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by Elizabeth Nolan Brown, AARP Bulletin, October 11, 2007
Update: Manning died April 27, 2009, a month shy of his 95th birthday.
It's probably safe to call Frankie Manning the swingingist cat in AARP.
The 93-year-old entertainer became a dance legend pioneering tricky aerial moves while performing Lindy Hop at Harlem's renowned Savoy Ballroom in the 1930s. As a lead dancer and choreographer with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, he danced a command performance for King George VI, appeared in numerous Hollywood films (including 1941's Oscar-nominated Hellzapoppin') and toured with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
After serving in the military during WWII, Manning formed his own troupe, the Congaroo Dancers, and toured with Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Nat "King" Cole, and Sammy Davis Jr. But when big band music fell out of fashion in the 1950s, Manning "retired" from swing and took a job in the post office, where he worked for 30 years.
After settling down and raising a family, Manning was "rediscovered" in New York in the 1980s. Before long, he was touring the world, teaching lindy hop to a new generation of dancers. In 1989, he won a Tony Award for his choreography in the Broadway hit Black and Blue, and since then has been a dance consultant and choreographer for numerous plays, films and dance companies.
Today, Manning continues to spread the gospel of Lindy Hop by holding workshops and giving lectures all over the world. His 2007 workshop schedule is available on Savoystyle.com.
Manning's autobiography, Ambassador of Lindy Hop, was published in spring 2007. Co-authored by Cynthia R. Millman, the book showcases the style, substance and spectacle of the Swing Era as seen uniquely through Manning's eyes.
Doug Van Sant, AARP Bulletin Online content producer (himself a Lindy Hop enthusiast), attended Frankie’s annual Washington, D.C., Gottaswing workshop and managed to snag a few minutes of Q&A; between dance steps. Check out our exclusive video to witness some of Manning’s workshop and hear him speak about his extraordinary life, the glory days of swing and which jazz legend was "like a sister" to him.
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