Every now and then it comes up – discussions about “when are you really lindy hopping/blues dancing/etc.” Generally, in the case of lindy hop, the question centres around “Can you lindy hop to non-swing music?” I’m still working through it in my head, but I figured I should put down my thoughts so I can disagree with myself properly in the future.
I feel like I’m on the “shades of grey” side of the equation, so like a good little scientist, I did some experiments to see what I agreed with.
Lindy hop to swing music is definitely lindy hop. OK, so this was a bit of a gimme. But perhaps more importantly – I feel waltz, foxtrot, salsa and blues to swing music is not Lindy Hop. So – swing music does not change a dance into Lindy hop. However, this probably doesn’t really address whether non-lindy dances done to swing music are still authentic – is it still salsa if you’re doing it to swing music?
Interesting alternative experiment – what if there is no music? Can you still lindy, just to the rhythm shared between people? I would say yes – that lindy hop without music is still recognizably lindy. And in general, a dance should be recognizable, even if the music component is removed. Supporting this is the idea that a dancer complements and adds to the music – I would argue that like a tap dancer, any dancer could dance without music, but I do feel that most dances lose a lot without the music. So perhaps, without music, the dance is recognisable but missing an intrinsically important component. I personally don’t feel it’s a critical, “without this the dance is completely b0rked” situation, but definitely less than optimal.
Now if we put back in music, but different music – specifically, non-swing music – what happens? The dancers are doing a style of dance that, if we cut out the audio track, is recognisably lindy hop – but good dancers will adapt to the music. The argument is that the adaptations to non-jazz music create a dance that is no longer lindy hop. I would prefer to say that this creates a dance that is not traditional lindy hop.
I would also hesitate to call this modern lindy hop – for me, modern lindy hop is the evolution of traditional lindy hop, as we take it apart and put it back together with all of our modern techniques. I would describe lindy hop, when not danced to swing music as “lindy hop styled to xxx music”. After all, everyone’s dancing ultimately turns out to be different, and in the end our instinct to categorise will have us subclassify even traditional lindy hop dancers – or even specific dances – with specific qualifiers – “stiff”, “upright”, “relaxed”, “in the ground”, “bouncy”, “smooth”…In the end, the term exists like any other word to evoke a broad idea, and like any idea being transmitted, we can always add qualifiers to pin-point what is really meant.
In the end, a word means whatever you think it means – it’s your head, after all. Just don’t expect that to be what it means to anybody else. There is no one else out there who thinks exactly the same as you. Luckily, most of the time, the differences won’t matter.
As to “should”…I think this is up to the person. I think the world will sort out whether it likes it or not, but that is hardly a reason to do or not do something. Whose opinion do you respect? Ask them!