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Let’s Talk About Lindy Hop And Blackness – Part 8

February 17, 2024

Let’s Talk About Lindy Hop And Blackness – Part 8

February 17, 2024
Grey Armstrong

Hope for the future

As we come to the conclusion of this series I wanted to end this on a positive note. Things can change. We can reimagine what the scene can be like moving forward. It can be both fun, respectful and inviting to all people. It just will take some intentional efforts from us. 

So, let’s talk about the future.

We know the scene has an issue. One that won’t change without action. Personally, I am of the belief, if you love something, you should be a part of the solution. Not to leave because it’s an easy way out. Letting your fear stand in the way of being there for your friends. Whether you inherited this mess, actively participated or just let it keep happening, as a community member, it’s on you to help fix it, in my opinion. Again, as just one person, I wanted to highlight other voices beyond just mine. Check out some of their responses to the question of what do you wish for the future in the Lindy/swing scene.

An important negative viewpoint

Some folks don’t even see anything good left in it for them. Going so far as to say this:

Burn it to the ground and start new. There’s nothing in the scene worth saving. – Black 31

Although it may seem harsh, I know most of us have felt this way at once time or another. Many left long ago before the scene admitted there was something to discuss. Regardless of race, I don’t think this is the feedback anyone wants to get about their community. That it’s been so hurtful and left someone feeling so disrespected they see no value in it any longer. If this makes you feel defensive, I think it’s important to sit with that before reading on. 

I almost chose to highlight only the other voices, because the aim of this piece is to be hopeful. But, I think it’s even more important to acknowledge where we are right now. To realize that no quick fixes, bandaids, or half assed efforts will be enough. 

Those with hope

 Yet, all of these folks still have hope for a potential future where they feel more comfortable, accepted and valued.

I hope that we move away from the insane about of celebrity worship that is within the scene that forces black people to be pushed to the side unless they exhibit specific traits that people consider “safe”. I also hope that eventually, the scene gets to a point where inclusion is about people actually being able to be themselves and not just people only wanting to be inclusive to people that have a very narrow set of traits. – African American 24

 I would love to see the history and culture acknowledged on a regular basis. It was created for Black folk by Black folk and was (as were most things) stolen and sold back to us. The fact that the highest paid Lindy dancers and instructors in the US are white really bothers me. Lindy is the dance style that always warms my heart and never stop making me smile but it’s the most I feel physically disconnected from. It’s so fun and so energetic and silly and unique but I never felt that way in lessons it feels so stripped of life and rote that I couldn’t ever make it through a feel lesson. – Black 30

 [Collegiate Shag] Holding people in power accountable for their actions, and not given a free pass because they’re popular/attractive/“cool” etc– mixed 29

 I wish there would be more focus on improvisation and joy and less on classroom type technique. I also wish that anyone who wore Blackface was fired and never hired again–immediately. Why do we keep having this conversation? – Black American 36 

 If we could actually speak openly about various forms of discrimination it would have great impact! Of course it would be great if we had equal treatment for all but that won’t happen in my lifetime… if only we knew there was a real issue and was generally accepted and that I would no longer have tons of friends every month telling me are you sure there’s really a problem? That would already be awesome – Black 45

 More POC dances in the spotlight! But more dancers, inclusivity on the dancefloor. Not just that we “watch” the greatest, but that we also engage with people who look like them on the dancefloor. – Mixed 34

 I hope swing dance scenes will move towards more diverse audiences, and stop being sometimes such caricatures of a hipster hobby full of white IT engineers and formal sciences doctors. The scene has to open itself to non-center neighbourhoods, non pricey bars, to more students, stop the worship of vintage vibes that reject a whole part of the population. – Mixed 26

 A culture that actually values individuality, creativity and talent. As opposed to commodifying things for a particular power grab. – Black American 33

 For starters Gypsy Jazz does not swing so stop WHITE PEOPLE! Moving on….My hopes are to have majority BIPOC and the minority being non-POC. Also dancers or teachers that can bring about change in style, poise, authenticity and just a genuine interpretation of the dance instead of the Arthur Murray style dance we have today.  Also, for caucasians to bring and invite BIPOC to dances and/or events. – African American 36

 I kind of wish that people would just not be strange about it. I sometimes forget I’m black and it’s weird to be reminded by people in a place I go to have fun. -African American 34

 I wish the scene could be more inclusive for everyone. And sometimes i got the impression that we forget what the roots of lindy are about and which people in which areas created the dance. So it would be great if all teachers recognize theire influence in theire one scene and teach not just the dance but also the culture and the history. – POC 30

The themes are of wanting to be seen as themselves, to have their heritage respected, to embody Black values when dancing, and to have the ability to succeed in the scene. That’s it. Sometimes I think white dancers think that the majority of us want some grand exodus of white dancers, for all the teachers to be replaced, and to fill all the remaining dancers with guilt. That’s simply a projection of your fear of change and discomfort. 

Photo by Jeff Liu-Leyco at Lindy Focus


If there is one thing I’ve learned through writing this series it’s that the change in the scene was gradual. Therefore, it’s going to most likely be equally gradual. I Imagine a day when I walk into a swing dance and actually feel welcome. Where the music feels like something I know in my soul, the community doesn’t look at me sideways for being unwilling to code switch. I can see a day where Black women are danced with as much as everyone else. That Black Queer needs aren’t overshadowed by our white counterparts. A day I’d actually be excited to bring my Black friends in and show them what the dance is. 

I see a day when the dance has new life breathed into it, when success is more than just speed. When lindy hop can be playful in non traditional white nerdy ways. When lindy hop can be more than sterile openly, but; sexy, innovative, athletic (beyond just lifts), complex, and expressive. I dream of a day when the past isn’t so heavily fetishized that we can’t see what’s before us. Moreover that we actively push away people as they are. I want nerdy Black folks to feel as welcome as the big Black guy I’ve watched white dancers shrink away from. I want lindy-hop to be accessible to anyone who wants to learn, and to have what they bring to their dancing celebrated as long as it’s respectful to the art form. 

I think back on the Black blues bands and how much more stage presence they have over most white bands. Their energy excites me bringing the event to new and unique heights. To allow them to influence us as much as we do them, and together create a creative rather than purely transactional relationship. I want to see pictures of Black dancers that aren’t the same five photos and pictures of Frankie. I want to see white dancers expanding their skills into the artful part of the dance instead of just the mechanics. To consider there are other ways of learning those mechanics too. I want them to show up like I see white folks who are into breaking or Kizomba, both as people who care about their community, but also who embrace our culture with open arms. Folks who are confident enough in themselves to let go and dive into the unfamiliar. 

I imagine a day where white dancers are interested in the history and stories of the Black musicians, artists, dancers who contributed to this art form, not out of obligation but love. One day, I can tell a DJ I hired to play Black musicians and not need to set up training. A time where one doesn’t have to sit in a lecture over social time but it’s integrated. When Lindy hopper goes out and tries other dances rather than just applying Lindy Hop over all styles of music. 

I want to see Black dancers in the spotlight of big events without having to set them up themselves. Where it’s so normalized we don’t have to over-perform (not saying everyone is) our blackness to be heard. Or, for it to be limited to such small amounts of people, and only in “we wanted the Black experience/perspective” contexts. I would love these spaces to be more family-friendly at times and it be ok for not all spaces to be. 

Essentially I want the scene to be as excited for all of the dance; history, culture, style, race based limitations, as much as it is about the very narrow perspective it has now. I want this both selfishly and for non-blacks sakes.  One of my favourite parts about teaching Black dances is opening people’s eyes to other ways of living, other values, and that its ok to actively make choices about how you want to live in the world. Another is that I get to share something with you all that, often goes underappreciated. There is beauty in that. There is love in that sharing. There is a vulnerability and a request to be seen and valued. 

But, these changes must be a group effort. Willingly, and wholeheartedly.

We all inherited this mess by loving this art form and music. Those before us took actions at times, intentionally and at others, ignorantly that contributed to getting us here. Whether we are actively contributing to this issue or simply letting it happen doesn’t matter. Pretending it away/ignoring it hasn’t helped. 

So, the real question is…

Are we going to do something about it?

Grey Armstrong

Grey Armstrong is a writer and instructor of Black culture, history, and dance. His work focuses on unpacking unconscious bias, cross-cultural communication, in addition to culture formation. He also travels teaching African American vernacular dances and giving lectures on Black history and culture. He is the founder of the popular blog and website Obsidian Tea, which explores themes of the Black experience and culture, Anti-racism Praxis, developing cultural competency, and the evolving relationship between Black and white Americans in the United States from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade onwards. This style of work can be supported on his patreon.

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