Dance Tributes to Dance Legends: Frankie Manning, the King of Swing

by Dawn Paap

As mourning for dance GREATS have been felt deeply as of late, most recently with Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Michael Jackson, and Frankie Manning, 2009 has balanced this sadness with jubilation and a renewed celebration for dancing.  Please view our weekly blog postings that pay tribute to each of these dance legends.

One dance icon who impacted me greatly was Frankie Manning, who’s unflagging vitality throughout his life (and into his 90’s) for dancing and performing inspired me to and many others to learn the exciting dance style called the Savoy Style or Lindy Hop.

Frankie Manning-the King of Swing

The Frankie Manning 95th Birthday Memorial in New York City commemorated the Lindy Hop legend, who sadly passed away peacefully on April 27th, just weeks shy of his actual birthday on May 26.  Swing dancers around the globe celebrated his 95th in true fashion by dancing all day and night until the music stopped!  (This is the philosophy of a Lindy Hopper, as you learn by viewing video footage of these dancers, young and old.)

Needless to say, Lindy Hoppers gave Frankie the swinging-est Memorial Festival ever!  For a complete viewing of Frankie’s Birthday Memorial, go to Frankie95.com, which offers a complete DVD box set of the event.

Frankie Manning was one of the last great swing dancers from the Jazz Age of the 30s and 40s.  As part of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Frankie was a true innovator of the dance — creating the flashy moves and gravity-defying aerials (or air steps) that inspired a nation-wide movement of swing dancers.

He danced in several major motion-pictures, notably “Hellzapoppin”.   This footage showcases Swing Dance Jam Circles in Lindy Hop and Frankie’s amazing aerials that make the Jam Circle ‘pop’ with excitement!

Frankie performed for stage productions, won national dance championships, and wow’ed audiences around the world.   Then, in 1984 Frankie became an “Ambassador of Lindy Hop” and spent 20 years inspiring a new generation of swing dancers around the world, from the United States to Singapore to Melbourne to Stockholm to Buenos Aires.

As a tribute to the swing dancing leader of lindy hop, over 2,000 people converged in New York City to celebrate the life and the dance of Frankie Manning.  During Frankie’s funeral service at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, couples dances in the aisles of the church and continued their memorial procession and dance through Central Park.

Lindy hoppers showcased Frankie’s legendary aerial moves during the ‘Hellzapoppin Dance Competition’, and danced throughout the evening.

During this celebration and across the globe, dancers performed the ‘Shim Sham Shammy’ line dance that Frankie taught us.  Enjoy this worldwide videodance tribute to the Shim Sham, made as a present by hundreds of swing dancers for Frankie for his 95th birthday.

Beyond the steps, Frankie Manning taught us how to be better people, not just better dancers.  He taught us to respect our dance partners as leads and allow ourselves as women to be treated like queens–while spinning, hopping, rolling, and flying over each other at incredibly fast speeds.  I loved learning his explosive aerials and playful moves during my training and performances in Lindy Hop.  He taught us to dance with joy and with passion, bouncing to the syncopated rhythm that defines east coast swing.

Frankie danced wonderfully in his 90’s, and is the perfect role model for lifelong dancing.  View the “Never Stop Swinging” online documentary done by PBS’s Channel Thirteen, which showcases Frankie’s dancing abilities throughout his lifetime, including scenes of Manning’s later birthday parties, where he danced with one woman for each year he’d been alive!

Frankie Manning has given the world so much, and he will be loved and cherished for generations to come.

The Lindy Hop continues to maintain a strong following, and classes, events and competitions can be found across the globe.  For information on the NYC swing scene and national swing events, check out www.yehoodi.com.

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