Monday, April 27, 2009

"If I had to do it all over again, I would do it."

This entire morning has been filled with the news that Frankie Manning, the Ambassador of Lindy Hop, has died. Credited with creating the first air steps of the dance, his legacy is far more than can be described in a short missive.

This clip dates back to the 1980s, I think.

This was surely one of the first things I watched in my own Lindy Hop education. Since then, a generation of dancers have been gifted with his inspiration.

I remember the moment I first saw the flyer for the Harvest Moon Swingout in 1997. I had learned East Coast Swing a month before and had planned to delay learning Lindy Hop for another few months. Then I saw the flyer at one of the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association Saturday dances. Frankie Manning would be teaching Lindy Hop the following weekend! I hadn't learned the step yet, but the common thought at the time was that it was nearly impossible to learn. So I bought the Frankie Manning/Erin Stephens instructional video and got to learning on Sunday. Then I took Erik and Sylvia's Lindy Hop class at The Derby on Monday and worked on the basic step for the rest of the week.

By the time I got to the class on the following Saturday, I hesitantly joined Frankie's beginning level class. I really didn't have an idea of what to expect from the man. This was in the days before YouTube. I thought he would be an old white guy, and I might have been intimidated by the mere idea of him. In class I warned my partners that I had only started learning the dance the week before. Most were pleasant, if not a little put off by my warning. They were patient with me and perhaps surprised by my progress.

Wow! The man at the head of class had this joyful timbre in his voice, like he was on the verge of spilling his laughter over the crowd! He was absolutely not the scary white man that I had imagined. Frankie Manning had an excitement during that class that surely carried over into the way I feel about the dance today. Hundreds of dancers in the room were with him that day and I'm convinced that was merely a drop in the bucket.

That night at the dance, they played the first Lindy Hop clips I ever saw, including Hot Chocolates, still reversed in soundie form. In the film, Frankie was the man wearing the overcoat. It was that night that I first began my quest to find more dance footage, years of wandering through obscure video stores and wading through films and catalogues to find the merest glimpse of Lindy Hop.

If anything could be said about that week, I learned that Lindy Hop wasn't impossible after all. Lindy Hop could be as easy as walking, only filled with exuberance, replete with joy!

So Frankie Manning, I thank you many times over for the love you shared, not just in the dance but in life. You have meant so much to so many people. For me, your laughter lives on in my own teaching. Your joy will live on in the generations to come!

1 comment:

Leslie Goodbar said...

"Spilling over in laughter" is such an eloquent way of describing this man's enthusiasm and love of lindy.