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Frankie Manning’s Rise to the Top

August 2nd, 2015

Frankie Manning began dancing as a teen in Harlem at the Alhambra Ballroom listening to the music of Vernon Andrade. From here he began dancing at the Renaissance Ballroom that offered evening dances for teens that were a bit older to the swing music of Claude Hopkins Orchestra. Before long, he made his way to the famous Savoy Ballroom, which was known for the best bands and swing dancers in all of Harlem.

He won several of the Saturday night dance competitions. After his huge showing, he was invited to join the 400 Club. 400 Club members were given the privilege of practicing during the daytime. Frankie had a few idols at the Savoy Ballroom from the first-generation swing dancers including Leroy Stretch Jones and George Shorty Snowden. Frankie had to work very hard and create his own style of the Lindy Hop if he wanted to beat these old timers at dance competitions. The move that finally gave him his chance to beat Shorty came from inspiration from Shorty himself. Shorty and his partner Big Bea always added a bit of comedy to their routine. Shorty was only 5 feet tall and Big Bea towered over him. At the end of the dance competition, Big Bea would carry Shorty from the stage. The first Lindy air-step was created by Frankie starting his dance with his partner on this back and flipping her over his head and her landing on the ground. This move put Frankie at the top of the dancers that evening and he went on to more glory.

Frankie joined Whitley’s Lindy Hoppers in 1935 and soon became the chief choreographer due to his gift of creating high energy dance movement patterns. If you want to see Frankie Manning in action, you can check out a few of the movies in which there are clips of his unique swing dance moves including the Lindy Hop. The movies include the 1937 production of Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, Keep Punching produced in 1938, Hellzapoppin’ produced in 1941, Hot Chocolates in 1941, Radio City Revels in the 1930’s, Killer Diller produced in 1948, Malcolm X in 1992, and Stomping at the Savoy in 1993.