Last Friday evening I attended a Lindy Hop on the Rock birthday celebration for Frankie Manning, who is considered to be the founder of the Lindy Hop dance style. Manning passed in 2009 at age 94. He quite literally sprang to fame with aerial moves introduced into a more traditional, but still amazing, swing style dance. Frankie introduced some of the rolls and flips, those big, dramatic moves that require confidence and trust of both lead and follow, that wow an audience.
To celebrate the occasion the Lindy Hoppers declared it a hat party. We were all invited to wear a hat with our favourite swing outfit. I wore a sapphire blue dress with a full skirt that flairs out on the spins, and wore a wide brimmed black hat with a leopard band; I brought along my blue feathered boa for good measure. When I walked up to the bus stop I spotted a man in a black fedora who said with pleasure in his voice, "I know where you're going."
Admission to the party was a paltry $3, affordable to all. The only beverage served was ice water. But we had balloons and a dance filled agenda. One organizer had devised fun-filled facts about Frankie Manning. Another had learned Frankie's signature moves to teach us, while another had recorded Frankie's favorite tunes for us to dance to. We danced, we laughed and virtually melted with sweat. As a diversion, one Lindy hopper had brought along a collection of vintage hats for us to try on. I found a fascinator with huge blue flowers to match my dress.
In preparation for the evening, I looked up Frankie Manning and was fascinated to read about the rent parties that African Americans held in Harlem to literally raise rent money. This was the casual setting for live music and memorable dancing and where Frankie at age three saw his first swing dancing. It would have been 1917. I learned about the only integrated ballroom at the Savoy where both races could dance everything from a waltz to the Charleston. That dance floor featured Kat's Corner where the serious dancers would compete and where Frankie distinguished himself with the "air step".
My father used to swing dance and described himself as a "jitterbugger". As a little girl I watched him compete and bring home trophies from Bellmont Park. At home, I would dance with him and he would swoop me between his legs and throw me in the air. It gives me joy to swing dance now, although less dramatically. One my favourite group dances is the "shim sham" and I can "sugar push" all night long.
On his 80th birthday, Frankie Manning danced with 80 partners–now that's a goal I can aspire to.