Monday, May 25, 2009

Frankie Manning

Frankie died on April 28th, just a few weeks shy of his big 95th birthday celebration in New York that occurred this weekend. Above, arguably the greatest swing dance routine ever filmed. He choreographed the routine and appears in it (he's the dancer in the overalls). I'd love to figure out a way to make him an honorary KVer. Maybe if I turn up an early KVer who was part of the 1930's swing dance craze and met him at the Savoy ? An excerpt from an article about him from the nytimes from this past
Honoring the Man Who Helped Make the Lindy Hop, By GLENN COLLINS
“A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do.”
And they certainly did: they danced the Lindy hop, and danced again. Right there in the sacred aisles of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. They were incited by a series of speakers who repeated this signature catch phrase of the dance legend Frankie Manning during a rollicking three-hour memorial service in his honor Friday, attended by 1,400 Lindy-crazed acolytes who had journeyed there from 33 countries.
Then the celebrants erupted through the church doors onto Fifth Avenue in a New Orleans-style processional — clapping, dancing and sporting umbrellas in the May sun as they were led by a jazz band in singing “Down by the Riverside” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” They ended up, still sashaying, by the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park for an afternoon of Lindy competitions.
The memorial was the centerpiece of a five-day celebration of the life of Mr. Manning, who died in April at the age of 94. A proselytizer, teacher and choreographer, Mr. Manning was called the Ambassador of the Lindy Hop and the Master of Swing. He went from the Depression-era Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to Hollywood and Broadway, where he shared a Tony Award in 1989 for best choreography in “Black and Blue.”
“Frankie was the living symbol of the Lindy hop,” said Marv Kellerman, 62, a retired teacher from Kenosha, Wis., who arrived Thursday for the events with a clutch of avid Lindy hoppers from America’s Dairyland.
Mr. Manning was nicknamed “Musclehead” for his powerfully quick acrobatic style, as he hurled his swing partners through show-stopping athletic sequences — and sometimes through space, in what was called his “aerial” or “air step.” Mr. Manning appeared in such Hollywood musicals as “Radio City Revels” (1938) and “Hellzapoppin’ ” (1941), before serving in the Army in World War II.....
After the Lindy craze crashed, Mr. Manning found employment as a post office clerk. But by the time he retired in 1986, a new generation of American and European enthusiasts had rediscovered not only the Lindy, but also Mr. Manning.
He soon became a dapper, charismatic Pied Piper of the Lindy, which he described as “a series of three-minute romances,” insisting that it was a social leveler that swept aside ethnic, class and gender traditions. Many said Mr. Manning’s stamina hardly attenuated with age. “The first time you saw him, he appeared to be an old man,” recalled Silvia Palazzolo, 35, an accountant from Genoa, Italy. “Then the music started and he was 18 years old.”
In 1999, Mr. Manning danced with 85 successive partners at the Roseland Ballroom to celebrate his 85th birthday. It was satisfying, said Alan Sugarman, a producer of that event, since in 1935 Mr. Manning had been excluded from the hall because he was black.. “In 1999, Roseland apologized and put Frankie’s dance shoes on their wall of fame,” he said. During the balmy afternoon Lindy hoppers at the bandshell partied on, continuing the five-day celebration, featuring 15 bands and some 70 events.

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