You’ve been taking swing dance lessons for a few months now, woo-hoo! You’re in a conversation with some people who have been dancing longer than you, and a term comes up that you don’t recognize. Eager to show you’re interested, you pipe up.

“What’s Hellzapoppin?”

It’s a conversation stopper; all eyes are on you. Finally someone says, “Oh my god, you haven’t seen Hellzapoppin?

It’s a great way to get introduced to a new group of people. Now they think you’re a social idiot. You may as well go hide under a rock, since apparently that’s where you’ve been living your whole life.

Truthfully, you are the innocent one in this equation. Of course you haven’t heard of Hellzapoppin yet. There’s no textbook, and no one has sat down to explain lindy hop culture and history to you.

To help you avoid some of the worst conversational faux pas, I’ll give you quick and dirty explanations of 6 terms beginners should know. Use this information to ask informed questions and learn more.

“What’s lindy hop?”

Most beginners know the answer to this question.

Even so, sometimes an east coast swing dancer will innocently ask, “What’s lindy hop?” in a group of lindy hoppers. Lindy hop is the original swing dance developed in the 1930s in the Savoy Ballroom (Harlem, NYC). We think of it as “real” swing dancing.

It dropped off the radar after the 40s, then had a rebirth in the 90s, often called the Revival.

Try asking this instead:

  1. Where did lindy hop come from?
  2. Why did lindy hop disappear?
  3. What happened during the Revival?

“What’s a swing out?”

A swing out is the basic move of lindy hop (start video at 5:25). It’s also considered the absolute most difficult move in lindy hop.

If you’ve been taking lindy hop lessons and you don’t know the term swing out, shame on your teacher! It’s also occasionally (and incorrectly) called a “whip.” A whip can be considered a type of swing out, but they are not equivalent terms.

Some old-school teachers say “lindy turn” instead of swing out. Everyone else calls it  a swing out, so be prepared to shift your vocab.

Try asking this instead:

  1. Why do some people say “lindy turn” instead of swing out?
  2. Where did the term “whip” come from?
  3. What other kinds of swing outs are there?

“Who is Frankie Manning?”

Frankie ManningThis question will get you chastised most often. It’s not fair, but it’s easy to see why.

Frankie Manning is the biggest cultural icon of lindy hop. Not “one of the biggest.” THE biggest.

Much of the development of the dance has been influenced by him, both in the 30s and 40s, and during the Swing Revival (and onward). He was a principal dancer and choreographer for Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the group that performed in many old movies we refer to.

Sadly, Frankie passed away a month before his 95th birthday in 2009. The lindy hop world mourned deeply, though not for long, as Frankie wouldn’t have wanted it that way.

Frankie’s 95th Birthday Festival, more often called Frankie 95, went on as scheduled a month after his death. It was the experience of a lifetime for the thousands of dancers who attended.

Try asking this instead:

  1. What did Frankie Manning contribute to lindy hop?
  2. Did you go to Frankie 95?
  3. What was Frankie Manning like?

“What’s Hellzapoppin?”

For such an obscure piece of knowledge, beginners get an awful lot of flack for asking this.

Hellzapoppin is a 1941 movie. When dancers ask, “You’ve seen Hellzapoppin, right?” they don’t mean the whole movie. They mean a particular dance sequence.

That sequence was danced by Frankie Manning and other Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. It’s the most talked-about clip in our world of lindy hop. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now.

As of writing, it has 1,645,494 views and 1479 comments. It’s not only jaw-droppingly awesome dancing, it’s a great historical reference. It’s where we get the California routine (the best-known partner routine in lindy hop).

Try asking this instead:

  1. What’s you favorite part in Hellzapoppin?
  2. What other movies have Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers danced in besides Hellzapoppin?

“What’s Herrang?”

Herrang Dance Camp (simply called Herrang after the town it’s hosted in), is lindy hop mecca. This month-long, 24/7 party is the mother of all dance events. Thousands of dancers from all over the world converge on this small Swedish town for one or more weeks in July each year.

Going to Herrang is part of earning your stripes as a lindy hopper. Since it’s an all-dance, all the time atmosphere, it can help your dancing mature very quickly. Plus you come home with an incredible shared experience that can never be matched.

I haven’t been to Herrang, but I’ve learned a lot about it over the years. Most people describe it as “indescribable.” Make sure to prod them a little. Especially if you want to make the trip, you’ll need to get the 411.

Of course, not everyone goes to Herrang. Like me, you can live vicariously on others’ experiences until you save enough money to make the trip.

Try asking this instead:

  1. Have you been to Herrang?
  2. Are you going to Herrang?
  3. What’s it like at Herrang?

“Who are Skye and Frida?”

Only the best dancers, like, ever.

That was certainly a common sentiment for a long time. There are many other dancers who are simply amazing. Skye Humphries and Frida Segerdahl, however, have charismatically captured the hearts of the lindy hop community in a way no others have.

Together and with other partners they’ve won numerous competitions. A notable example is their 2007 24 Robbers routine, which they choreographed a day before the competition. They won.

My favorite comment on another routine of theirs: “All they have to do is a simple swing out and an accelerated turn and they just sent everyone else home.”

Skye and Frida have also been major trend setters. Dancers the world over seek out their teaching, desiring to learn their style and moves.

Try asking this instead:

  1. What’s your favorite lindy hop routine?
  2. Have you ever taken classes with Sky or Frida?

What else do I need to know?

Lindy hop will fascinate you for years, if you let it. There is an encyclopedia’s worth of information out there to be learned. One good place to start is Frankie’s autobiography, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop.

Before you go, please add your tips, thoughts, or questions about these uber-common talking points.

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