The influence of Frankie Manning on my lindy hop history

As I mentioned in the Frankie Fest post the other day, we’re teaching Frankie Manning themed classes this month at our weekly class. That means Frankie Manning themed lindy hop in the first class, and then Frankie Manning themed solo dance in the second class. Although making the distinction between the two seems to deliberately misunderstand exactly what Frankie Manning – and jazz dance – are all about.

I’m going to see if I can write a few blog posts about Frankie Manning, or, rather, using Frankie Manning as a jumping off point for some ideas. We’ll see how well things go – I’m not all that together in the longer-form writing way at the moment.

This is a post about how Frankie Manning moved into and out of my understanding of lindy hop. This is a story of personal growth (goddess, how I hope it’s about growth), not really about Frankie himself. If you want that story, you should read his autobiography.

Oh, yeah, Frankie Manning IS the best!: late 2000s and early 2010s

Frankie95, the massive birthday party for Frankie Manning, which he just missed out on seeing, seemed to suddenly change everything. It’s true, you know, you don’t know what you’ve got til you lose it. You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. And the Silver Shadows, the most popular, and one of the most highly skilled lindy hop performance groups in the world at the time reminded people that Frankie was wonderful:

Frankie95 day3 Performance Silver Shadows tribute to Frakie Manning:

It feels, now, that the generation of international teachers being flown to Australia to teach (people like Thomas and Alice, for example, who taught a ‘Frankie class’ at Jumptown Jam last month), who mightn’t have been into this stuff in a big way before, are suddenly falling in love with Frankie Manning all over again. Or for the first time.

I’m feeling a profound sense of déjà vu. The steps that I first learnt to dance with – pecks, stomp offs, mini-dips – are now chic again. I’m not complaining. But I think that for a lot of dancers, the technique-heavy smooth style phase and then the popularity of blues dancing gave them the technical skills to really appreciate what Frankie Manning was doing, particularly in his later years. And I also think that the influence of Steven and Virgine in Melbourne (particularly during that 2000-2004 period) was very important. While their dance style was definitely juicier and groovier, their experience with Frankie Manning definitely informed their teaching, and Frankie’s understanding of music and rhythm and dance shaped the Melbourne lindy hop scene, even indirectly.

For myself, I think that Frankie himself makes it very clear that to be able to dance well, it’s just as important to able to shake your arse for Shiny Stockings at 120bpm as it is to move your arse at 230bpm with Jumpin’ at the Woodside.

Understanding Frankie’s bum and feet and hands and everything: early 2010s Sydney

Now that I’m teaching (again – the last time I taught was ~2002), I amazed by the content Frankie was teaching beginners:

Frankie Manning teaching in Denver, CO 2007:

That little sequence is quintessential Frankie Manning. He just assumed that if you were learning lindy hop, you were going to learn a complex sequence of rhythms and steps, and that that was going to be the heart of your dancing. Most lindy hop classes I see these days assume that beginners will be learning simple movements and that this sort of rhythmic work is a ‘variation’, an optional extra for more advanced dancers.

When I first started learning, this little film shows the sort of thing we learnt – in fact, I can still remember learning pretty much this exact sequence way back in about 2000. I strongly believe that this stuff – these rhythms, this use of open position, this combining partner work with individual improvisation – is the very core, the absolute essence of lindy hop. Without it, you’re just… well, you’re just doing something else. You’re not lindy hopping.

I know that right now, I’m really only beginning to properly understand just how amazing he was, even in his 90s. There are no modern dancers today who can approach his skill level. Let alone his choreographing ability. I think we are so lucky to have had him, not just in the early days of lindy hop, but most especially in the revival, when we really needed, as a community, to be taught not only how to dance, but how to love dancing and to be good to each other.

I think these interviews with today’s lindy hoppers talking about Frankie Manning at 90, at the 2004 Herrang Dance camp make all this clear:

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