“Shorty” George Snowden ranks among the most famous of the original Lindy Hop dancers at the Savoy Ballroom and had a huge impact on the dance as it developed. Here are some of the noteworthy facts that every Lindy Hopper should know about Shorty George:
1) Shorty George was one of the top dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in the late 1920s through early 1930s.
He was the reigning dance champion at Savoy, until up-and-comer Frankie Manning and Frieda Washington unseated him in a dance contest in 1935 in which they introduced the first airstep to Lindy Hop.
2) He was short, barely reaching 5 feet tall, but used his small stature to great comedic effect while dancing.
His signature dance step the Shorty George, appropriately named after him, involved Shorty walking forward while tucking one knee behind the other and pointing his fingers downward, which accentuated his proximity to the floor. Indeed, the Shorty George makes an appearance in all four of the major group jazz dances of the era: the Shim Sham, Jitterbug Stroll, Big Apple and Tranky Doo.
Shorty George also put his height to use while dancing with his partner, Big Bea, who towered over him. For certain underarm turns, Shorty would literally jump so that his arms would clear Big Bea’s head! One of the duo’s classic ways to end a song was with Big Bea picking Shorty George up on her back and carrying him off!
3) He formed and led the first professional Lindy Hop dance troupe, the Shorty Snowden Dancers.
The group danced at the Paradise Club in downtown New York City throughout most of the 1930s, performing along with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. According to Frankie Manning, there were three teams of dancers: Madeline and Freddie Lewis, Little Bea and Leroy “Stretch” Jones, and Big Bea and Shorty Snowden. Unlike later ensemble Lindy Hop performances captured on film, such as those by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the Shorty Snowden dancers performed as individual couples, as if dancing in a contest or challenge dance. You can see this clearly in the clip of the Shorty Snowden dancers in the film After Seben.
4) He is credited with coining the name Lindy Hop for the new swing dance that was emerging in New York City in the late 1920s and early 30s.
According to legend, during a 1928 dance marathon in New York City, a reporter saw Shorty George break away from his partner and improvise a step in the current of the style of the Harlem dancers and asked Shorty to name the step. With newspaper headlines of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight (or “Hop”) at the top of people’s minds, Shorty paused a second and then responded that he was “doin’ the Hop…the Lindy Hop!”
Although some dance historians question the legend, Frankie Manning vouched for the story’s authenticity, and the following newspaper clipping seems to support the claim:
Regardless, it makes a great story!