Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
JAZZ A Film By Ken Burns
Places, Spaces and Changing Faces
Jazz Lounge
Jazz in Time
Behind the Beat
Jazz Exchange
About the Show
Related Links
Jazz Near You
Shop Jazz
Jazz Links
Jazz Cards
Miles Davis circa 1955; Duke Ellington; Louis Armstrong; Cover of Sheet Music by Fats Waller
BiographiesSelected Artist Biography
Biographies, Life and times of the great ones Billie Holiday in Performance 1948; Benny Goodman 1936; Art Blakey at the Open Door in NYC; Awning of Village Vanguard 1960's
Frankie Manning

by Judy Pritchett (

(1914 - ) Dancer and Choreographer

Audio Feature Frankie Manning, dancer
The evolution of the Lindy Hop
(Audio Excerpt from JAZZ A Film by Ken Burns)

No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning. As a dancer, innovator, and choreographer, he has been an unofficial "Ambassador of Lindy Hop," spreading its popularity through three continents while touring with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in the 1930s and 40s, and again teaching, choreographing, and performing in the Lindy Hop revival of the 1980s and '90s.

Manning started dancing in his early teens at a Sunday afternoon dance at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem to the music of Vernon Andrade. From there he moved to the Rennaissance Ballroom, which had an early evening dance for older teens with the live swing music of the Claude Hopkins Orchestra. Finally, Manning "graduated" to the Savoy Ballroom, which was known for its great dancers and bands. Manning, competitive and gifted, became a star in the informal jams in the "Kat's Korner" of the Savoy and frequently won the Saturday night contests. He was invited to join the elite 400 Club, whose members could come to the Savoy Ballroom during daytime hours to practice alongside the bands that were booked there.
Audio Feature Frankie Manning, dancer
Joyful memories of the Savoy Ballroom
(Audio Excerpt from JAZZ A Film by Ken Burns)

Manning was inspired by first-generation Lindy Hoppers George "Shorty" Snowden and Leroy "Stretch" Jones. However, in order to beat these two great dancers in the intense competitions held at the Savoy Ballroom, he developed his own unique style, and his dancing stood out for its unerring musicality. Fast on his feet and with a keen ear, Manning gave physical expression to the beat, the feel, and the excitement of the swing sound played by the great big bands. He is responsible for many innovations of Lindy Hop step and style, including dancing at a sharp angle to the ground like a track-runner, instead of in the upright, stiff ballroom position of his predecessors. In a famous competition, Manning astonished the crowd of 2000 with the first Lindy aerial step ever done.

In 1935, when Herbert White brought together the top Savoy Ballroom Dancers into a professional performance group to be called Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Manning created the first ensemble Lindy Hop routines. This gave him an opportunity to expand upon his gift for transforming the swing music into exciting dance-movement patterns. When Whitey's Lindy Hoppers were in their heyday, Manning was the chief choreographer, serving as what we today would call artistic director, while Whitey was business manager.

He has toured with jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and others. He performed in several films, including Everybody Sings with Judy Garland and Hellzapoppin'. More recently, he was the dance consultant for and danced in Spike Lee's film Malcolm X. Frankie's fabulous dancing and radiant smile have inspired generations of Lindy Hop enthusiasts, but he modestly claims, "I'm not interested in fame and glory. It's just that I would like others to know what a happy dance this is."

Manning's eightieth birthday, celebrated in New York City with an event called "Can't Top the Lindy Hop!" and attended by top-notch Lindy Hoppers from around the world, honored both the man and the dance. His birthday dance "with eighty women" showed everyone that both Manning and the Lindy Hop are unflagging in vitality after all these years.