The very first known form of swing was a dance step called the Texas Tommy which may go all the way back to the Civil War, but it did not become popular till just before 1913. This was a vigorous social dance for couples that originated in San Francisco. The Texas Tommy was supposedly the first modern couples dance of the time to include the “break-away” step (energetically dancing from closed to open position and back) while using the basic 8 count rhythm of swing dance. In 1913 in Harlem, The Broadway musical The Darktown Follies had a performance by Ethel Williams dancing with Johnny Peters along with some other performers, performing a dance called the Texas Tommy. A Texas Tommy is said to be a female prostitute who also worked the trenches and/ or walked the streets in the early 1900s.
In that same musical The Darktown Follies, a song and dance called ‘Ballin’ the Jack’ was also introduced, which is a phrase that is associated with a railroad train going at full speed, but later on this came to mean going all out physically on the dance floor, or perhaps in the bedroom, describing a particularly wild sexual encounter. ‘Ballin’ the Jack’ was applied to a slithering, grinding, sensual dance performed in honky-tonks and juke joints. Judy Garland and Gene Kelly danced to the tune in the hit 1942 movie For Me and My Gal.
In 1916, a dance called the Mooch and Sugar evolved from the Texas Tommy and by 1919 it was called the Break-A-Way. During the 1920’s when the Charleston was becoming all the rage, the Breakaway and Charleston would start to mix with and was forming a new unnamed dance style and the Lindy Hop picked up where the Charleston left off. The Charleston’s spirited syncopation and irregular rhythmic accents helped create a symbiotic relationship between musicians and dancers that owed more to West African dance aesthetics than to court, ballroom, or peasant dancing.
In 1927 this style was finally acknowledged and given a name by a fabulous swing dancer named George “Shorty” Snowden who was in a group of dancers called Whitey’s Hopping Maniac’s that rose to fame dancing in the Savoy Ballroom. Shorty George from New York’s Harlem was to re-name the ‘break-a-way’, he called it the “Lindy Hop or Lindbergh hop”; after the famous pilot Charles Augustus Lindbergh who hopped across the Atlantic making a historically successful thirty-three-hour flight to France on May 20, 1927. The lyrics of the song known as the ‘Overseas Stomp (Lindbergh Hop)’ were written by Jab Jones and Will Shade.
I know they’re gonna run to me
When they get across the sea
Every chance to win when Washington lands in France
All safe for now sugar baby
Oh mama don’t you weep and moan
Uncle Sam got your man and gone
Now they’re doing the Lindy Bird across the sea
Oh mama how can it be
You went way across the sea
Just to keep from doing that Lindy Bird with me
Oh baby well I done told you now
You should have seen me with my uniform on
I could Lindy just as sure as you’re born
And then I’d do that Lindy Bird with you
I asked her for a piece of banana
She said let me play the blues on your piano
And then I’ll do that Lindy Bird with you
She said she had a dream about a submarine
I asked her for a glass of kaola
She said let me play the blues on your victrola
And then I’ll do the Lindy Bird with you
Written for Paula’s Thursday Inspiration 71 where this week’s theme is sugar from the 1969 song ‘Sugar Sugar’ by the Archies.