While the 1930s were generally not a pleasant or happy time, not all joy was lost. During an era that was ravaged by the Great Depression, many people found an outlet in dance. Dance was markedly influenced by black American culture, and many of the dances drew their names from famous events or personalities of the times. From the Lindy Hop to the Big Apple and everything in between, the popular dance styles of the 1930s helped to shine a little light on a predominantly dark time.
The Lindy Hop
As Charles Lindbergh made his famous nonstop flight from the United States to Europe in 1927, this dance style was becoming popular in Harlem, New York, and up and down the East Coast. The dance owes its origins to black influence and is known as the Granddaddy of Swing. The dance was given its name after a dance enthusiast named “Shorty” George Snowden was watching dancing couples and a reporter asked him what dance they were doing. A newspaper article that read “Lindy Hops the Atlantic” about Lindbergh’s flight to Paris was nearby, and the man simply said they were doing the Lindy Hop and the name stuck. The dance later became known as the Jitterbug.
Originating in a large ballroom in Balboa Island, California, in the 1930s, this dance is known for its smooth, tight footwork. The tight footwork was no accident; the Balboa dance style was born from necessity because ballrooms had gotten so crowded that the couples had no room to dance or swing their partners. The dance is ideal for fast tempos and has earned its place in cartoon history as the dance done by Popeye.
The Carolina Shag
Originating on North Myrtle Beach, this dance is the official dance of the Carolinas. Danced to beach music, the Shag was popular on the West Coast where it was mainly danced in dance competitions that were popular in the 1930s. It was also known as a “man’s dance” because the man would do all the turns and fancy footwork. The Shag is still popular today in many dance communities.
This dance sprang from Columbia, South Carolina. The dance began in the black community but was soon picked up by whites as was the case for many dances of the era. The dance quickly gained popularity and became widespread. The Big Apple consists of individual jazz steps, all performed in a circle and called out by a leader.