A Snippet of History

A monthly history lesson!

The Big Apple. We’ve had so many people ask us about the Big Apple lately, and we are only too happy to provide you with information!

The Big Apple is a group dance, much like the Shim Sham. It did not actually originate in the Big Apple, but rather in South Carolina, back in the 1930s. Betty Wood, one of the dancers back in the day, has said that “It all began at an abandoned synagogue that had been turned into a Juke Joint.” I have heard from various places (none of them particularly reliable!) that the Juke Joint was called The Big Apple, thus the dance’s name.

Apparently, the dance began with black dancers of the era, as is true with most of the dances we love. Betty Wood (who is white) and some friends picked it up watching the black dancers from the “whites only” area of the juke joint. They were quite impressed, and took the dance back to their friends. It was a big hit.

The Big Apple was originally a call-and-response dance, kind of like a square dance, with one person (or several people) calling out moves, and the dancers performing them as they were called. I have also heard a few people state that sometimes the caller would call out “Shine!” which would prompt one couple to head to the center of the circle for a few phrases of dancing while the other dancers clapped to the music, sort of like today’s jam circle. (At least one person with whom I have spoken suggested that this was a variation called the “little Apple.”)

The movie Keep Punchin‘ features the Big Apple (called a “contest” in the movie) as choreographed by Frankie Manning and Herbert “Whitey” White and performed by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. This choreographed version is what most dancers today do when they get together for the Big Apple.

Many of the steps in the Big Apple (both the choreographed version as well as the original form) are components of steps in lindy and other swing dances. The steps that you don’t already use in your dancing are fun and easy to incorporate into lindy, shag, balboa, etc.

Want to see the Big Apple? We usually dance it at Jive Junction. Want to learn the Big Apple? Keep your eyes open for a Big Apple class coming up this summer or fall.


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