Preserving Frankie’s Legacy

The Frankie Manning Foundation is exploring different ways to preserve Frankie’s legacy for future generations.  For example, we are working on building archives of Frankie’s memorabilia and his videos that can be accessible to all. 

But the MOST IMPORTANT PRESERVATIONISTS are the dancers who learned directly from Frankie and were inspired to pass on his dance and his story to others. In this article, Ramona Staffeld, who was a friend and student of Frankie’s from her early teens, tells about a class that she taught with Peter Strom…

by Ramona Staffeld

Last year at Lindy Fest in Houston, Texas, Peter Strom and I taught a tribute class to Frankie Manning. In a way I like to think that all my classes are tributes to Frankie, but this was titled as such. The level was intermediate as I recall. This class stays with me even today, I mean the feeling we found together. Using the swing-out as a base, we proceeded to explore what swing is by listening to what it is not. We started by taking time to hear and identify straight rhythms, and we made sure everyone was with us before me moved on. Next, we investigated what type of movement made the most sense to a straight, non-swinging song. We noticed what happened to the pulse (it went away) and our posture in general became more upright. Our class discovered that swinging out to non-swing songs was possible, and even satisfying, if they didn’t fight the music by trying to pulse to something that wasn’t there to begin with. In that way, their dancing and the music were in sync. Their movement had the right feel as the picture of what they were hearing.

For contrast, we then had everyone force a pulse and try to swing to a straight song. Going against the music was clearly not a good option, everyone could feel that. Mission accomplished! We had now arrived at the turning point. After maybe half an hour or more of straight songs, we played a really swingin’ track ( shiny stockings maybe) and everyone breathed a sigh of relief and familiarity. Again to learn through experience, we had them dance straight (without a pulse) to that really swingin’ tune. I can honestly say that for everyone in the room it was like nails on a chalk board! By understanding in their bodies what swing rhythm was not, they found what it was. I’m getting chills now thinking about it. Around the room I saw a transformation in motivation. Our students were swinging their rhythm and carrying the pulse with them not because a teacher told them to but because it made the most sense, it felt right. They were dancing with the music, with their partner, and with spirit. All the ducks were lined up and it looked fantastic. This to me is Frankie’s legacy. Feeling the rhythm and having a sense of timing in a swinging way is Frankie. Honestly, I know that when you are freed by the rhythm, then you can give your attention to your partner and the music. The worries of the mind disappear, you dance.

So once again, it all comes back to the music. It’s the music that gets us out on the dance floor, and music creates the atmosphere we’re drawn to. I’ve been thinking a lot about how what we play in class is just as important as the movements or ideas we are passing on. When we teach about Frankie, it’s not just points or hop scotch, it’s music with a certain quality. Music is not something you read about to understand, it’s something you experience. At least from a dancers prospective. Frankie’s Legacy is in the music we play and how we as teachers respond to it.

I am thankful beyond words to have had Frankie as one of my first teachers. Not only was I new to the dance, but new to the world. I was young ( just 11) when I started. Swing music and dance, the lindy hop, became most of my identity. It’s who I was and am now. Truthfully, we can only teach about what we have experienced. If you never met Frankie, you can meet him through his favorite songs, steps, and of course the wonderful footage such as Hellzapoppin. Just have a chat with someone who experienced Frankie you’ll see a light in their eyes and a smile for days. I have so much to celebrate, so much dancing to do, and there is no way I’m going to keep it to myself. Let’s dance.

Read the Korean translation here