Honouring Frankie Manning’s Enduring Legacy with World Lindy Hop Day.

Mary-Anne SlezacekNews

On May 26th, swing dancers around the globe come together to celebrate Frankie Manning’s birthday and World Lindy Hop Day. I can’t think of anything more joyous than the entire world dancing together in a collective homage to the rich history, vibrant culture, and enduring fun of the Lindy Hop. It’s undergone some change and transformation since it first tore up the Harlem dance floors in the 1920s, but we swing enthusiasts will always revere Lindy Hop’s heritage and the pioneers who made it what it is today. That’s why, at the centre of World Lindy Hop Day is Frankie Manning, a true luminary whose contributions continue to shape and inspire the Lindy Hop community.

The Origins and Significance of World Lindy Hop Day.

While we are hopping around the floor in Cape Town, thousands of dancers are swinging out all over the world. It’s incredible to think that you can find a swing community in the most unlikely corners of the globe and be welcomed with open arms.

Swing dance found its beginnings in the ballrooms of Harlem, New York, where people of all kinds of backgrounds would gather to spend their evenings socialising and dancing to live bands. Initially, black American-derived jazz dancing (including Charleston and Lindy Hop) was rather a niche, with the best dancers tearing up the floor in the “cats’ corner.” It didn’t take long, however, for these dances to burst into mainstream popular culture, much to the horror of conservative folk who preferred the more sedate square dances and foxtrots. Hit routines like The Big Apple catapulted Lindy Hop’s popularity, and by the 1930s, young Americans were boogying without inhibition all over the country.

Over the years, it has crossed oceans and borders. Nowadays, Lindy Hop is hugely popular in Europe, Asia, Australia, and even in some parts of Africa like Egypt and Mozambique. (I recently found out about Afro Swing in Maputo, which seeks to bring Lindy Hop back to its African roots and fuse it with African moves and percussion. Amazing!) Here in Cape Town, we treasure our swing scene and love to welcome visiting international dancers.

World Lindy Hop Day emerged as a testament to this global reach. It’s an opportunity to bring dancers together, regardless of geographical boundaries.

Frankie Manning: A Pioneer Who Shaped the Lindy Hop.

What would a social dance be without Frankie’s Sixes? We all love this combination of six-count moves, which allows for creativity and great lead-follow communication. Frankie Manning brought so much to the dance floor and played a pivotal role in shaping and popularising Lindy Hop. As a dancer, choreographer, and innovator, he introduced new moves, elevated the artistry of Lindy Hop, and helped transform it into a globally beloved dance style. Frankie’s contributions have been instrumental in keeping the Lindy Hop spirit alive.

“Frankie Mannning was the embassador of Lindy hop. There’s never going to be another Frankie Manning”

Dawn Hampton, dancer and musician. (Frankie Manning Tribute Video)

Frankie Manning’s influence on the Lindy Hop community cannot be overstated. Along with other “elders” of the Swing Era, he remains beloved by swing dancers around the world thanks to his showmanship and innovative choreography and his generous spirit in sharing his love of the dance. It could be said that without his contributions, Lindy Hop might not have become the national craze that it was and thus may not have hit the rest of the world with quite the same bang.

Celebrating Frankie Manning’s Enduring Legacy.

Lindy Hop is not just about “the moves”. There is a huge emphasis on community and inclusivity, as well as preserving the dance, the music, and the history. During a socially turbulent time of racial segregation, depression, and inter-war tension, Frankie Manning endeavored to bring humans together through dance.

“Politicians from all over the world should dig this wonderful scene to see how well everyone gets along on the dancefloor.”

Frankie Manning.

These are the core values of Lindy Hop, according to the Frankie Manning Foundation:

  • Having fun dancing the Lindy Hop
  • Historic authenticity in Lindy Hop dancing and music
  • Improvisation and continued innovation
  • A close relationship between the music and the dance
  • Maintaining a true community among dancers
  • Mutual respect and cooperation
  • Inclusivity (diverse backgrounds: geographic, ethnic, socio-economic, age, ability, LGBTQ, gender roles, etc.)
  • Outreach and welcome to newcomers
  • Excellence, which can be encouraged through friendly competition

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, of which Frankie was an integral member, was a dance troupe that emerged during the heyday of the Lindy Hop in the 1930s and 1940s and was known for their unparalleled talent, captivating performances, and groundbreaking choreography. They brought Lindy Hop to the forefront of popular culture, captivating audiences with their infectious energy, innovative moves, and seamless synchronisation. But the troupe also played a significant role in breaking racial barriers and spreading the joy of Lindy Hop across the United States and beyond. In a short documentary on YouTube by Swing Bud, Frankie talks about Herbert “Whitey” White’s vision to spread the Lindy hop around the world, “it didn’t matter whether they was white, black, green, yellow, it didn’t matter as long as you could dance. But that was the idea: to get everyone involved in the dance”. This is a vision that Frankie continued, and we endeavor to keep it alive to this day.

More than just a dance.

Dance is a wonderful, joyous thing, and partnered dancing gives us beautiful moments of connection with other humans. Lindy Hop is special because of its playfulness and creativity. Unconstrained by set patterns and rigid framework, it transcends mere movement and becomes a game—often a joke between two people who want to have fun on the dance floor.

Something that so many of us at Cape Town Swing have discussed is the uniting power of the dance. We go to socials not only to dance but also to see friends and mess around playing “lead-follow-switch,” “snowballs,” and “steal jams.” We are brought together by a shared love of something so jolly. I’ve laughed so much at socials, but I also pay attention to and try to commit to muscle memory every new move that’s thrown at me to enrich the next experience for both myself and my partners. I cherish the friendships I’ve made through swing dance and bask in the warmth of a social that embraces both regulars and newcomers alike. This seems to be a common trend around the globe; community is key. As Frankie Manning himself said, “I’ve never seen a Lindy Hopper who wasn’t smiling. It’s a happy dance. It makes you feel good.”

Let’s celebrate!

World Lindy Hop Day celebrates the vibrant Lindy Hop community worldwide and pays homage to Frankie Manning’s incredible legacy. It’s a time to revel in the spirit of joy, connection, and cultural exchange that Lindy Hop embodies.

Cape Town Swing will celebrate this special day in style with a party at Truth Coffee. We all love dancing to a live band, and we’re so fortunate to be able to swing out to the fabulous Blue Shoes Swingtet on Friday, May 26th. See you on the dancefloor!

Frankie Manning in Hellsapoppin’ 1941

About the Author

Mary-Anne Slezacek