Who Introduced the Lindy Hop in Europe?

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

Usually it is explained that GIs brought the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug-related dances from the U.S. to London and elsewhere in Europe during WWII starting from 1942[1]. Because it is clear that the British dancers knew Jitterbug dancing much earlier than GIs arrived, in particular, when considering that the first Jitterbug contest was held in London in 1938, it has also been suggested that actually “Swing dance” was introduced to the UK with the help of “American tourists, Hollywood films, and touring American musicians and dance troupes.”[2]

When it comes to the dance troupes, Herbert White’s dancers, usually known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, have been the leading candidates for the dancers who introduced the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug to Europe. Before WWII, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers visited two times in Europe: first, between 1935 and 1936, when Norma Miller and Billy Hill, and Leon James and Edith Matthews, performed in London, Paris, and Switzerland. Next, in 1937, when Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs, Frankie Manning and Naomi Waller, Lucille Middleton and Jerome Williams, and Mildred Cruse and Billy Williams, toured Paris, London, Dublin, and Manchester.[3]

However, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were not the ones who introduced the Lindy Hop or Jitterbug, as the Lindy was known by the British scene, to Europeans.

As to the UK, Charles B. Cochran’s 1931 Revue, which consisted of 18 acts, toured London and Manchester between February and March, 1931.[4] Although Cochran was the British showman, he used African Americans Buddy Bradley and Billy Pierce for staging dances for his 1931 Revue[5]. When the show was over, the latter claimed in newspaper articles that he “introduced the Lindy Hop in Europe”. The claim was published at least in The Philadelphia Tribune, The Afro-American, and The Pittsburgh Courier in April 1931[6]. Pierce’s claim is substantiated by newspaper articles about Cochran’s 1931 Revue, which refer to the dance known as the Lindy Hop. In one of them, it is stated concerning the show in the London Pavilion in March that “[o]ther successful items that should be noted…include “The Lindy Hop,” a spirited dance scene”[7]. Another article about the show in February discusses “the costumes of “The Lindy Hop.”[8]. Because the show did not succeed, and had only a short run in London[9], it is likely that the Lindy Hop scene did not have a great impact on the British dance scene.

Although Pierce and Cochran’s 1931 Revue were probably the ones who introduced the Lindy Hop to the UK, at least, as far as theatrical productions are concerned, the dance was introduced to Paris, France earlier in June 1930 when the Black Flowers, the theatrical company, performing Liza, the “spectacular operetta”, toured Paris between June and July[10]. The company consisted of 50 artists including African American entertainers like Valada Snow, Louis Douglas (also the director of the show), Margaret Beckett, and the Utica Jubilee Singers[11]. The French newspapers like Comoedia and Le Journal advertised that the company performed the Lindy Hop, the new American dance, which, according to another French newspaper, Le Matin, was connected to Charles Lindbergh, the famous American aviator[12]. Margaret Beckett was mentioned to specialize in the role of “Lindbergh lady”, which possibly referred to her dancing[13]. Before the French newspapers, the Harlem Lindy Hop in connection with Charles Lindbergh was mentioned in the African American newspaper, The Chicago Defender, in February 1930[14].

According to the American magazine, Variety, the French audience received the show surprisingly with “the coolness” when compared to Blackbirds which toured Paris in 1929.[15] On the contrary, the French newspapers like Le Journal, La Rampe, and L’intrasigeant praised dancing in the show, and particularly dancers Louis Douglas, Valaida Snow, and Margaret Beckett[16]. Thus, Liza might have had some effect on the Paris dance scene.

So, it was the Black Flowers which introduced the Lindy Hop to Paris, and likely to Europe for the first time, in June 1930. Only after two years since the Harlem Lindy Hop was born in 1928[17].

This is an updated version of my original article. I added the “French connection” to the article and made a few corrections. I would like to thank Jean-Christophe Hep for finding the “French connection” and providing information about the Black Flowers company and its connection to the Lindy Hop.

Notes:

[1] Chris Jones, ‘The Lindy Hops the Atlantic: The Jitterbug and Jive in Britain, 1939-1945’ in ‘Conference Proceedings – Congress on Research in Dance – October 26-28, 2001’, New York University, New York, New York, p. 174.

[2] David G. Miller, Nicole Zonnenberg, Rebecca Strickland, Lindy Hop and Jitterbug: The Development of American Swing Dance in the United Kingdom (Florida: Florida State University, 1-1-2013). See also Jones, p. 175.

[3] Norma Miller, Swing, Baby, Swing! When Harlem Was King…And The Music Was Swing! (Blurb Inc., 2009), pp. 19-20. Norma Miller and Evette Jensen, Swingin at The Savoy – The Memoir of A Jazz Dancer (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), pp. 89-97. Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman, Frankie Manning – Ambassador of Lindy Hop (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007), pp. 135-137 and the picture of Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs (before page 65).

[4] Cockaigne, ’London’, The Billboard, February 7, 1931, p. 38. Howard Barnes, ’The Playbill’, The New York Herald Tribune, February 15, 1931, p. G1. An advertisement concerning the show in The Manchester Guardian, February 18, 1931, p. 1. ’Cochran’s Revue in Manchester’, The New York Herald Tribune, February 18, 1931, p. 16.. ’Chit Chat’, The Stage, February 19, 1931, p. 14. ’New Cochran Revue’, Variety, February 25, 1931, p. 56.. ’News of the Theater’, The New York Herald Tribune, March 20, 1931, p. 18. Cochran’s New Revue Not So Hot in London; Needs Plenty of Fixing’, Variety, March 25, 1931, p. 59. ’Chit Chat’, The Stage, March 26, 1931, p. 12. ’Cochran’s $50,000 Loss on Flop, But not Sad’, Variety, April 8, 1931, p. 59..

[5] For Buddy Bradley and Billy Pierce in the Cochran’s 1931 Revue see Cockaigne, ‘London’, The Billboard, February 14, 1931, p. 40. “Cochran’s 1931 Revue.”, The Stage, February 26, 1931, p. 18. ‘The London Pavilion. Cochran’s 1931 Revue.’, The Stage, March 26, 1931, p. 14. For Charles B. Cochran see John Carter, ‘Exploits of “the British Barnum” ‘, The New York Times, April 11, 1926, p. BR7.

[6] J. A. Rogers, ’Paris Gossip’, The Philadelphia Tribune, April 23, 1931, p. 6. ’Billy Pierce, Once Unable to Pay Rent, is Now Paid $1,000 a Week’, The Afro-American, April 25, 1931, p. 12. ’Billy Pearce, The Man Who Made Stars, Is Going To Hollywood’, The Pittsburgh Courier, April 25, 1931, p. 18.

[7] ’The London Pavilion, Cochran’s 1931 Revue’, The Stage, March 26, 1931, p. 14.

[8] ’The Cochran Revue’, The Manchester Guardian, February 23, 1931, p. 6.

[9] ’Cochran’s $50,000 Loss on Flop, But not Sad’, Variety, April 8, 1931, p. 59. ’Cochran’s New Revue Not So Hot in London; Needs Plenty of Fixing’, Variety, March 25, 1931, p. 59.

[10] ‘Le Theatre Negre A Paris’, Le Matin, June 3, 1930, p. 4. ‘Courrier des Théâtres’, Le Petit Parisien, July 2, 1930, p. 6.

[11] ‘C’est Le Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”’, Le Journal, June 5, 1930, p. 5. ‘Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”, L’Intransigeant, June 8, 1930, p. 7. Victor Glover, ‘Visiting Players Hold Forth at Paris Theaters’, The New York Herald Tribune, June 8, 1930, p. G5. For Louis Douglas as the director of the show see ‘Théâtres’, Figaro, June 3, 1930, p. 6.

[12] ‘Le Théâtre Negre A Paris’, Le Matin, June 3, 1930, p. 4. ’Théâtres De Drame De Comedie Et De Genre’, Comoedia, June 3, 1930, p. 5. ‘C’est Le Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”’, Le Journal, June 5, 1930, p. 5. ‘Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”, L’Intransigeant, June 8, 1930, p. 7.

[13] ’Avant ” Liza ” – ’a la Porte-Saint-Martin’, Comoedia, June 3, 1930, p. 2.

[14] See Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 (Helsinki, Finland: Unigrafia, 2015), p. 142.

[15] ‘Colored Shows No Longer So Popular in Paris’, Variety, June 11, 1930, p. 51.

[16] ‘Music-Hall – REVUE NEGRE’, L’Intransigeant, June 5, 1930, p. 8. ’Le Théâtre nègre “Black Flowers” à la Porte-Saint-Martin’, La Journal, June 8, 1930, p. 6. ‘Représentations du Théâtre Nègre des “ Black Flowers “ : LIZA’, La Rampe, June 15, 1930, p. 7.

[17] The beginning of the Lindy Hop in Harlem is discussed in my doctoral dissertation. See Heinilä 2015, pp. 135-138.

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About authenticjazzdance

The author of the site is Harri Heinila, Doctor of Social Sciences, political history, and the former Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki. He is interested in Authentic Jazz Dance: all jazz dances from different eras of jazz. E.g. Cakewalk, the Charleston, Black Bottom, The Lindy Hop, Mambo, Rhythm Tap. Heinila researches jazz dance, in particular, in the context of Harlem, New York. His doctoral dissertation, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality - The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 is a groundbreaking study in the field of jazz dance and Harlem. His ORCID iD is 0000-0002-7783-9010 .
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4 Responses to Who Introduced the Lindy Hop in Europe?

  1. Markus Mogg says:

    Dear Harry Heinila,
    thank you for your research and your article, I found it very informative regarding the French reception of the dance. After all, France’s cultural centres were very interested in African-American culture from ~1918 onwards and rather welcoming to African-American artists and expats, like James Reese Europe and Josephine Baker.
    Incidentally, that also got me to reconsider the implications of the old and disproven “G.I.-Jitterbug”-connection. First of all, I ‘m inclined to wonder this story was linked to several factors that seemed more obvious for contemporaries during and especially after the war:
    – U.S. troops being deployed in the U.K. after the United States entered the war may have been a factor in some places that the revues and shows never reached. Then again, evidence would be needed to prove that those G.I.s did actually dance Jitterbug in those places. Given how oral history is usually transported, contemporaries might have begun to link G.I.s on leave with the Jitterbug, “‘cos that’s what those Americans do.”
    – This would be directly related to U.S. media picking up the dance in propaganda films (Buck Privates, the Canterville Ghost,…), cementing the image of the Jitterbugging G.I. in public memory more than actual dancing being done. Incidentally, this also probably let to inadvertingly “whitewashing” the dance with the Hollywood dancers trained by Dean Collins for European audiences
    – Regarding central Europa, with some U.S. movies like the Marx brothers’ movies being banned and no or few African-Amercian shows reaching central Europe to my knowledge, especially after 1933 in Germany (tho’ Jazz records were released in Germany even after 1939), the public perception of the dances might have been linked with the Allied troops stationed in Europe after the liberation. After all, the Swing subcultures of Germany and Austria were under close scrutiny by the Nazi regime, mainly enforced through attacks by the Hitler Youth and GESTAPO investigations, and hence would not have the public’s eye or being viewed favourably. After the liberation and Germany and Austria coming under Allied mandates, attitudes might have begun to shift.
    So, from a central European perspective (living in Austria), I therefore wonder if the G.I. angle might actually be more linked with early Rock’n’roll (later: Boogie Woogie) dancing after the liberation of Europe. Having spoken with some older Austrian Boogie dancers from my city (under british mandate until 1955), they told me of some of their older peers who went to places under U.S. mandate to get “denim clothes from the G.I.s stationed there”.
    I ‘m rather interested in your take on my thoughts.
    Thank you very much,
    Markus Mogg

  2. Dear Markus Mogg,

    Thank you for your comment and very interesting information. A few comments from me as follows. I agree with you that the French were and still are very interested in African American culture. Paris was definitely one of those cultural centers where African Americans and African American jazz culture was very appreciated. As to the UK, London and Manchester as well were other cultural centers where African American culture was appreciated. Some say that London was segregated to some extent, but Paris was entirely interracial.

    I agree with you as well that the U.S. troops in the UK likely affected the British dancers to a great extent. They were in the UK for years as compared to the dance troupes mentioned in my article, which were there from one month to over half a year. It still needs more research to ascertain the impact which the dance troupes and GIs had on the British dancers. There was an interesting discussion in Yehoodi.com years ago where the late jazz dance historian Terry Monaghan and others discussed the GI impact on the British scene. I still may have it, but Yehoodi.com destroyed those historical discussions recently.

    You are also correct with the “whitewashing” by aficionados of the Dean Collins style of dancing. It should be remembered that the dancers which Dean Collins trained for the Hollywood rock and roll movies that affected the British scene in the 1950s did not call their dancing rock and roll. They called it The Lindy which was practically Dean Collins’ version of the Lindy Hop. Nowadays, The Lindy is the mainstream style, which is also called swing dancing, and it sometimes looks like nobody does the Lindy Hop anymore.

    As to the German scene, I am not an expert in it. Stephen Wuthe, who collects old jazz recordings, should know more about that. You may know him? As far as I know, there was an underground swing scene in Germany during WWII. When the war ended, it evolved soon into the Boogie Woogie scene probably in West Germany. East Germany is another story. I know that in Finland there is a doctorate candidate who researches politics in East Germany, and her research concerns also jazz to some degree. Maybe she is able to bring out something about that.

    I am overall interested in the movie censorship. The movies were censored in the US as well, particularly in the South as we know very well.

    As to the Boogie Woogie, I am interested in your ideas about it as to the Austrian historical dance scene. I know that after WWII also the French did Boogie Woogie. Basically it was Jitterbug (the Lindy Hop) with a new name, which later was called Rock and Roll.

    And that does not mean that I am not interested in your thoughts concerning the history overall. Thank you again for them.

  3. swiveltam says:

    I am currently reading several books about women at war during WWII and there are quite a few anecdotal stories of these women dancing with locals as well as American GIs in Europe. I will look up some of them for you when I have more time. I can tell you, one was about the ALL Girl bands who toured, USO tours, and another one about donuts girls who worked for the Red Cross. Consider being less male-centric and see if you can find sources from the women’s perspective. Interestingly, NPR just ran a story that most work cited is usually 70% male based. Something to think about. I was happy to see you pull info from Norma’s books! 🙂

    Point being, it may not have been American GIs who originally brought it, but I think we might have to give them credit for proliferating it?

  4. Hi Swiveltam, Thank you for your comment. Yes, we (especially I) are really interested in those stories. The GIs dancing and spreading knowledge of jazz dances in Europe needs more research. That is something someone should do. My purpose was to bring out who was the first in Europe as to introducing the Lindy Hop. There still is a chance of finding a dance group or dancer who introduced the Lindy before 1930. The Blackbirds in 1929 had a lot of African American dancers who could have done that. I have not found anything in that regard, but by going through French newspapers could possibly bring something out. I searched those newspapers with the help of the Gallica database, but nothing surfaced.

    As to the women’s perspective, I understand your point regarding the all girl bands. They likely spread dances as well. Various USO tours could be a starting point for the research. By searching British newspapers and magazines could cast light on that. Someone just should do that. I am definitely interested in how the USO tours and GIs impacted on the British Scene. I am not just sure whether I have time for researching that.

    I used Norma’s book because she is one of those who were in Europe. I agree with her on the months when she and others were in Europe, and also on the dancers who were there with her, and on the places they visited, so I used her statements because according to available newspaper articles they are correct. When you research, you should acknowledge those who came before you. I see that people try to use primary sources like newspaper articles mentioned in various studies, but they do not always acknowledge researchers who have used and analyzed those primary sources before them.

    I agree with you that GIs deserve the credit for proliferating various jazz dances in Europe. It is just about questions of what are the dances and how they impacted on the local dance scenes in Europe.

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