Dancer, Innovator, Teacher
Frankie Manning was born in 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida. At age 3, he moved to Harlem with his mother, who was a dancer. Frankie began dancing as a child, then started attending the early evening dances for older teens at the Rennaissance Ballroom. Frankie then "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands. He 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 the Savoy had booked. In 1936, he came in third place in the first Harvest Moon Ball, and in second place the following year.
Frankie was inspired by first-generation Lindy Hoppers George "Shorty" Snowden and Leroy "Stretch" Jones. However, in order to beat these two great dancers in the intense competitions held at the Savoy Ballroom, Frankie developed his own unique style. He gained fame for adding the first acrobatic aerials (or "airsteps") to the Lindy Hop when, in a famous competition, he and his partner (Freda Washington) outdanced Shorty and his partner (Big Bea). He astonished the crowd of 2000 when he hoisted his partner on his back and then flipped her over his head to land facing him.
In 1934 he became a dancer and the chief choreographer for the original "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers," the professional troupe organized by Herbert "Whitey" White, a bouncer at the Savoy Ballroom.
Mr. Manning also performed in several films, including the Marx Brothers' "A Day at the Races" in 1937 and "Hellzapoppin'," before touring the world with jazz artists Ella Fitzgerald, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Cab Calloway. While dancing in London in 1937, Mr. Manning gave a command performance for King George VI. By 1943 a Life magazine cover story proclaimed the Lindy Hop as "America's national dance" and "this country's only native and original dance form" except for tap dancing.
Whitey's Lindy Hoppers disbanded during World War II, and Frankie joined the U.S. Army. But upon his release in 1947, he formed his own dance troupe, "The Congaroos Dancers."
As the country's interests turned to rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, Frankie settled down to family life. A revival of swing dancing in the mid- 1980s sparked a renewed interest, which has sent Frankie Manning throughout the world once again, leading workshops and lectures and developing choreography for groups such as the Rhythm Hot Shots of Sweden.
He is responsible for many innovations of Lindy Hop step and style, including dancing at a sharp angle to the ground like a track runner, instead of in the upright, stiff ballroom position of his predecesssors. Frankie originated many of the aerial steps by taking floor steps one step further. He originated "the tops," freezing in the middle of a number and then continuing on, to the song "Posin'." He also did the first Lindy routine which was danced by more than one couple doing the same steps at the same time. He is a winner of the Tony Award for Black & Blue.
He believes in seeing a step and changing it and taking it one step further. He doesn't believe in a right and a wrong way to do a step. When choreographing, he choreographed for each individual dancer and let each couple do their own special steps instead of forcing everyone to be the same. He'll call out "points" or "tango dip," and he and his partner will go into a 16-count sequence they have memorized. He dances with a strong lead; the woman has no option but to follow, or be wrong. He dances to the beat of the music and to the mood of the music. His posture changes with his interpretation of the mood.