Introducing Frankie Manning ( 1914 – 2009 )
Today, we feature a letter .
A Lindy Love Letter from Sing .
Written to all swing dancers reading this – where she reminisces and relives the Frankie ‘s era in Singapore Swing history.
Today, 26 May 2012, marks Frankie Manning’s 98th Birthday.
Frankie was a dancer that lived in the heyday of Lindy Hop. He grew up watching Lindy hop develop and he was part of the elite group of dancers in the Savoy Ballroom, Whiteys Lindy Hoppers.
Frankie toured the world choreographing and performing. He was innovative and creative in his dance and set the bar skyhigh with his impressive speed and strength.
His fascinating biography, “Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy hop” details the jazz stars he danced with and the venues he graced. You can borrow the book from me anytime or better yet, get a copy from SwingDanceShop .
Frankie retired from professional dance after World War II and worked in the US post office. However in 1986 he was pursuaded to come out of retirement to teach a new generation of Lindy hop devotees to dance. From then, till he passed away in 2009, Frankie travelled the globe again, this time to do even more important work – to teach a world not just a dance but an approach to life and living.
Frankie visited Singapore many times. We are fortunate that he liked the weather and that he was forgiving about the times I left him in the airport because I got the pick up time wrong : (
He taught classes and he performed (Ritz Carlton, Sentosa, UCC) and he gave talks (Esplanade Library, Borders). He opened our first studio in Tras Street in 1998 and he was there at our first SEA Jam in 2002. He led the shim sham and he laughed and he ate chilli crab.
I felt it was important for Singaporeans to hear the count from The Man himself and to see what a Real shimmy looks like. Just as Ming points out, his presence here validated what we did and allowed us to accept ourselves into the Lindy hop global community, in this pre-Face book, pre-youtube, prePC era.
And equally, I wanted Frankie to see how far reaching his work had been and to see how people so far removed from him in age, culture and geography could be so connected with him, through his dance.
While Frankie did exactly as I had expected him to do in terms of teaching the dance, it is all the stuff that has nothing to do with dance that makes him so memorable and so important to the dancers that met him.
I wish we could still bring Frankie here to meet the new dancers. He would have loved to watch you guys on the dance floor, enjoying the music and the happy atmostphere.
In that light, I have asked a few of the dancers whom had met him in person to help me introduce him to you through their eyes and experiences. I hope you will be inspired to want to find more about Frankie and then in turn, share about him with others.
Wishing you a Happy Lindy hop day,
Sing Yuen Lim
In this edition, I asked 2 dancers to share about Frankie.
Tan Hong Wee (HW) , 44 , Military Officer .
He had been dancing for 12 years, first met Frankie at SEAJam 2001 , and have since meet him at every SEAJam. Hong Wee occasionally teaches Lindy hop at Jitterbugs Swingapore, and he recently placed 3rd in the Korean Lindy Hop Championships, Showcase Division. Hong Wee has also been the official videographer for SEA Jam and so is an important source of historical (and hysterical) SEA Jam footage.
Ming Pang (MP) , ’21 again’ , Wellness counselor/swing instructor
Ming is the founder of KL Swings .She had been to Herrang Dance Camp twice. This is her 12th year into swing dancing, 8 years as a follow , 1 year in SF , and the last 4 years trying to figure out leading and teaching .
She first met Frankie in the very first SEAJam , and since then, have met him again a couple more SEAjams after that, until he couldn’t make the trip anymore 😦
Her biggest dance regret ? never worked up the nerve to ask him to dance 😦
INTRODUCING FRANKIE MANNING
1. What were your first impressions of Frankie?
HW: When I first saw Frankie, I thought he was physically tall and strong. You know how some people shrivel a bit as they age – but not Frankie. He was like an ox. But when I spoke to him, it was very different. He was quiet, but always with a witty comment about him. He had hearing difficulty, but always listened to you whole-heartedly.
When he was up on stage or in front of a class, you couldn’t stop Frankie talking. And you wouldn’t. There was one session during SEAJam where Frankie talked about the atmosphere at Savoy – “If you could dance, you danced the moment you walked in. If you couldn’t dance, you’ll find your feet would start tappin’, your fingers would start snappin’, and your head would start boppin’. And before you know it, you were dancing.” For that twenty seconds, Costa Sands Resorts did feel like the Savoy Ballroom.
MP: The first SEAJam I was just excited about being at my first swing camp! I didn’t know much of any swing history and I didn’t know what to expect. In person he seemed a little frail- he walked with a limp. So when he pointed at me in class to demonstrate a throw, I was ready to fake it. Ha! Before I could even think about what I was going to fake, I was (literally) thrown. His energy had just passed right through me. THAT’S what it was like to be lead!
2. What do you like about Frankie’s dancing , when he was young and when he was older.
HW: In Hellzapoppin’, Frankie snatched his follow onto his shoulder and then threw her back – she covered a good 2-3 metres in the process. The combination of strength, perfect timing and grace made that move so incredible – my favourite of the whole sequence.
When he was slightly older, like 90, the move I appreciated him most was his shimmy. It wasn’t with the shoulders, not with the hips, not the arms – it seem to come from somewhere within – like Lindy Hop was his life and love and the shimmy was his way of saying it.
Here we see Frankie leads the Shim Sham at SEA Jam2004.
MP: The old movies are so grainy, and sometimes the costumes are so comical, but you can always tell Frankie because of his huge smile. In person of course you can not be in the same room with him and not be warmed by his light. Said another way, it seemed as if sarcasm and cynicism dried up around him.
3. If you were a beginner again, what do you wish you had learnt from Frankie.
HW: What did you mean if ? 12 years of dancing, I still want to learn his shimmy!!
MP: The way he taught, I realize now, was really magic. Everything seemed easy and wonderful. Guys became gentlemen and women became ladies. Maybe I remember it too nostalgically, but that’s how it seemed it me.
4. What was the most important thing Frankie brought to Singapore dancers ?
HW I think it was history. He brought history alive. When I hear him tell stories of what it was like in the Savoy, how he came up with his first air step, how the dance was such a joy. When he is in the room, the room became Savoy.
Here we see Frankie sharing Savoy stories at SEAJam 2006 .
MP: A connection with the authentic past. Pre-YouTube, pre-Facebook, it was hard to imagine that we were 1-in a larger community and 2-that we mattered at all to that community. Having Frankie at SEAJam was a great affirmation.
5. As an experienced dancer now, what would you ask Frankie if you could?
HW: To choreograph a routine for Swingapore.
MP: How do you swing out again?
6. What do you think is his legacy that we should continue to uphold in Singapore? What can we still learn from Frankie?
HW: Apart from dancing, I really admire his tenacity and creativity. In his biography, he described how the first airstep was created (in his tiny room, mattress on the floor) and how it was so new his partner Freda landed on her bottoms, not knowing she was about to be flipped. I imagine back in those days, his room can’t have been that big. Just goes to show the a man’s imagination is not constrained by the size of his office/cubicle.
Frankie didn’t talked about the racial discrimination, the hardship nor the uncertainty he faced in those days. I was really moved by his biography – if I had a choice, it would be required reading material for Lindy 1 class.
So, quit whining and start dancing.
MP: Scene building is sometimes disheartening work. So what keeps me going is a sense of continuing his legacy. Which is not the air steps or the showmanship, which was great.
But I am more inspired by the kind of person he was. He had this humility, dedication and a great Niceness which is so rare these days. Someone who went through the times he went through would have every right to be angry. But his light never seemed to waver or diminish. Even when asked about the war or racism, he would reply in the most diplomatic terms possible. I still don’t know how he did it, but I’m very inspired all the same.
Swing class for me is a class on respect and working together wrapped in some moves. I don’t think I or we will ever be done on that front, but it’s worth a shot.
7. How do you think Singapore dancers can relate to Frankie ?
HW: Frankie inspires us in many different ways. For me, it was the way he treated people. As a touring artiste in his youth, as a teacher in his later years, as a 90 year-old, he has seen much and done a lot (obviously). Yet when he talked to you, you felt he was totally listening to you (hence the rather large ears, perhaps). No wonder all the girls loved him.
MP: For the dancers in Malaysia, I hope he lives as an inspiration. One of the benefits of our increasingly ever-online lives is that now you don’t need to be “in the know” to see those old photos, videos, or great new documentaries. I like to think that each day some new lindyhopper is finding out about Frankie and what a remarkable dancer and human being he was.
Thank you Hong Wee and Ming Pang .
By Sing Yuen Lim
Continue to Part 2 here .
Write in to email@example.com to share your memories of Frankie.