This essay has footnotes that can be found in the previously published post available here. It was created so that you could open another tab and flip back and forth if you wish. I also recommend opening up video links in new tabs.
“Do you teach Hollywood style or Savoy style?” *
I was asked this question a few months ago at the Jam Cellar. “I don’t mind which,” the person continued, “I just want to know because my boyfriend’s taking the beginner class and I want to know how to follow him.”
I have nothing against the person who asked this question—many people have been exposed to the terms “Hollywood” style and “Savoy” style, and it’s not their fault that the vocabulary still survives in the culture and makes people think weird things, like the idea that one should follow one differently than another. **
However, after years of research and great love for original swing dancers of all regions, I have come to cringe at hearing the words. The terms were loose and shaky to begin with, and not meant to carry the added weight that people have heaped on them over the years (myself included, at a few points in time). I’m pretty sure they have now officially collapsed, and we should do the good thing and take them out back and shoot them.
Let’s begin by explaining where the terms originally came from, to my knowledge:
Savoy style: As far as I know, the term began in the 80s, possibly the 90s. I first saw this term myself on the box for Frankie Manning and Erin Stevens’ videotape lessons on Lindy Hop. I always assumed Frankie allowed it because (1) Frankie Manning was fully aware that there were different styles of Lindy Hop in his day, and he didn’t want to claim his was the only way, and (2) he had pride in being one of the greatest dancers in the Savoy Ballroom, and he wanted people to remember the Savoy, and its place in developing Lindy Hop. However, in his autobiography (co-written by Cynthia Millman), he states on several occasions that all styles were individual at the Savoy (Pg. 169 and numerous others).
Hollywood style: Late 90s, early 2000s. Though there was Savoy style, there wasn’t really any other labeled style (again, as far as I know). Sylvia Sykes and a few others had taught “Dean Collins style” Lindy for decades, but that was because they had learned it straight from Dean Collins himself, and that was the extent of any “styles.” The phrase “Hollywood style” was coined by LA dancers, most notably Erik Robison and Sylvia Skylar, to describe the style of Lindy Hop done by the (mainly White) Southern California dancers prevalent in Hollywood films in the swing era. (And, yes, master Southern California dancer Dean Collins danced at the Savoy several times before he moved to Hollywood and introduced Lindy Hop there.)
At the least, “Hollywood” style was created simply as a descriptive term for people wondering why people like Eric and Sylvia looked different than the nation’s other top couples when they danced (in the late 1990s it was a significant difference in look). At the most, it was a small linguistic way of giving credit to a group of original swing dancers who were almost forgotten, or thought “uncool,” in the neo-swing renaissance of Lindy Hop. It should be mentioned Eric and Sylvia have always been good friends and admirers of Ryan and Jenny and Frankie Manning, the population’s ideals of “Savoy” style, and there were no malicious politics involved in either term when they were first coined, in my understanding.
Here’s where things started to get weird: Hollywood style took the world of early 2000s Lindy Hop by storm. It became extremely popular, and almost every city’s scene soon had their advanced dancers choosing sides.
For various reasons, many people chose Hollywood, and—here’s the main problem—based their understanding of the original “Hollywood” dancers not on what they saw for themselves in the old clips (which in those days were much harder to come by), but on what they were told, usually by the nearest “advanced” dancer. It should be added that it wasn’t just the “Hollywood” style dancers who did this; a scene’s advanced “Savoy style” dancers often did the same.
In embracing the new trend, many people very quickly cast off the old and left behind all of their Charlestons, Bleyers***, and any move they ever learned from Frankie Manning. They made the “whip” their basic swing-out, bought white bucks and wedgies, and every scene suddenly had an expert on “Hollywood style” and all the fundamental ways in which it was different from “Savoy style.” They included several general rules that we will discuss below.
Now, there’s a lot more to the story than that, and how we got to where the scene is today, but it’s not really important for this article. This post is mostly about deconstructing the style “rules” that have been going around for the last decade in hope of understanding the more complex—and sometimes surprising—reality. (And if you don’t think the theories, research, and opinions expressed in this essay are right, I hope to you they are at least new wrong answers for you to ponder.)