Frankie Manning 88th Birthday Celebration at the New York Swing Dance Society.

By Carlos Cardona
The New York Swing Dance Server (www.nyswingdance.com)

Happy 88th Birthday to Frankie Manning, one of Swing's most legendary figures, one of the original members of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, and a dance champion who is credited with inventing the "air" step (or lifts) in Lindy Hop (during a competition which he, of course, won). Frankie toured the world with Whitey's group, and performed brilliantly in films like Hellazapoppin' (he's the one who does that unbelievable "grab her by the ankles behind your back and throw her back where she came from" move). Part of his success undoubtedly came from his "wrestler" physique, he was physically stronger than many of his contemporaries, so he could maneuver his partners around better (including long-time partner Norma Miller). Both Frankie and Norma were interviewed as part of the recent "Jazz" series on PBS, telling their stories about the Savoy Ballroom, Chick Webb (the house band at the Savoy), and dancing during the Swing Era.

Of course, the Lindy gave way to other dances, and fell from popularity until partner dancing itself fell in the mid 60's with the invention of solo dances like the Twist and then just Freestyle. Frankie and other Lindy dancers and choreographers had to do other things to survive, and for many years Frankie was a postal worker here in New York. Then, surprise! Partner dancing makes a comeback in the mid 80's, and The New York Swing Dance Society is created in 1985 by long-time Swing fans like dance teacher Margaret Batiuchok, Jerry Goralnick, Bob Crease and others to promote the dance (and introduce it to a new generation). Many of us learned to Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing through the influence of the Swing Society. The New York Swing Dance Society (www.nysds.org/nysds/) is now in its 18th year, with live music dances every Sunday.

Frankie Manning immediately became one of the Society's mentors, hired as a teacher and choreographer for The Big Apple Lindy Hoppers (the Society's performance group), and then by Swing groups all over the world, who sought his talents as choreographer, teacher, and inspirational figure. Life must feel like a circle now for Frankie, now that he's back to doing what he did in his youth (and making money at it!)

Sunday, May 26th was the actual day of Frankie's 88th birthday, and there were 2 celebrations in New York City, on Saturday night at Roseland Ballroom, and on Sunday at The Swing Society's Savoy Sunday dance at Irving Plaza. Everyone in Swing was there (except those who were at the Grand Nationals in Atlanta), to help Frankie celebrate, or more to the point, to help celebrate Frankie. The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra was there to add their big sound, and by the time we got to the special presentations the room was overflowing.

They brought out a chair for Frankie, and Margaret Batiuchok took the stage to explain to everyone, though most already knew, what is so special about Frankie and why people like him so much. She was followed by Frankie's long-time friend Scotty, who toasted Frankie with the old favorite "if we don't see you in Heaven, we'll go down to Hell just to hang with you". Then a hilarious video created by Manu Smith (Yehoodi.com) was shown (with the help of Larry Kang). It started like Star Wars: "Swing Wars", something about the Swing rebellion fighting against "slow jazzy music", very funny! This was followed by the usual tribute from all over the globe (just like at Frankie's 85th birthday), but where that had places like London and Paris, this one had places you never imagined Swing could thrive: South Africa, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands, even Oregon! It showed what a truly international phenomenon this dance has become, and a big part of the credit belongs to a sweet 88 year-old named Frankie Manning. Then the senior got up and danced his butt off, (with Judy Pritchett, of Savoystyle.com, as you can see from the photos)!

For photos from this event, go to the Photos area on this site and click on Frankie Manning Celebration at Irving Plaza (5/26/2002).


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