It shouldn’t be so hard to catch up with Frankie Manning. The man turns 85 this month, but like that damn battery bunny he just won’t stop. First he’s teaching in England, then in Hawaii. Finally I corner him in a changing room at Dance Space, where, dropping his pants, he reveals the secret to the lindy hop, the swing sensation he led 70 years ago at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. “The most important thing to re member is that you have a partner, that you’re not out there by yourself. My philosophy is: let the woman shine.”
Manning toasts his birthday May 26 with a five-hour gala at the Roseland Ballroom featuring the Count Basie Orchestra, George Gee’s Make-Believe Ballroom Orchestra, and 2000 lindy buffs from around the globe. The style arose in the late ’20s and takes its name from a Charles Lindbergh head line: “Lindy Hops the Atlantic.” The International Encyclopedia of Dance credits Manning with “a number of steps and important stylistic and choreographic innovations.” One came as he backed up to a girl, locked arms, and flipped her over his head—the first of many dazzling “air steps” done in time to music.
When swing was no longer king, he spent 30 anonymous years at the U.S. Postal Service. Eventually someone tracked him down. With the resurgence of swing, he now teaches nonstop. I ask about the Gap ad. He buries his big, bald head in his hands and laughs. Then, in falsetto:
“I thought it was pretty good.” More laughter. “Really, I would rather not say ’cause I don’t think you can print it. They were trying to do a bunch of air steps that weren’t executed too well….And it was not rhythmic at all.”
Earlier, in class, students shuffled toward each other with hips wiggling. To his eye they looked chaste, so he showed them some proper pelvis pumping. “Like this, fellas. You gotta give her something to be thankful for.”
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