27 April 2009

Frankie Manning 1914–2009

Frankie Manning, one of the legends of swing dancing, a foundational force on Lindy Hop, died this morning at age ninety-four.

If you are part of the swing dancing scene that emerged in the mid-‘90s, you owed a lot of it to Mr. Manning, who was still actively dancing and teaching all during this time. Many of the major instructors working today learned how to Lindy Hop from Frankie himself, and the first videos that most of us learned from were Frankie’s personal instruction series. He remained a vital part of the scene, traveling the country and world as an ambassador of Lindy Hop, one of the great traditional North American dances, almost to the end of his life.

Frankie Manning was one of the great dancers in Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom during the 1930s when Lindy Hop was developing. Although no one can take credit for truly “inventing” Lindy Hop, Frankie Manning certainly deserves a title as one of it’s “fathers.” Many famous moves and styles came out of his work in this golden age of t swing dance and music. He was so important to the dance and the music of the day that he was one of the interview subjects in Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz.

L.A. dance instructor Rusty Frank, who worked with Frankie on many occasions, had this to say about him: “It’s simple for me, Frankie Manning had the best hug ever! His smile lit up the room. And his laugh rocked your soul.”

I’ve been in the swing dance scene for over a dozen years now, so I got to see Mr. Manning in person many times over those. He was a sweet-natured, friendly man who expressed his love of dance and music to everyone. All of us who love swing dancing owe an immense amount to the giant of the style, and we’re thankful that he stayed around so long to share it with so many of us. And that fellow could dance like nobody I’ve ever seen.

Watch this video of Frankie dancing in the movie Hellzapoppin’ (he’s the one in the overalls) as part of the legendary dance troupe “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.” He also did the choreography: