Black History Month - February 2007
I know it's March, but I'm not yet finished with Black History Month.... I was swamped througout February
and still have some more black dancing-icons to recognize... so I'm extending it...it's my web site, so I can do that...



The incomparable
Nicholas Brothers

and
Frankie Manning
The Ambassador of Lindy Hop

 

The incomparable
Nichols Brothers


(22). ...Nobody asked for my opinion...BUT...

 

Though the great performers of yester-year were considered to be such dance icons as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Danny Kaye, none of them (...in MY opinion...) compared to two of the really great artists that so many Americans often never even heard of. And why? Because they were black.
To this day after 58 years of watching more dance performances and movies and competitions than Carter has little liver pills (some of you may be too young to understand what I'm even talking about...), not a one of them can come close to the performances of the unbelievable black brother duo, The Nicholas Brothers, Harold and Fayard. There's too much incredible material available to even begin including it all here, but please do yourself a favor and visit www.NicholasBrothers.com for their incredible story. Believe it or not but the photos don't come close to their actual performances. What an inspiration they were and continue to be for people of color and caucasians alike. If you get a chance, be sure to actually take te opportunity of seeing their movies.


The very young Nicholas Brothers with young George Burns and Bob Hope.


The young Nicholas Brothers with Ms Josephine Baker plus dancing their incomparable routine to "Chattanooga Choo Choo".


The Nicholas Broters in "Stormy Weather" including Lena Horn.


The Nicholas Brothers in "Stormy Weather" (with Lena Horn) and "Tin Pan Alley".



Fayard Nicholas with President and First Lady Clinton

 

The Nicholas Brothers have headlined shows all over the world. They have appeared in every major television show, nightclub and theater in America and performed for the troops in Viet Nam in 1965.
They've received many tributes and awards, which include: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, The Kennedy Center Honors, and an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University. They are also proud of the some of students they have taught, including Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. Had they been born much later when discrimination wasn't nearly as prevalent as back then (thank God for that, though we still have a LONG way to go to eliminate discrimination completely in this country...please don't believe otherwise in spite of what some may claim...), their talents would have been even more recognized as actual headlining stars of the Silver Screen as opposed to back-up performers. They are true pioneers in black entertainment and remain second to none in the world of show business.

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PLUS...

Frankie Manning
The Ambassador of Lindy Hop
this page is still

Mr. Manning was born in 1914 in Jacksonville, Fla. At age 3, he moved to Harlem with his mother, who was a dancer. He grew up in the Swing Era and became part of its history by dancing to the music of the 1930s and 1940s.

The name Lindy Hop emerged shortly after Charles Lindbergh completed his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. Shorty Snowden, a dancer at the time, coined the phrase during a dance marathon in Manhattan. It was later at the Savoy Ballroom's weekly dance contests that Snowden's style of Lindy Hop, in which the body is held upright as the dancer executes intricate footwork, was soon overshadowed by Mr. Manning's more acrobatic style.

In 1934 Mr. Manning was 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 Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, 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 Mr. Manning joined the U.S. Army. But upon his release in 1947, Mr. Manning formed his own dance troupe, "The Congaroos Dancers." They appeared on the "Milton Berle Show," and toured with Nat "King" Cole, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Martha Raye and Sammy Davis Jr.

As popular taste turned to rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, Mr. Manning settled down to family life. A revival of swing dancing in the mid- 1980s sparked a renewed interest, which has sent Mr. Manning throughout the world once again, leading workshops and lectures and developing choreography for groups such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Rhythm Hot Shot of Sweden.

Among national recognitions he has received, Mr. Manning was profiled on the ABC prime-time news program, "20/20"; he received a Tony Award for best choreography in the Broadway hit musical "Black and Blue"; and choreographed "Stompin' at the Savoy," an NBC made-for-television movie directed by Debbie Allen. Recently, he was involved in the two- part TV film on American social dancing called "Gotta Dance!"

Frankie Manning (1914 - ) Dancer and Choreographer

No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning. As a dancer, innovator, and choreographer, he has been an unofficial "Ambassador of Lindy Hop," spreading its popularity through three continents while touring with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the 1930's and 40's, and again teaching, choreographing, and performing in the Lindy Hop revival of the 1980's and '90's.

Manning started dancing in his early teens at a Sunday afternoon dance at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem to the music of Vernon Andrade. From there he moved to the Rennaissance Ballroom, which had an early evening dance for older teens with the live swing music of the Claude Hopkins Orchestra. Finally, Manning "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands. Manning, competitive and gifted, became a star in the informal jams in the "Kat's Korner" of the Savoy and frequently won the Saturday night contests. He was invited to join the elite 400 Club, whose members could come to the Savoy Ballroom during daytime hours to practice alongside the bands that were booked there.

Manning 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, he developed his own unique style, and his dancing stood out for its unerring musicality. Fast on his feet and with a keen ear, Manning gave physical expression to the beat, the feel, and the excitement of the swing sound played by the great big bands. 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 predecessors. In a famous competition, Manning astonished the crowd of 2000 with the first Lindy aerial step ever done.

In 1935, when Herbert White brought together the top Savoy Ballroom Dancers into a professional performance group to be called Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Manning created the first ensemble Lindy Hop routines. This gave him an opportunity to expand upon his gift for transforming the swing music into exciting dance-movement patterns. When Whitey's Lindy Hoppers were in their heyday, Manning was the chief choreographer, serving as what we today would call artistic director, while Whitey was business manager.

He has toured with jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and others. He performed in several films, including "Everybody Sings" with Judy Garland and Hellzapoppin'. More recently, he was the dance consultant for and danced in Spike Lee's film Malcolm X. Frankie's fabulous dancing and radiant smile have inspired generations of Lindy Hop enthusiasts, but he modestly claims, "I'm not interested in fame and glory. It's just that I would like others to know what a happy dance this is."

What a great attitude...Frankie Manning and the rest of "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers" through their love and passion and expertise in this incredible sport of dancing were able to make their way right into the arena of white America back in the days when, unlike today, bigotry and hatefulness were not only more rampant, but legal. In fact they were not only legal, but often even encouraged by many of ther fellow bigots of that era who even at one time tried to use the Bible to justify slavery and their patronizing, self-serving actions (now why does this continue to remind me of some of the same tactics that are still being used today for those who choose to discriminate and show their vindictiveness toward certain others?). I can just see the red necks of those days slapping each other on the back and congratulating each other for their excessive humiliating actions toward certain others in the black community. Though such destructive and arrogant prejudices are still alive and well even in today's setting, they are at least today illegal. Back in the 30's and 40's there was no protection from such cruel and malicious acts. This band of incredibly talented dance maniacs, however were able to break troug those those boundaries and find themselves gradually graduating into the company of those in the most reputable dance venues in New York city in those days. Just another example of

 

...But then that's just my opinion....

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers
The undisputed all-time champions of Lindy Hop,
the original Swing Dance

How Whitey's Lindy Hoppers got their start:
In the early 1930's, as word got around about the sensational swing dancing at the Savoy Ballroom, requests came from downtown socialites and rich folk who wanted to have Lindy Hoppers perform at their lavish parties. Whitey, who got to know the young dancers well, was able to hand pick exciting dancers who were also socially adept and reliable. They were invariably delighted to make a few dollars doing what they loved (Aren't we all?). A father figure to many of these dancers, Whitey would send them downtown to those fancy digs with the admonition, "Remember, ain't nobody better than you." This advice must have come in handy in 1937, when a group of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers stood on line to shake hands with the Queen of England! This self-respect and pride permeated the Savoy Ballroom, one of the few places on earth where Blacks and whites could meet on the dance floor as equals.
"Remember, ain't nobody better than you."

In time, the sensational dancing of Whitey's hand-picked dancers came to the attention of the media. When they entered the Harvest Moon Ball competition in 1935, ballroom afficianados had their heads turned by the fast, fluid new dance to swing music which incorporated African influences and jazz rhythms into the standard European social dance framework.

Whitey's group was formed from the creme de la creme of the Savoy; they were the top dancers in the top ballroom of the Swing Era. With Whitey's entrepreneurial skills, these Harlem youngsters were catapulted into world recognition thru both live performance and film. Their swing dance innovations had permanent impact on the social dance styles of the United States, Europe, Australia, and even Latin America and parts of Africa.
From its beginnings, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was much more than a dance troupe. It was a training ground which prepared the most talented social dancers of the Savoy Ballroom for professional gigs. It was also a social club which kept the young people out of trouble by allowing them unlimited access to the Ballroom-- by day to practise; by night to dance to the best swing bands in the
world.

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was the brainchild of Herbert "Whitey" White. An African-American man known as "Whitey" because of the streak of white in his hair, he was a former boxer who became a bouncer at the Savoy Ballroom. At one time, more than 70 swing dancers were employed by Whitey. He had a good eye for talent and, like a good coach, he knew how to nurture it. He gave many future entertainers their start in show business.

By late 1936, Whitey's dancers had officially made the big time. His top dancers worked a 6-month gig at the the famous Cotton Club under the name "Whitey's Hopping Maniacs" Meantime, Whitey pulled together a second group of top dancers to perform for the first time under the name "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers" in their first major Hollywood film, the Marx Brother's zany A Day at the Races.

Other films followed, as well as gigs at top venues in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. Whitey did quite a juggling act; his dancers might be simultaneously performing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Radio City Music Hall in New York, a Broadway show and an upcoming Hollywood film. Whitey himself
was on the set in Hollywood for these first films. Norma Miller reports that Whitey kept the dancers on their toes, interrupting their breaks and having them do their routine whenever movie stars and VIPs passed by. While away, he put Frankie Manning in charge of the Cotton Club gig, and then the European and Australian tours. Manning served as chief choreographer for all of Whitey's groups, although he declined an offer from Whitey to have
the Cotton Club group named Manning's Lindy Hoppers. Dancer Louise" Pal" Andrews served as Whitey's "Gal Friday".
While in Hollywood working on the Lindy Hop sequence in the Judy Garland film "Everybody Sing", Whitey got in a dispute with the producer. It seemed that the producer gave young Judy Garland breaks from the set, but would not give the young Lindy Hoppers any breaks. Concerned about protecting his dancers from both exhaustion and second class treatment, Whitey tore up the contract. The sequence was removed from the film.

Between gigs these dancers always came home to the Savoy Ballroom. Their growing performance skills must have brought a lot of excitement to the Cat's Corner jams, where top dancers could shine in a circle of spectators. And the general standard of dancing at the Savoy must have been kept quite high with these talented dancers out there on the dance floor and competing in the Saturday night contests. No matter how far their professional careers went, Whitey's dancers were always, first and foremost, social dancers and true jazz dance improvisors, even after they had a number of choreographed routines under their belts. In this they paralleled the musicians of the great Big Bands, who could perform tight arrangements and still blow completely original jazz improvisations night after night.


In this rare photograph, Whitey can be seen with the white tie and the white streak in his hair. He is teaching Ann Johnson (Frankie Manning's partner in Hellzapoppin') a step which she does with Long Legged George Grenidge. Observing, to the right, is Al Minns.
---------------------------------
No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning -- as a dancer, innovator and choreographer. For much of his lifetime he has been an unofficial Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Originally touring as a dancer and choreographer with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the 30's and 40's, he helped spread the popularity of the Lindy Hop through three continents. Once again, since the swing dance revival that started in the 1980s, Frank Manning has been a driving force worldwide with his teaching, choreography and performance. His own love of swing music and dancing has been as contagious as his dazzling smile.

Frank Manning's dancing stood out, even among the greats of the Savoy Ballroom, for its unerring musicality. Fast on his feet and with a keen ear, Frankie gave physical expression to the beat, the feel and the excitement of the swing sound played by the great Big Bands.

Frankie Manning started dancing in his early teens at a Sunday afternoon dance at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem to the music of Vernon Andrade. From there he moved on to the Rennaissance Ballroom, which had an early evening dance for older teens with the live swing music of the Claude Hopkins Orchestra. Finally, Frankie "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands.
Manning, competitive as well as gifted, 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 practise alongside the bands that were booked at the Savoy.

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 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. In a famous competition --really, a showdown-- Frankie Manning and his partner Freda Washington outdanced Shorty and his partner Big Bea-- and astonished the crowd of 2000-- with the first Lindy airstep ever done.

In a famous competition... Frankie astonished the crowd of 2000-- with the first Lindy airstep ever done.

(1914 - ) Dancer and Choreographer

No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning. As a dancer, innovator, and choreographer, he has been an unofficial "Ambassador of Lindy Hop," spreading its popularity through three continents while touring with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the 1930s and 40s, and again teaching, choreographing, and performing in the Lindy Hop revival of the 1980s and '90s.

Manning started dancing in his early teens at a Sunday afternoon dance at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem to the music of Vernon Andrade. From there he moved to the Rennaissance Ballroom, which had an early evening dance for older teens with the live swing music of the Claude Hopkins Orchestra. Finally, Manning "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands. Manning, competitive and gifted, became a star in the informal jams in the "Kat's Korner" of the Savoy and frequently won the Saturday night contests. He was invited to join the elite 400 Club, whose members could come to the Savoy Ballroom during daytime hours to practice alongside the bands that were booked there.

Manning 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, he developed his own unique style, and his dancing stood out for its unerring musicality. Fast on his feet and with a keen ear, Manning gave physical expression to the beat, the feel, and the excitement of the swing sound played by the great big bands. 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 predecessors. In a famous competition, Manning astonished the crowd of 2000 with the first Lindy aerial step ever done.

In 1935, when Herbert White brought together the top Savoy Ballroom Dancers into a professional performance group to be called Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Manning created the first ensemble Lindy Hop routines. This gave him an opportunity to expand upon his gift for transforming the swing music into exciting dance-movement patterns. When Whitey's Lindy Hoppers were in their heyday, Manning was the chief choreographer, serving as what we today would call artistic director, while Whitey was business manager.

He has toured with jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and others. He performed in several films, including Everybody Sings with Judy Garland and Hellzapoppin'. More recently, he was the dance consultant for and danced in Spike Lee's film Malcolm X. Frankie's fabulous dancing and radiant smile have inspired generations of Lindy Hop enthusiasts, but he modestly claims, "I'm not interested in fame and glory. It's just that I would like others to know what a happy dance this is."

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers
The undisputed all-time champions of Lindy Hop,
the original Swing Dance

How Whitey's Lindy Hoppers got their start:
In the early 1930's, as word got around about the sensational swing dancing at the Savoy Ballroom, requests came from downtown socialites and rich folk who wanted to have Lindy Hoppers perform at their lavish parties. Whitey, who got to know the young dancers well, was able to hand pick exciting dancers who were also socially adept and reliable. They were invariably delighted to make a few dollars doing what they loved (Aren't we all?). A father figure to many of these dancers, Whitey would send them downtown to those fancy digs with the admonition, "Remember, ain't nobody better than you." This advice must have come in handy in 1937, when a group of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers stood on line to shake hands with the Queen of England! This self-respect and pride permeated the Savoy Ballroom, one of the few places on earth where Blacks and whites could meet on the dance floor as equals.
"Remember, ain't nobody better than you."

In time, the sensational dancing of Whitey's hand-picked dancers came to the attention of the media. When they entered the Harvest Moon Ball competition in 1935, ballroom afficianados had their heads turned by the fast, fluid new dance to swing music which incorporated African influences and jazz rhythms into the standard European social dance framework.

Whitey's group was formed from the creme de la creme of the Savoy; they were the top dancers in the top ballroom of the Swing Era. With Whitey's entrepreneurial skills, these Harlem youngsters were catapulted into world recognition thru both live performance and film. Their swing dance innovations had permanent impact on the social dance styles of the United States, Europe, Australia, and even Latin America and parts of Africa.
From its beginnings, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was much more than a dance troupe. It was a training ground which prepared the most talented social dancers of the Savoy Ballroom for professional gigs. It was also a social club which kept the young people out of trouble by allowing them unlimited access to the Ballroom-- by day to practise; by night to dance to the best swing bands in the
world.

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was the brainchild of Herbert "Whitey" White. An African-American man known as "Whitey" because of the streak of white in his hair, he was a former boxer who became a bouncer at the Savoy Ballroom. At one time, more than 70 swing dancers were employed by Whitey. He had a good eye for talent and, like a good coach, he knew how to nurture it. He gave many future entertainers their start in show business.

By late 1936, Whitey's dancers had officially made the big time. His top dancers worked a 6-month gig at the the famous Cotton Club under the name "Whitey's Hopping Maniacs" Meantime, Whitey pulled together a second group of top dancers to perform for the first time under the name "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers" in their first major Hollywood film, the Marx Brother's zany A Day at the Races.

Other films followed, as well as gigs at top venues in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. Whitey did quite a juggling act; his dancers might be simultaneously performing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Radio City Music Hall in New York, a Broadway show and an upcoming Hollywood film. Whitey himself
was on the set in Hollywood for these first films. Norma Miller reports that Whitey kept the dancers on their toes, interrupting their breaks and having them do their routine whenever movie stars and VIPs passed by. While away, he put Frankie Manning in charge of the Cotton Club gig, and then the European and Australian tours. Manning served as chief choreographer for all of Whitey's groups, although he declined an offer from Whitey to have
the Cotton Club group named Manning's Lindy Hoppers. Dancer Louise" Pal" Andrews served as Whitey's "Gal Friday".
While in Hollywood working on the Lindy Hop sequence in the Judy Garland film "Everybody Sing", Whitey got in a dispute with the producer. It seemed that the producer gave young Judy Garland breaks from the set, but would not give the young Lindy Hoppers any breaks. Concerned about protecting his dancers from both exhaustion and second class treatment, Whitey tore up the contract. The sequence was removed from the film.

Between gigs these dancers always came home to the Savoy Ballroom. Their growing performance skills must have brought a lot of excitement to the Cat's Corner jams, where top dancers could shine in a circle of spectators. And the general standard of dancing at the Savoy must have been kept quite high with these talented dancers out there on the dance floor and competing in the Saturday night contests. No matter how far their professional careers went, Whitey's dancers were always, first and foremost, social dancers and true jazz dance improvisors, even after they had a number of choreographed routines under their belts. In this they paralleled the musicians of the great Big Bands, who could perform tight arrangements and still blow completely original jazz improvisations night after night.


In this rare photograph, Whitey can be seen with the white tie and the white streak in his hair. He is teaching Ann Johnson (Frankie Manning's partner in Hellzapoppin') a step which she does with Long Legged George Grenidge. Observing, to the right, is Al Minns.
---------------------------------
No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning -- as a dancer, innovator and choreographer. For much of his lifetime he has been an unofficial Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Originally touring as a dancer and choreographer with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the 30's and 40's, he helped spread the popularity of the Lindy Hop through three continents. Once again, since the swing dance revival that started in the 1980s, Frank Manning has been a driving force worldwide with his teaching, choreography and performance. His own love of swing music and dancing has been as contagious as his dazzling smile.

Frank Manning's dancing stood out, even among the greats of the Savoy Ballroom, for its unerring musicality. Fast on his feet and with a keen ear, Frankie gave physical expression to the beat, the feel and the excitement of the swing sound played by the great Big Bands.

Frankie Manning started dancing in his early teens at a Sunday afternoon dance at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem to the music of Vernon Andrade. From there he moved on to the Rennaissance Ballroom, which had an early evening dance for older teens with the live swing music of the Claude Hopkins Orchestra. Finally, Frankie "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands.
Manning, competitive as well as gifted, 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 practise alongside the bands that were booked at the Savoy.

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 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. In a famous competition --really, a showdown-- Frankie Manning and his partner Freda Washington outdanced Shorty and his partner Big Bea-- and astonished the crowd of 2000-- with the first Lindy airstep ever done.

In a famous competition... Frankie astonished the crowd of 2000-- with the first Lindy airstep ever done.

Frankie Manning or Frankie "Musclehead" Manning, born Frank Manning in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 26, 1914, is an American dancer, instructor and choreographer. Manning is considered to be one of the founding fathers of Lindy Hop.

He frequented Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in the 1930s, eventually becoming a dancer in the elite and prestigious "Kat's Korner", a corner of the dance floor in which impromptu exhibitions and competitions took place. During a dance contest in 1935, Manning and his partner Freda Washington performed the first air step (often referred to as an aerial) in a swing dance competition at the Savoy Ballroom. The air step he performed was a "back to back roll" and was danced while Chick Webb played Down South Camp Meeting (which was Frankie's request aftering having heard the song earlier in the evening).

In 1935, Herbert White organized the top Savoy Ballroom Dancers into a professional performance group which was eventually named Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. Frankie created the troup's first ensemble Lindy Hop routines and functioned as the group's defacto choreographer, although without that title. The troup toured extensively and made several films. After the group disbanded, Frankie settled into a career with the United States Postal Service.

Frankie Manning was influential in the swing revival of the 1980s. A group of Swedish dancers had made a trip to Harlem for the express purpose of finding any living African American swing dancers who could show them the elements of the dance. They first discovered Al Minns, who, like Frankie, had been a member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. Frankie was rediscovered following Minns's death, and he became the preeminent swing teacher for a new generation.

Frankie Manning received the Tony Award for co-choreography of the Broadway musical Black and Blue.

In recent years, Frankie Manning's annual birthday celebrations have drawn together dancers and instructors from all over the world. His 80th birthday 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. For his 86th birthday, a huge gala was feted in Tokyo in his honor, which included workshops taught by the maestro himself. The climax of the festivities featured a live orchestra. Frankie drew a huge crowd of Japanese and foreign expat swing enthusiasts for this memorable occasion. Dedicated cruises were organised for his 89th and 90th birthdays. For his birthday dances, he followed his custom of dancing with one woman for every year of his life, partnering 89 and 90 women in succession, respectively.

Frankie Manning is American history in dance shoes.

Born in 1914, in Jacksonville, Florida, he moved with his mother to New York City when he was 3.

The son of an avid dancer, his mother once told him, "you'll never be a dancer - you're too stiff." No one who knows him today would agree: Frankie has inspired generation after generation of swing dancers!

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 Manning was a part of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the most elite competing and performing team in the Big Band era. He was their chief choreographer and created the first ensemble Lindy Hop routine, as well as the first known aerial dance step.

After a tour of duty in WWII, Frankie formed his own dance troupe, the Congaroos. They toured the world opening for jazz legends such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway.

Eventually, the Big Band era was eclipsed by Rock-n-Roll and Frankie left the public life and settled into a career with the US Postal Service. But, in the early 80's, Frankie was rediscovered and brought out of retirement to teach and choreograph; bringing Lindy to a whole new generation of swing dancers!

Today, Frankie travels most every weekend teaching his dance, the Lindy Hop, all over the world.

Frankie's awards include:
Tony Award for Choreography of Broadway show Black'n'Blue (1989)
National Endowment for the Arts Grant for Choreography (1994 & 1995)
National Heritage Fellowship (2000)

In 1943, a cover story of Life magazine hyperbolically proclaimed the Lindy Hop, along with tap dance, to be "America's national dance," and "this country's only native and original dance form." Emerging around 1927 in Harlem, it took its name from the year's major event, the first solo trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh. Into the 1940s, it was synonymous with "swing dance" and "jitterbug." Frankie Manning transformed it in 1935, was its leading choreographer and exponent until he was drafted in1942, and since the mid-1980s has been the central figure of the swing dance revival.

Frankie Manning was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1914 and moved to Harlem at the age of three, growing up with the social dances in vogue at the time. When he was 14, he started playing hooky from his Sunday afternoon church activities to go to the afternoon dances for teenagers at the Alhambra Ballroom, where he first learned the Lindy Hop. He says of his early dance years, "When I was older, I started going to the Renaissance Ballroom. The Alhambra was like elementary school, the Renaissance was high school. And by the time you got on to the Savoy [Ballroom], that was the big time, you was at college." Savoy bouncer Herbert "Whitey" White organized a dance team, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, and in 1934 invited Manning to join. Manning soon became the group's choreographer and introduced synchronized ensemble dancing, a more horizontal dance posture, evoking a sense of wild abandon, and "freeze" steps, in which the dancers would suddenly stop. More importantly, in a dance competition at the Savoy, he premiered his invention, the "aerial," in which he and his partner locked arms back-to-back and he catapulted her in a somersault over him, she landing face-to-face in front of him. His innovations also catapulted Whitey's Lindy Hoppers to fame and professional careers, including appearances at the Alhambra Theater with the Cotton Club Revue of New York. Until he was drafted in 1942, he and the group appeared in the leading venues and with the leading swing bands of the time -- Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and others -- and in dance scenes of movies such as Radio City Revels, A Day at the Races, and the Marx Brothers' Hellzapoppin'. The cover photo of Life featured Frankie Manning and Ann Johnson doing the Congaroo, a combination of the conga and Lindy Hop. Over his career, he would appear with Bill Bojangles Robinson, Josephine Baker, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., and many other popular entertainers. He also consulted on and appeared in the movie Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee.

As the swing dance vogue faded, Manning took a job with the Postal Service, where he worked for 30 years, dancing only socially. His "rediscovery" in the mid-1980s thrust him to the forefront of the swing dance revival. Since then, he has steadily performed and taught both in the U.S. and abroad. He became the choreographer for the New York Swing Dance Society; choreographed shows in London, Sweden, and the U.S.; was profiled on the television program 20/20; and won a Tony Award for his choreography in the Broadway show Black and Blue.

From Harlem's ballrooms at age 13, to the elite Whitey's Lindy Hoppers as dancer and choreographer, Frankie Manning has always been a major force behind the development of the dance that is truly an American art form. He is credited with creating not only the first air step, but also the first ensemble lindy hop routine.

Born in 1914, Frankie lived in Florida until the age of three, at which time his mother brought him to Harlem, the birthplace of the Lindy. Growing up in the midst of this Swing Era playground, Frankie found he was part of a group of dedicated dancers that was to inspire the dancing and music of the 1930s and 1940s.

When he was 13, his mother sent him to the Metropolitan Baptist Church on 129th Street. To get there, he had to pass the Alhambra ballroom on 126th. The Alhambra had big-band dances for youngsters' from 3 to 5 on Sunday afternoons. One Sunday he checked it out and was soon a regular. When he got better he went to the Renaissance Ballroom on 138th St. "We used to have a saying," Frankie says. "When you go to the Alhambra Ballroom. It's like elementary school. When you go from the Alhambra to the Renaissance, you're going to high school. When you go to the Savoy, you're going to college!" It took Frankie a while to get into that college as he was given the hook during the first dance contest he entered at the Lafayette Theatre. But one day he, Frieda Washington, Billy and Willamae Ricker, and a few others decided to go. Whitey soon asked Frankie and his friends to join the lindy Hoppers. Frankie was 15.

At that time the first generation Lindy Hoppers, people like Shorty Snowden and Twist Mouth George, viewed Whitey's crew as upstarts. One day Snowden challenged Whitey to a contest, three of Snowden's couples against three of Whitey's, to be held at the Savoy. Frankie was to dance for Whitey. "Shorty had a step where his partner, Big Bea, would carry him off stage on her back. "I thought I could improve it" Frankie commented " If I'd take the girl and flip her all the way over." He and Frieda worked on the step in secret, and used it during the contest--the first air step, what is now called "Over the Back." It brought the house down, and Whitey's dancers won. A few months later, in the spring of 1936, Frankie developed the first ensemble Lindy dancing for a routine in the Cotton Club show at the Alhambra. The act stopped the show and the dancers were ecstatic. Unfortunately, the act was kicked out; evidently, nobody from outside the Cotton Club show was allowed to stop it.

Frankie Manning and Norma Miller

Based at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, Frankie took his talent on the road as a dancer and chief choreographer for Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. He performed in several films including RADIO CITY REVELS with Ann Miller and George Burns (1937) and HELLZAPOPPIN' with Olsen & Johnson and Martha Raye (1941). He toured the world with jazz greats Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Cab Calloway among others. While dancing in London in 1937, Frankie gave a command performance for King George VI. In 1941, Frankie "Musclehead" Manning was featured in a Life magazine article that chronicled the evolution of the Lindy.

With the onset of World War II, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers disbanded and Frankie joined the Army. After seeing active combat he was released from the military in 1947 and formed his own dance troupe, The Congaroo Dancers. They appeared on The Milton Berle Show, Toast of the Town, and toured with Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Martha Raye, Nat "King" Cole, and Sammy Davis, Jr. As the fifties and rock 'n' roll moved in, Frankie settled down to family life and a day job.

In 1986, with the resurgence of swing dancing, Frankie emerged from his 30-year stint at the Post Office to lead a new breed of jitterbugs. This renewed interest in the lindy hop has set Frankie globetrotting once again, spreading his own brand of dance magic through workshops, lectures, and performances. In 1989, Frankie was profiled on ABC's primetime news program. Producer Alice Pifer said, "Frankie Manning is one of our country's cultural treasures and for too long he did not have full recognition. That's why I felt he warranted a profile on national television."

Also in 1989, Frankie received a Tony Award for Best Choreography in the Broadway hit musical BLACK AND BLUE. The New York Times noted, "Mr. Manning is an-over-the-top choreographer we should see more often. His theatricalization of jitterbug styles is topped with a spectacular anthology of social dancing and tap in the chorus numbers 'Swinging' and 'Wednesday Night Hop'." Frankie returned to Broadway in 1997 as Creative Historic Consultant to choreographer the main Lindy Hop routine for PLAY ON that was otherwised choreographed by Mercedes Ellington .

In 1992, Frankie served as dance consultant for and danced in Spike Lee's film MALCOLM X. With fellow lindy hopper Norma Miller, Frankie choreographed and performed in STOMPIN' AT THE SAVOY, an NBC made-for-television movie directed by Debbie Allen. Since 1988, Frankie has choreographed for numerous dance companies around the world including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Ballroom Theater, Zoots and Spangles (UK), The Rhythm Hot Shots (Sweden), and New York's own Big Apple Lindy Hoppers, for whom Frankie serves as artistic director and chief choreographer.

Among Frankie's many honors are induction into the City Lore People's Hall of Fame (1993), a New York Arts in Education Roundtable Award (1993), an NEA Choreographers' Fellowship Grant (1994), and an NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award (2000). Oxford University Press, recognizing his historical importance, included an article on Frankie, and another on the lindy hop, in their six-volume International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998).

Frankie's eightieth birthday was marked in May, 1994 by CAN'T TOP THE LINDY HOP! a three-day dance celebration in Manhattan attended by over 700 people from eight different countries. New York City's legendary Roseland Ballroom hosted 1700 well-wishers for Frankie's 85th birthday in 1999. Frankie was further honored when a pair of his dance shoes was added to the display case of famous dancers' shoes in the lobby of Roseland.

Frankie's activities have been considered newsworthy since the 1930s. As a prime mover behind the current swing dance revival, the press pays constant attention to his doings. He has been interviewed for scores of magazine and newspaper articles, as well as many documentaries and news programs. Most recently, he was profiled in GQ, People, and was a featured dancer in the PBS special SWINGIN' WITH DUKE.

Frankie is truly a world ambassador of swing dance. His fabulous dancing and radiant smile have served as inspiration to generations of lindy hop enthusiasts, but he modestly claims, "I'm not interested in fame and glory, it's just that I would like others to know what a happy dance this is."

I met Frankie Manning about a year ago at the Chevy Chase Ballroom.

 

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