Manning, Frankie 1914–

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Manning, Frankie 1914–

(Frankie Benjamin Manning)


Born May 25, 1914, in Jacksonville, FL; married Gloria Holloway (a nurse); children: three (one from a previous relationship).


E-mail—[email protected]


Dancer, choreographer, and writer. Was a leading dancer at Savoy Ballroom, Harlem, NY, mid-1930s to early 1940s; featured dancer and chief choreographer for Whitey's Lindy Hoppers; performed in films, including Hellzapoppin', Radio City Revels, Keep Punching, Killer Diller, Malcolm X, and the television film Stompin' at the Savoy; entertained on stages around the world. Worked for the U.S. Postal Service for thirty years, c. 1950s-1980s. Also appears in documentaries, including Swingin' at the Savoy: Frankie Manning's Story, Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns, Swingin's with Duke, and Call of the Jitterbug. Former member of the board of directors of the New York Swing Dance Society.


Tony Award for best choreography, American Theatre Wing, 1989, for Black and Blue; U.S. Swing Dance Council Hall of Fame, 1992; City Lore People's Hall of Fame, 1993; New York City Arts in Education Roundtable Award, 1993; National Endowment for the Arts Choreographers' Fellowship, 1994; National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, 2000.


(With Cynthia R. Millman) Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop (autobiography), Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2007.

Contributor to the 1995 Neptune Plaza Concert Series Collection, sponsored by the American Folklife Center, recordings and manuscripts on file at the Library of Congress.


Frankie Manning made a name for himself as a swing dancer at the legendary Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. While dancing there in the mid-1930s, he introduced innovations to the dance known as the Lindy hop, including the Lindy air step and the synchronized ensemble Lindy routine. Manning performed around the world with many jazz legends, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. He also appeared in films. He is especially noted for inventing the "air step" move for the Lindy hop, the first of which was a back-to-back flip between partners. "No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning—as a dancer, innovator and choreographer," noted the writer of a profile of Manning on "For much of his lifetime he has been an unofficial Ambassador of Lindy Hop."

After working for almost thirty years in the U.S. Postal Service starting in the 1950s, Manning returned to show business in the 1980s when swing dancing made a resurgence in the mid-1980s. Since then he has gone on to teach, win a Tony Award, and receive two national fellowships. In his autobiography, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, written with Cynthia R. Millman, Manning recounts his life and long career, from the time his mother told him he would never be a dancer on through to his resurgent career. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Manning and his mother moved to Harlem in New York City when Manning was three years old. Discussing his youth, the author noted in an interview in People: "I didn't know I was poor. I always had shoes on my feet, food to eat and clothes on my back." The author also commented: "I used to go to parties with my mother and watch her dance. I guess that's where I get my instincts."

In the book, Manning and Millman recount how Manning's first years of dancing as a teenager began at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem. He then began dancing at the Rennaissance Ballroom, which featured a dance night for older teens to dance to live swing music. Eventually, Manning began dancing at the Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. At the Savoy, Manning showed his competitiveness and gifts as a dancer as he became known for his dancing in informal jams, winning many of the Saturday night contests. He made his next big step when he was given the chance to join the Savoy dancers, an elite group of dancers who could use the Savoy's facilities during the day to practice. It was at the Savoy that Manning first introduced the air step. Eventually Manning's gifts led to work as chief choreographer and a lead dancer for White's Lindy Hoppers, which appeared on Broadway, in film, and on stages around the world. With his coauthor, Manning describes the Swing Era vividly, from Lindy hoppers' dance floor competitions to the popularity of the dance around the world.

Manning also recalls not only the jazz legends he worked with but also many of the uncelebrated dancers he encountered in ballrooms and shared the stage with over the years. On the historical side of dancing, the book traces the evolution of swing dancing from the 1920s on through the post-World War II period until rock 'n' roll came along and replaced swing and jazz music as the popular music of youth. While Manning would spend three decades working at a post office, he eventually returned to a career as a choreographer and dance teacher in the mid-1980s. Writing in the book, Manning and coauthor Millman recall: "For me this whole revival has been as if a door opened and I walked into a place where the sun is always shining and the flowers are always blooming. It makes me feel so light, so exhilarated. I've had such a wonderful life—I know it—and I feel like I owe it all to Lindy hoppers around the world. That's where I get my energy. More than anything else, that's what keeps me going." The author continued: "When I reflect back on all my years, and I'm older than dirt, I'm kind of proud of the contributions I made to the Lindy hop, like the air step, ensemble dancing, and bending forward." However, the author also noted: "But I have to say that the thing I'm happiest about is my role in helping to get the Lindy hop going again."

As for the book, Manning and Millman received good reviews. A Publishers Weekly contributor, for example, called Manning's autobiography a "vivid memoir by one of swing dancing's innovators and stars," adding that it "is a must for lovers of dance, jazz and African-American history." In a 2007 interview on the Swing, Jazz and Blues—Dance to the Music Web site, Manning's coauthor Millman described Manning this way: "Today, at ninety-three, Frankie has a packed teaching schedule and travels constantly to share with others the joy that swing dancing has brought him. An inspiration to us all, Frankie is as beloved for his marvelous personality as he is for his vital role in American dance history."



Manning, Frankie, with Cynthia R. Millman, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2007.


Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2007, Clarence V. Reynolds, review of Frankie Manning, p. 15.

Booklist, February 15, 1996, Irene Wood, "Savoy Style Lindy Hop: Learn to Dance with Frankie Manning," p. 1032; February 15, 1996, Irene Wood, "Swingin' at the Savoy: Frankie Manning's Story," p. 1032.

Choice, December 1, 2007, T.F. DeFrantz, review of Frankie Manning, p. 642.

GQ, December, 1998, Elizabeth Gilbert, "Gotta Dance!," author profile, p. 262.

Jet, June 19, 1995, "81-yr.-Old Dancer Thrills Crowd at Library of Congress," p. 38.

Library Journal, May 15, 1997, Carla McLean, "Savoy-Style Lindy Hop," p. 114; May 15, 1997, Carla McLean, "Swingin' at the Savoy: Frankie Manning's Story," p. 114; April 1, 2007, Barbara Kundanis, review of Frankie Manning, p. 94.

Nation, February 27, 1989, Thomas M. Disch, "Black and Blue," p. 281.

New York Times, June 11, 1989, Anna Kisselgoff, "Black and Blue," p. 13; October 3, 1990, Anna Kisselgoff, "Bal Swing, Harlem Annees 30-40," p. 13; May 31, 1994, Jennifer Dunning, "New York Swing Dance Society," p. 16; February 25, 2001, Amy Waldman, "Dancer Tries to Save Site of First Hesitant Steps," p. 24.

People, July 12, 1999, "Swing Man: The Dance Style That Went around Comes around Again for Frankie Manning," p. 150.

Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2007, review of Frankie Manning, p. 80.

Seattle Times, August 17, 2007, "Young and Old Cutting a Rug at City Hall."


Frankie Manning Home Page, (April 18, 2008).

Jazz, (April 18, 2008), Dan Kassell, review of Frankie Manning., (April 18, 2008), Carroll L. Johnson, "Frankie Manning, Our Hero!," author profile.

National Endowment for the Arts Web site, (April 18, 2008), profile of author., (April 18, 2008), profile of author.

Swing, Jazz and Blue—Dance to the Music, (May 17, 2007), Henrik Eriksson, "Interview: Cynthia Millman: Co-Author of Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop," author profile., (January 26, 1999), "Get that Swing Live," author interview.


Jazz Oral History Project, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, July 22-23, 1992, Robert P. Crease, "The Swing Era," interview with Frankie Manning.

Weekend Edition Saturday (broadcast transcript), August 11, 2001, "Interview: Frankie Manning Recalls the Invention of a Dance Step for the Lindy Hop."

[Sketch reviewed by coauthor Cynthia Millman.]

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