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Monday, April 27, 2009

In loving memory

Frankie "Musclehead" Manning, Lindy Hop legend and inspiration to swing dancers around the world since the 1930s, passed away this morning at the age of 94. Here's an obituary from the NY Daily News, and one from the Los Angeles Times.

There is so much to say about Frankie... He danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, one of the first integrated ballrooms back in the day... He created the first swing aerial step... He danced in a troupe called Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and performed with them in movies and all over the world... He got to meet the Queen of England on one of these world tours... He was friends with jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway... so much to say, so much to credit...

He choreographed the infamous dance scene in the 1941 film Hellzapoppin', which Lindy Hoppers purchase and watch only for this dance scene. None of us care about the movie! Attempts to re-create it verbatim have been made, but its not yet been done successfully (that I know of). It is absolutely incredible how fast it is. I'm still blown away each time I see it! Frankie is the man in the overalls, the one with the HUGE, glowing smile.

As my BFF put it today in an email, its the "ultimate swing dancing clip of all time." WORD.

The best way to sum up how he inspired me personally is the absolute joy and love he had for the dance. Not the technique, not acquiring a huge list of accolades... just the dance. You can see it that smile of his. The joy, the passion... its at the soul level, y'all. When its at that level, you have no choice. You must dance. The music plays and your soul tells you to move. It is not something easily described through words, but those of us who have it understand. Frankie had it and he inspired me to let mine shine, too. He is an inspiration to all my dancing.

I am so, SO grateful that I have had opportunities to perform for Frankie over the years. He used to travel across the nation to workshops that were put on in his honor and to celebrate his birthday. I got to dance with my swing troupe, the Jumpin' JiveCats, at several of these workshops when he came through Denver. Can I tell you what an honor that was?!? Two years ago, the last time he was in Denver, he came for another workshop as well as to give a lecture and book signing for his recently-published memoir, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop. I attended that lecture and am so glad that I did. He was funny and full of life, and it warmed my heart to hear his story.

Frankie, we love you so, so much. You inspired so many of us over the years, and even though you're now in heaven teaching the saints how to Lindy Hop, you will continue to inspire us down here. Your spirit and legacy and JOY for the Lindy Hop will live on in us. Heavenzapoppin' now, Frankie!


  1. Didn't know this fellow at all. I kn ow a mite or two now, thanks to you. Inspirational.

  2. You can only dance on earth for so long. What a life. I think he too showed us that it is NEVER TOO LATE - as you are, Jessi. After so many years at the post office he picked his dance shoes up and .... went dancing. He inspired so many. His passion for the music and people, movement, dance protocol, community and kindness. I am glad for the few words we exchanged. I remember he told me how important it was to make your follow look so much better than you, to be clear when you lead..and always be kind. We will miss you, Frankie!


  3. Great post, Jessi. It's too bad that he's gone, but you're right, he's in heaven spreading the Lindy Love up there now.

  4. awesome post Jessi bess! Pretty great to be a part of the first truly All American dance!

  5. what a wonderful tribute to this great inspirational talent!! beautiful.

  6. having nothing to do with this post...

    I love your comments ...they always make me laugh out loud!