Introducing Frankie Manning ( 1914 – 2009 )
Today, we feature Part 2 of the Lindy Love Letter from Sing .
Read Part 1 here .
In this edition, I have another 2 dancers to share about Frankie Manning.
Zihan Loo (ZL) , 28 , Part Time Teacher have been dancing since 2001, Lindy has brought him to places he would have never gone to – Herrang, London, Melbourne, and made me feel at home in cities I have visited – Chicago, Tokyo, New York etc.
Theresa Wong (TW) , 33 , Assistant Professor have been dancing for 10 years and Still going! She met Frankie at the very first SEAJam in 2002, the year she started dancing. How lucky, on hindsight!
Since then, she met him at subsequent SEAJams. She also met him in Sydney during 2003. Surprisingly , she only get to met him in Singapore, even though she have spent so much time in the US.
INTRODUCING FRANKIE MANNING
1. What were your first impressions of Frankie?
ZL: cheerful, and always a gentleman in every sense of the word.
TW: You know, I thought Frankie was a very different species of human being because up to that point I don’t think I’d met too many 80-something year olds who weren’t sitting down and sighing. I marveled at his energy and smiley-ness. He was quite fast-moving. There was a lot of hoo-ha around him and I didn’t understand it – I didn’t understand what the fuss was. Then later I became fascinated, but I still didn’t understand what was keeping him up and dancing and I certainly didn’t have a clue why he had flown all this way to Singapore to be with us, year after year! As a beginning dancer, I felt shy to approach him that first year so I watched him from a distance
2. What do you like about Frankie’s dancing , when he was young and when he was older.
ZL: He comes across solid as a rock but light as a feather, he always seemed so much at ease with the music.
TW: The biggest thing I took away from my encounter with him was that he paid the follow 100% attention when he danced with you. I mean, 100%. I have danced for 10 years now, lived in four dance countries outside of Singapore (including US and Canada), but I have seldom come across a lead who shuts everything (I mean, everything) else out and treats the follow like she’s the last person on Planet Earth. I heard Frankie preach this before having the privilege to have that one dance with him, but I certainly didn’t get it until he showed it to me. I remember his very first piece of instruction from his very first class I took with him was ‘treat your follow like a queen.’ I think I remember being asked to stare into the eyes of my lead and holy cow, how difficult was that! To make eye contact, whoah!
Anyway, there was definitely something about that man that I couldn’t fathom. A deep spiritual energy that seemed to infuse him from head to toe, that glowed with every muscle. Am I exaggerating? I mean, I’m pretty sure he was psychic. The sort of thing when you were slightly scared (after being pleasantly shocked that you weren’t being treated like a beginner-dancer nuisance) that he could tell if you were not 100% in there too. And he was a darn good dancer. Physical + spiritual/emotional strength and confidence.
This magical experience happened in 2003, and after that Frankie seemed to dial back on social dancing, so I think I was very, very lucky. I’ve thought about this a lot since then, and even though it’s been years and I have all this booky dance knowledge, I’ve found that paying this sort of attention to one’s partner is incredibly hard to do. It is something lacking in most very good dancers. Recalling how Frankie danced with me has helped me re-centre myself on the dancefloor. I really am forced to humble myself when I find myself dissatisfied with that night’s turn-out, the DJ, or my own dancing. Thinking of how Frankie paid me that amazing compliment in 2003 reminds me that I am responsible for my own dance satisfaction, and that dancing is a privilege, and good connection with someone, regardless of his skill level, is created out of compassion. ‘Compassionate connection’ – haha, new term! It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do (harder than aerials), and I’m still lousy at it (like that time last night….). This is the meditative backbone to all the dancing we do, which means it’s bloody difficult.
3. If you were a beginner again, what do you wish you had learnt from Frankie.
ZL: The energy that he brings to the dance, and the thing he always says – to treat the follow like a queen.
TW : When I was a beginner, I wanted to do all the fancy stuff like in the videos. I also didn’t really appreciate it when Frankie taught all the simple stuff, like paying attention to one’s partner, or simple jazz step variations on the one-two or 7-8 of the swing out, or having fun when dancing. I mean, having fun when dancing??? I just wanted to do the cheem stuff! Of all the classes we had at the various SEAJams, Frankie was the only one who explicitly said the lesson that day (and always) was about ‘having fun’. So, as an ambitious beginner, I didn’t get it. But now I am still struggling with those things: ‘having fun’ and oh, you know those scissor kicks Frankie taught to replace the twist-twist in the one-two? Yah I still suck at them. And the swing out you think you nailed about 8 months in? Nope, still working on them.
4. What was the most important thing Frankie brought to Singapore dancers ?
ZL: Inspiration, a sense of connection to Lindy history, his glowing presence.
TW: All of the above. Like a kid, though, I didn’t appreciate it till much later. But maybe I’ll add that for Singaporeans, Frankie was even more needed. Here was a chap who did it for the love. He was travelling, teaching, talking, and most of all just hanging out and watching! Singaporeans are not very good at doing anything for the love only. We must be the best at it, we must compete, we must gain approval of others. Frankie was doing what he wasn’t supposed to be doing at his age, and he didn’t have the degrees to show for it. He didn’t complete 3.5 tasks an hour.
5. As an experienced dancer now, what would you ask Frankie if you could?
ZL: For one more photo, independently initiated on my part, a testament to how Lindy has boosted my self-esteem and confidence over these past years.
TW: I would want to sit there for hours, and listen to him channel a whole mood and an era. What I got out of hearing him was that refusal to let political and economic circumstances dictate his ability to act, laugh and dance. It is a rare perspective, and I would like to hear a lot a lot more of it.
6. What do you think is his legacy that we should continue to uphold in Singapore? What can we still learn from Frankie?
ZL: What I appreciated most is how Frankie advocates that Lindy is for all, and how he appreciates and respects varying dance style. Spreading the Lindy Love.
TW: A pure love of the dance, and not the competitive and bitchy forms it sometimes takes. Being present with one’s partner. An understanding of why the dance looks and feels the way it does – historical and traditional roots of the dance as linked to music and repression/slavery, captured in jazz movement. Historical ergonomics of lindy hop.
7. How do you think Singapore dancers can relate to Frankie ?
TW: This is the hardest question. I feel there are two ways of answering this question. There is a practical aspect – giving people a sense of Frankie even though he’s not around, and a more emotional aspect – what does Frankie stand for that would appeal to Singapore dancers? For the first, we can’t force dancers to acknowledge or learn about Frankie’s legacy. I think all of us who have met him must continue to be ambassadors of his love for fun and dancing. This involves us being more compassionate dancers. We could play videos of him talking about what it was like in the heady days, and leave them on in say another room from where the dancing is happening. For the second, I think Frankie captures what many born and bred Singaporeans (like me) need – acting outside of the boxes we’ve been handed down, daring to unleash (and be goofy, extravagant, risk-taking), thinking of ourselves as individual dance stylists without conforming. How do we express this spirit to new dancers? I think it comes down to us as dancers embodying that love when we go out and dance, whether in public or in the studio.
Thank you Zihan and Theresa .
By Sing Yuen Lim
Go to Part 3 .
Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memories of Frankie.