Book review: Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop
A year ago the legendary lindy hopper Frankie Manning published his autobiography called Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Frankie Manning is one of the most influential dancers in the swing dance history and the story about him and his life was highly anticipated.
Frankie Manning's autobiography is important in several ways:
The personal story of an influential dancer
This is the personal story about one of the most influential lindy hop dancers in the history of swing dancing. Frankie was the first lindy hopper to really use airials (air steps, acrobatic steps) in his dancing and performing. He has had a great career as a dancer both as an innovator in the early years of lindy hop but also as an important person in the revival of the lindy hop in the 1980's.
The evolution of the lindy hop
It is the story how lindy hop and swing dancing evolved in the early day. Lindy hop had already gotten its name (by "Shorty" George Snowden, it's said) when Frankie started dancing and the basic structure was there but it was still very much an evolving dance. Frankie Manning tell us about how dance concepts, that now are commonplace, were developed. One of those concepts is the twisting in the swingout by the ladies.
Growing up in the swing era
The book tells about how it was to grow up and live in the swing era. Many dancers today are very curious about what life was like in the swing era and it's great to get a first hand account of the life style of a dancer hanging out in the ballrooms in New York in the 1930's.
You also get to know a little bit more about the other great dancers that lived then. Since most of them didn't participate in the swing revival in the 1980's, they have been partly forgotten about but in this book they get their credit. You get more background information about the dancers you've only seen in movie clips.
A dancer's perspective of the entertainment industry
Most of the books that has been written about entertainment industry in the swing era have focused on the bands, the musicians and the singers. Therefore it's refreshing to have a new perspective, a dancer's perspective, on the entertainment industry during the 1930s-1950s.
You get the insider story about what went on behind the scenes in the filming of Hellzapoppin. You'll get the stories about preparing for the performances on stage and the tours with the dance groups Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and The Congaroos.
Frankie Manning provides some new stories about the big stars and performers of that time, such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Billy Holiday.
Dealing with segregation
There is also a theme in the book about segregation and how people (and Frankie in particular) dealt with it. The famous Savoy ballroom where Frankie spent most of his time dancing was integrated but a lot of places weren't. He talks about segregation during his tours in the south of USA and during his time in the army during World War II.
Facts about the dances and the era
Cynthia R. Millman is the co-author of the book and and most of the stories in the book comes from interviews and talks she has had with Frankie. Besides being the person putting the book together she also contributes some texts of her own in the book. She has written fact pages inserted here and there that presents facts about related dances and phenomenons like Charleston, Big Apple, breaks (in the music) or the Cats' Corner.
My thoughts about the book
I think this is an important book for anyone who is interested in lindy hop or the swing era. I've heard Frankie Manning's stories when he have visited the Herräng Dance Camp and it's nice to have them collected in written form. Not much is written about social dancing and I think it is important that Frankie's stories are written down so that they don't get altered when being retold.
I find the book pretty complete but I would have liked more information about his experiences during the swing revival in the 1980's and 1990's.
Anyone who have met Frankie Manning can tell you that his smile and his laugh is infectious. I think his positive attitude really comes across in the book.
If you're a lindy hopper, you should own this book!
Table of contents of the book
My interview with Cyntia R. Millman
All blog posts about Frankie Manning.
Another review of the book by JazzReview
Have you read "Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop"? What do you think about the autobiography? Tell me.
Thanks to Cynthia R. Millman and Temple University Press for providing me with a copy of the book.