Frank Manning (May 26, 1914 – April 27, 2009) was an American dancer, instructor, and choreographer. He was one of the prime creators of the Lindy hop, and the most influential person in swing dance history. His birthday (May 26th, 1914) has inspired World Lindy Hop Day.
Frankie was born in 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida. After his parents separated at the age of 3, he moved to Harlem with his mother, who was a dancer. It was here that he first saw dancing at neighbourhood rent parties and ballrooms. Frankie started listening to records on a Victrola in his bedroom and would practice dancing with a broom or a chair. When he was older, he started going to Harlem’s legendary Savoy Ballroom, the only integrated ballroom in New York, and by the early 1930s, he was a regular there and eventually became a dancer in the elite and prestigious "Kat's Corner," a corner of the dance floor where impromptu exhibitions and competitions took place.
While part of the Savoy’s inner circle of elite dancers, Frankie introduced many innovations into the Lindy hop, including the air step and synchronised ensemble routines. His ideas, performed to this day, revolutionised the Lindy, catapulting it from ballroom to stage and screen. In 1935, Herbert White organised the top Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hop dancers into a professional performance group that was eventually named Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. Frankie created the troupe's first ensemble routines and functioned as the group's de facto choreographer, although without that title. The troupe toured extensively, performing internationally in theatres and nightclubs with Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, and many other jazz greats of the Swing Era, and made several films, including his masterpiece, Hellzapoppin’ (1941).
During his time with Whitey's, Frankie danced with Norma Miller, who became known as the Queen of Swing. World War II saw the group disband due to many of the male dancers entering the armed forces, Frankie among them. After the war, in 1947, Frankie created a small performance group called the Congaroos, but they do disbanded after a time and in 1955 Frankie left the dancing behind and settled into a career with the US 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. Before his death in 1985, he told his students that Frankie, another surviving member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, also lived in New York City and a year later dancers Erin Stevens and Steven Mitchell contacted Frankie and asked him to teach them the Lindy Hop. Mitchell and Stevens returned to California and helped to spread Lindy Hop to the West Coast and other areas of the U.S.
That same year, Lennart Westerlund contacted Frankie and invited him to Sweden to work with The Rhythm Hot Shots. Frankie traveled to Sweden in 1987 and returned there every year from 1989 onward to teach at the Herräng Dance Camp. Later Frankie would also teach Ryan Francois, who would help introduce Lindy Hop to a British audience.
The swing dance and Lindy Hop revival had really taken hold by the late 1980s and Frankie was teaching Lindy Hop all around the world, sometimes the dance workshops returned him to places he hadn’t been in decades. His first visit to Melbourne, Australia had been in 1939 to perform at the Princess Theatre. The swing revival and Melbourne's Swing Patrol brought him back again in 2002; it was his first visit to Melbourne in 63 years.
Frankie was still dancing and choreographing at the age of 75, when he co-choreographed the Broadway musical Black and Blue, for which he received a 1989 Tony Award. In 2000, he was a recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honour in the folk and traditional arts in the US. In May 2007 his autobiography, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, written with co-author Cynthia R. Millman, was published by Temple University Press.
Every year Frankie’s birthday celebrations would attract dancers and instructors from all over the world. His 80th birthday, in 1994, 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. And for each of his birthday dances, Frankie always followed his custom of dancing with one woman for every year of his life. A custom he continued right through to his 94th birthday!
Frankie died one month before his 95th birthday. The birthday celebrations that had been planned were recast as Frankie95, a celebration of Manning's life which drew more than 2,000 people from 33 countries. Proceeds from the five-day Frankie95 celebration were used to create the Frankie Manning Foundation whose mission it is to spread Lindy Hop throughout the world. It seeks to promote projects which are grounded in unity and collaboration, and which enable people of all different backgrounds to participate in the dance. Frankie was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame in 2009 and on July 4, 2012, a road in the village of Herräng, Sweden, was named after Manning, as a gift from the municipality of Norrtälje for the 30-year jubilee of Herräng Dance Camp.
In May 2014, Frankie 100 took place in New York City. The event was described as the largest swing dance event of modern era and brought together over 2,000 dancers from 47 countries to honour Frankie and to name his birthday, May 26th, as World Lindy Hop Day. The festival celebrated the roots and origins of Lindy Hop and Big Band Swing with historic events including the show, Swingin’ Frankie's Way, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Frankie Manning, pencil on paper (2021)
£1 from every sale of this print will be donated to the Frankie Manning Foundation whose mission it is to spread Lindy Hop throughout the world.