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Tue, 05.26.1914

Dancer extrodinaire, Frankie Manning

Frankie Manning

*Frankie Manning was born on this date in 1914. He was a Black dancer and choreographer.

From Jacksonville, Florida and raised in New York City, he started dancing in his early teens at a Sunday afternoon dance at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem to the music of Vernon Andrade. From there he moved on to the Renaissance Ballroom, which had an early evening dance for older teens with the live swing music of the Claude Hopkins Orchestra.  Finally, Manning "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands.

Manning, competitive as well as gifted, became a star in the informal jams in the "Kat's Korner" of the Savoy, frequently won the Saturday night contests, and was invited to join the elite 400 Club, whose members could come to the Savoy Ballroom daytime hours to practice alongside the bands that were booked at the Savoy. In 1935, Herbert White organized the top Savoy Ballroom Dancers into a professional performance group that was eventually named Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. Manning created the troupe's first ensemble Lindy Hop routines and functioned as the group's de facto choreographer, although without that title. The troupe toured extensively and made several films. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers became disbanded around the time of WWII since many of the male members were drafted.

After the war in 1947, Frankie created a small performance group called the Congaroos. When the Congaroos disbanded in 1955, Manning settled into a career with the United States Postal Service. In 1982, Al Minns, a former member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, started to teach Lindy Hop at the Sandra Cameron Dance Center where he introduced a new generation of dancers to the Lindy Hop. Before he passed away in 1985, he told his students that Frankie Manning, another surviving member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, also lived in New York City.  In 1986, Erin Stevens and Steven Mitchell contacted Frankie Manning to ask him to teach them the Lindy Hop.

He first said no before agreeing to meet with them. The two returned to California and helped spread the dance to the west coast as well as other areas in the US. That same year, Lennart Westerlund contacted Manning and invited him too Sweden to work with The Rhythm Hot Shots.  Manning traveled to Sweden in 1987 and returned to Sweden every year since 1989 to teach at the Herräng Dance Camp.  Manning received the Tony Award for co-choreography of the Broadway musical Black and Blue.

In recent years, Manning's annual birthday celebrations have drawn together dancers and instructors from all over the world.  His 80th birthday was commemorated by a weekend long celebration in New York City; his 85th culminated in a sold out party at New York's Roseland Ballroom, where a pair of his dance shoes were placed in a showcase along with those of dancers such as Fred Astaire. For his 86th birthday, a huge gala was feted in Tokyo in his honor, which included workshops taught by the maestro himself. The climax of the festivities featured a live orchestra.  Manning drew a huge crowd of Japanese and foreign expat swing enthusiasts for this memorable occasion. Dedicated cruises were organized for his 89th and 90th birthdays. For his birthday dances, he followed his custom of dancing with one woman for every year of his life, partnering 89 and 90 women in succession, respectively.

In 2007, his autobiography was published. in the book is a collection of (often humorous) stories about the early days of swing dancing and his experiences dancing with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. The book recounts his experiences up through the revival of swing dancing in the 1980's.  A resident of Corona, Queens, Frankie Manning died in Manhattan on April 24, 2009.

Reference:
To Become a DancerTo Become a Dancer

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