In the world of Lindy Hop, May has been declared Frankie Manning month and today (26th of May) is his actual birthday. But who was Frankie Manning and why is he considered such an important person in the Lindy Hop world? Read on to find out!
You're in your seventies and work at the U.S. postal service. Your dancing career finished ages ago and the days that Jazz reigned in the ballrooms have long passed. Suddenly the phone rings: would you be interested to teach some classes in the dance you were so passionate about?
One year later, you pick up your phone to hear a voice from right across the ocean. A Swede asks you if you are the legendary dancer featuring in all those clips of 40-50 years ago and if it would be possible to meet you in person, which meant flying across the ocean specially to see you. You accept, and soon after the meeting an invitation to come and teach dancing in Sweden follows. From that point on, you are a much-sought after dance teacher all over the world. You quit your job at the postal service and teach, dance and travel until your last breath, halfway through your nineties.
As surreal as this sounds, it is the actual series of events that happened to Frankie Manning in the late days of his life and shows the instrumental role of Frankie in the revival of Lindy Hop in both Europe and the United States.
Frankie started dancing in the 20s of the last century, but it is safe to say that his dancing career really kicked off when he started attending the legendary Savoy ballroom. At this point the Swing Jazz era was coming to a full bloom and amazing bands as the Chick Webb, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington Orchestras were often found playing at the Savoy. Soon Frankie danced his way into the "Cat's corner", the part of the dance floor in front of the band unofficially reserved for the best and most prestigious dancers, and was invited to join the newly started elite performance group "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers" in 1934. Here he continued to stand out through his bent-over posture and his innovative use of air steps. Among the dancers that have belonged to this group over time were also other renowned Lindy Hoppers such as Al Minns, Norma Miller and Leon James. Whitey's troupe was a huge hit and travelled around the world (performing for royals, among others ) and were hired for appearances on the white screen. Frankie was not just a dancer in this troupe, but often choreographed the astonishing routines that the group performed. Examples are the choreography in the movie "Hellzapoppin'", perhaps the most iconic Lindy Hop clip of all time, and the Big Apple routine as we know it.
At the start of the second World War, "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers" disbanded as Frankie and others went into military service. After the war, another performance group ("the Congaroos") was started. However, the Swing era was coming to an end in favour of Rock’n’Roll music and after eight years there was no longer a demand for Swing dance performances. It was at that time that both Lindy Hop and dancer Frankie Manning started their long period of hibernation.
In 1981 one of Frankie's colleagues at Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Al Minns, was rediscovered and convinced to start teaching Lindy Hop in New York. His students soon founded the New York Swing Dance Society. At around the same time a group of Jitterbuggers in Sweden discovered that the Jitterbug as they knew it originated from Lindy Hop and this lead them to dig up old movie clips of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. Three of them (Anders Lind, Lennart Westerlund, and Henning Sörensen) travelled to New York in April 1984 and found Al Minns by calling to the dance school he was teaching at. They persuaded him to come over to Sweden to teach. Unfortunately, for both the Swedes and the newly founded New York Swing Dance Society, Al passed away in 1985 and a new mentor had to be found.
It was at this point that the phone in Frankie's house started ringing. When Frankie answered, Erin Stevens (a Los Angeles dancer who had been taking privates with Al Minns) was on the other side of the line: "Are you Frankie Manning, the famous dancer?". "I don't dance anymore baby, I just work at the post office" . However, after some convincing Erin and her dance partner met up with Frankie and he eventually agreed to teach them. Before starting their private class, he wanted to see what Erin and partner already knew. The couple put on "Sing Sing Sing" (which is a very fast song) and did all the fancy tricks and aerials they had learned from Al Minns. Suddenly, Frankie got up from his chair and switched the song to "Shiny Stockings" (a much slower song). Being only used to fast swing dancing and doing flashy steps, both Erin and her partner had no clue what to do. Frankie proceeded to explain them how to groove/bounce on the rhythm and connect the music, something that he personally valued highly.
After also being approached by the Swedes, Frankie found himself in the position to give up his job at the post office and started teaching as his fulltime job. During his time as a teacher he visited many places around the world and inspired many people, however there's one place that Frankie is particularly connected to: Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden. From 1989 until 2007 he attended every single year and lead classes there.
Frankie gained an iconic status due to the instrumental part he played in the revival of Lindy Hop and his great qualities as a dancer. He ended up teaching from 1987 until his passing in 2009 (aged 94), but as good as he used to be he never focused his classes on flashy moves. Those who knew him describe him as a jovial and cheerful man with a big smile, whose entire dance vision revolved around being a good partner to your fellow dancers and really connecting to the music. Or, as Frankie himself described it: "When you are dancing with your partner, for that two and a half minutes, you are in love with each other. You're corresponding with each other by the moves that you make. It's a love affair, between you and your partner and the music. You feel the music, you feel your partner, she feels you and she feels the music. So there the three of you are together. You've got a triangle, you know. Which one do you love best?" 
And maybe, just maybe, that is what makes him truly legendary.
Find out more about Frankie Manning and his life here.