Frankie Manning, swing dance legend

Swing dancing lindy hopping legend Frankie Manning died in 2009 aged 94. His contribution to the swing dance revival of the mid-1980s onwards has made him a legend for swing dancers today.


Digitally enhanced Photograph of en:Frankie Manning taken on February 17, 2008 by Rich Werden

Digitally enhanced Photograph of en:Frankie Manning taken on February 17, 2008 by Rich Werden

Swing dancing is a fantastic way to keep fit and socialise all at the same time and is attracting vintage fashion lovers by the minute.

Frankie bridged the gap between the young swing dancers today and those heroes that pioneered the new style of dancing known as swing and lindy hop, a dance that influenced quick step, jive, jazz, break-dancing and hip-hop. Many modern dance steps have their roots in swing.



Frankie’s biography

Frankie was born on May 26, 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. His dancer mother made the move to Harlem when Frankie was aged 3. Frankie started dancing as a child. He could be found dancing at the Renaissance Ballroom and Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem as a teenager and later went on to dance with a regular group of friends at the Savoy.

Harlem, NYC
Harlem 1920

The Savoy is considered to be the birthplace of swing dancing and Lindy Hop as we know it. Frankie would dance in Kat’s Corner a special place on the dancefloor where competitions would be held. Dancers tried to outdo each others moves almost every night. Frankie worked all day and then went to The Savoy to dance all night.

Frankie came develop his own unique, athletic style slightly different to the first wave of Lindy Hoppers such as Shorty George Snowden who danced in a more upright style. Frankie’s lower centre of gravity made for a very physical performance full of musicality.


The first aerial

It was during a dance contest in 1935 that Frankie and partner Frieda Washington performed the first aerial move – a back-to-back roll. This moved wowed everyone who was there that night. The Savoy Ballroom’s Lindy Hop dancers were soon asked to perform their new athletic moves to a wider audience. They formed a professional group named Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, headed by Herbert “Whitey” White.


Frankie the choreographer

The group became internationally well-known, performing in films and shows around the world. Frankie Manning ultimately became the group’s choreographer. He invented  amazing acrobatic moves, creating the first Lindy Hop ensemble routines. Frankie was a frequent partner to the Queen of Swing Norma Miller (now the only surviving member of the original dance troupe). In 1937 Frankie gave a command performance for King George VI in London.

The group broke up during WWII as many of the male members  were drafted. In 1947 Frankie started a new group named the Congaroos. This group disbanded in 1955 leaving Frankie to seek work at the Post Office where he remained for the rest of his working life.

At the age of 75, Manning co-choreographed the Broadway musical Black and Blue, for which he received a 1989 Tony Award. In 2000, he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.



The swing dance revival

Frankie Manning helped to revive the Lindy Hop in the US swing dance revival of the 1980s. Started by fellow Whitey’s Lindy Hopper Al Minns, Frankie took over teaching the moves when Minns died in 1985.

Frankie attended the popular Herräng Dance Camp from 1989 onwards. Herrang is still, today, the swing dance training camp for those serious about dancing and perfecting Lindy Hop. Each year, the small town of Herräng, Sweden is transformed into an intense month-long dance camp attracting world-famous instructors and dancers alike.

1989 – 2000 saw an international swing dance revival thanks to the dancing skills passed on to students and teachers by Frankie and ‘Queen of Swing’ Norma Miller.  Swing dancing is popular across the USA, Australia, Asia and Europe – it’s everywhere. The swing dance revival considers Frankie Manning to be a true hero and champion of keeping swing alive today.
Every year Frankie’s birthday is celebrated by swing dancing groups around the world in honour of the man who pioneered Lindy Hop. At every birthday event Manning would dance with one woman for every year of his life, partnering 90 women in succession for his 90th birthday celebrations. What a legend! We love you Frankie.

To celebrate his 95th birthday swing dancers across the world took part in Shim Sham mob dances (or group dances) filmed on location in their local area. The video was posted on You Tube (see below). Sadly, Frankie died days before his 95th birthday and the international swing fraternity lost their hero. Birthday celebrations became instead a memorial event with proceeds going towards setting up the Frankie Manning Foundation. Frankie’s final resting place is at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, NY.

Hellzapoppin’ (1941)

Jean and Marshall Stearns’s influential book Jazz Dance

Norma Miller’s biography, Swingin’ at the Savoy: A Memoir of a Jazz Dancer

Manning’s autobiography, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, written with co-author Cynthia R. Millman, was published by Temple University Press in May 2007. It contains a collection of stories about the early days of swing dancing, Manning’s years performing with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, his experiences during World War II, and his post-war dance troupe, the Congaroos. The book also recounts his experiences of the revival of swing dancing that began in the mid-1980s, and the two decades following.

A Day at the Races (Marx Brothers) (1937)
Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937)
Radio City Revels (1938)
Keep Punching (aka Big Apple, Jittering Jitterbugs) (1937)
Hellzapoppin’ (1941)
Hot Chocolates (Cottontail) (1941)

Broadway shows:
Hot Mikado (with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson)
Black Rhythm (1936)
Cotton Club Revue (with Cab Calloway) (1938)
Black and Blue 1989

Tribute to Frankie Manning

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