the words of R & B performer Hank Ballard, "They had a way of dancin' where they didn't move their hips. And if you dance without moving' your hips, it just ain't happenin'!"

Whitewash: Even if white girls could do the "hip thang", they were not allowed to do so on Clark's show. In the preceding SWING ERA as well, hot hip movement was considered very inappropriate for a "nice white girl." The original "Twist", for example, (pre-dating Lindy Hop many decades) involved LOTS more hip motion than Chubby Checker's Bandstand rendition. This is because Dick Clark gave Chubby (real name: Ernest Evans) the specific task of taming it for TV and the studio dancers.

Let's take a last look at the show and its legacy.

OK!