The Lambeth Walk was the first of the "romping" sequence dances that became popular in England between the first and second World Wars. Referring to a particular street in the Lambeth section of London, the song and dance number originated in the successful 1937 musical Me and My Girl. When Noel Gay's music was published with dance instructions included, a fad was born which remains a living tradition today. The dance turns up in all sorts of odd places, and the song is still traditional in the Pearly community of charitable organizations. A quick search on the term "Lambeth walk" will turn up plenty of metaphorical usages along with references to the street, which still exists, though mostly rebuilt after being bombed in during World War II.
The musical itself has been revived several times, though the Broadway choreography of the Lambeth Walk scene in the 1980s revival was only loosely inspired by the original dance. Follow that link for the wonderful performance by Robert Lindsay and Maryann Plunkett, and to get a a feel for the tune.
The Lambeth Walk was folk-processed very quickly, and the version given here is not quite the same as the sheet music's original instructions. It is a 1938 version taken from a short film by London's Pathé News (now known as British Pathé), "New Dances for Everybody." The clip can be seen at the British Pathé website, with the Lambeth Walk starting at about :54 in.
The dance itself as shown in the clip is simple enough. Partners start side by side. The gentlemen begin with the left foot, the ladies with the right. There are two steps to the musical bar.
The Lambeth Walk, 1938
4b Promenade eight steps side by side
4b Link left arms and walk in a full circle with eight steps, ending side by side again
4b Link inside arms and promenade "step-step-step-rock back-rock forward" in slow-slow-quick-quick-slow rhythm, twice
2b Separate with three steps and a close with weight; turning to face partners, bend forward and slap knees once on the final beat
2b Return to partners with three steps and a close with weight; give the Cockney salute and shout "Oi!" on the final beat
A Cockney salute is a "hitchhiker" gesture, with the right thumb over the right shoulder.
This is not an elegant dance. It is meant to express working-class Cockney style and should be done with a strutting, exagerated walk, leaning the body toward the active foot on the promenade sequences. Arms are bent at the elbow and extended outward.
The sixteen-bar sequence matches the original tune nicely; the chorus goes:
Ev'rything's free and easy,
Do as you darn well pleasey,
Why don't you make your way there,
Go there, stay there,
Once you get down Lambeth way,
Ev'ry evening, ev'ry day,
You'll find yourself
Doin' the Lambeth walk. Oi!
Recordings to dance to are very easy to find. The soundtrack of the 1980s revival of Me And My Girl has a good version with lyrics, though one may want to cut the introductory riff for dance purposes. For an instrumental version, I'm partial to the version by the Quintette Du Hot Club De France off the album Lambeth Walk & the Music of Noel Gay.
At some future point I'll talk about some of the other versions of the Lambeth Walk. In the meantime, have fun with it. Oi!