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George “Shorty” Snowden, Creator of the Lindy Hop

by Judi Rossabi

You may have heard of the popular swing dances that occur almost nightly somewhere in North Carolina. From beginner lessons to complex dances, there are many offerings to help you learn something new or perfect your swing dance steps.

What you may not know is that swing dance originated in Harlem in the 1920s. This February, in honor of Black History Month, we remember the great men and women that created this original and exciting form of dance. The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem featured some of the best jazz musicians of all time, and their music inspired the moves that became Swing Dance and encompassed the Lindy Hop, the East Coast Swing, and more.

Inventor of the Lindy Hop

One iconic figure in Black history is George “Shorty” Snowden, known as The Savoy’s best dancer. Shorty and his dance partner Mattie Purnell invented the dance known as the Lindy Hop. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh had just been in the news for his solo ‘hop’ across the Atlantic Ocean when Shorty was creating his brand of dance in Harlem.

Legend has it that a reporter covering a dance marathon in 1928 in Harlem saw Shorty dancing and asked him what it was called. According to local lore, Shorty named his dance the Lindy Hop on the spot! He also formed the first professional Lindy Hop Dance Troupe in the early 1930s.

Shorty, who was around five feet tall, performed with his most famous partner, Big Bea, who was nearly a foot taller than her partner. Together Big Bea and Shorty took the dance scene in New York City by storm. They frequently performed at the Savoy and even appeared together in movies. You can find dance scenes featuring this iconic couple on YouTube.

Famous Dance Move – the Shorty George

One of his most famous dance moves is named after him – the Shorty George. The move was featured in the 1942 movie “You Were Never Lovelier,” starring Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire. This dazzling dance move is still practiced today.

Popularity of Swing Dance and Lindy Hop

The popularity of Swing Dance and Lindy Hop continues to grow today both in the United States and throughout the world. And the legacy of George “Shorty” Snowden lives on.

Shorty, who died in 1982, is in the World Swing Dance Council Hall of Fame.