Afterthoughts from Frankie100

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

Between May 22nd and 26th, 2014, one of the biggest events for years as to so-called ‘Swing Dance’ scene was organized in New York. The event obviously gathered about 2,000-3,000 enthusiasts at least from 47 different countries. The late Frankie Manning had passed five years ago, only one month before his 95th birthday which also was celebrated in New York in May 2009.

After asking about opinions of the latter, Frankie100 event, the general tenor has been that the event was well-organized. Both Old Timers and newcomers of the scene have stressed that. The obvious purpose of the event was to bring together different parties in the name of celebration of the man who has been claimed to contribute so much to the “Swing Dance” scene during decades. Even The New York Times published an article on May 24th, 2014, where the picture label stated, “The Festival is named for Frankie Manning, a Lindy Hop creator”. Indeed, in the main text of the article, it is stated more modestly that Manning was only “one of its early creators”. It should be noted that Manning never claimed, at least, in public that he was the creator of The Lindy Hop. Also all existing evidence does not support this.

According to the article, “[t]he look of the original Lindy Hoppers did not last into the 1950s and 1960s, and its popularity faded”. Thus, the article gives the picture that during the 1950s and the 1960s there was not at least originality in The Lindy Hop or even The Lindy Hop at all.

The article talks about “the revival of The Lindy Hop”, in which were participated dancers from California, Britain, and Sweden. Oddly, the article passes the New York connection and does not even mention Larry Schulz who found Albert ‘Al’ Minns in the Mama Lou Parks event in 1981, and brought him to downtown Manhattan to teach The Lindy Hop in summer 1982, without forgetting other events, where he got Albert Minns to perform. That happened a couple of years before the Swedes brought Minns to Sweden to teach The Lindy Hop in October 1984. Some say that Minns’ visit was the real start of The Lindy Hop in Sweden. It also should be noted that it was not even Larry Schulz who “found” Minns before the Swedes. Historian and academic Sally Sommer suggested to Schulz to visit the Mama Lou Parks event for seeing a remarkable dancer. Minns also had become activate, as far as teaching is concerned, before Larry Schulz met him. Thus, although Larry Schulz’s part was remarkable, where the activation of Albert Minns’ career in the 1980s is concerned, Albert Minns, like other Old Timers, had not disappeared. He, like others, still did The Lindy Hop through the decades. So, what did the newcomers really reinvent or rediscover in the 1980s?

The article also claims, “dance historians say Swedes were essential” in the process. One of those Swedes claims in the article that she learned The Lindy Hop already in 1979 by watching The Lindy Hop scene of ‘A Day at the Races’ movie. Especially the Swedes are described as “Godlike” in their attitude toward The Lindy Hop. Indeed, at least one of them has stayed unsure about the status as she tells in the article, “The thing about godlike, I’m not sure”. In spite of that, she however states, “But we were pretty much the first people who took it seriously again after the ’30 and ‘40s”.

Also the headline of the article states for “Comeback for the Lindy Hop (Give Credit to Sweden)” like The Lindy Hop really was brought back by these new enthusiasts mainly in the 1980s when there was the first revival of interest, and then in the 1990s when there was the second revival of interest as the late Terry Monaghan defined these two revivals in his research. Monaghan insisted on “The Revival of The Interest in The Lindy Hop” because he claimed that The Lindy Hop never faded totally during decades unlike The New York Times article claims.

Although there exists a lot of evidence for Monaghan’s claim, it, however, did not worry the organizers of the Frankie100 panels to name their revival panel as “The Revival of The Lindy Hop”. The general tenor of the revival panelists was for bringing back the dance which had faded, and there were left only inferior and watered down versions before the revival. Only the leader of the panel, Lennart Westerlund, credited Mama Lou Parks and her dancers for maintaining the performance version of The Lindy Hop in the decades (mainly between the 1960s and the 1980s) when partner dancing was not in fashion. Also a panelist Darlene Gist who was part of Norma Miller Dancers in the 1980s, and who also worked with Mama Lou Parks Dancers, gave credit to George Sullivan who trained over 20 Harvest Moon Ball finalists, the most of which were Harvest Moon Ball Champions.

Otherwise the panelists concentrated on stressing the “fact” that they brought back the proper versions of the dance, which mostly had faded from the scene. Some of the comments even made George Sullivan, who sat next to me, to look at me like what these people are talking about. He was there during the decades, when, it is claimed, The Lindy Hop did not exist at all, and suddenly he hears that what he did: danced and trained the Champions was nothing compared to what these newcomers did later.

This disrespect of George Sullivan and other Lindy Hoppers and Jazz Dancers like Sonny Allen and The Rockets, Mama Lou Parks Dancers, Albert Minns, Leon James, Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Theatre, Mura Dehn, and etc., including so many unnamed performers, competitors, and social dancers on their mission to keep alive the Authentic Jazz Dance forms during the decades from the 1950s to nowadays, did not come as a surprise to the author of this article. As one of the organizers stated to me that “George Sullivan is not in their scope” when I suggested that they should ask George Sullivan to participate in the event. They, however, invited him to ‘the 1950s and Cat’s Club’ panel. He, like many other Old Timers, was rarely mentioned during the event. You can compare that to the event one year ago in Harlem when The Harlem Swing Dance Society and The National Hand Dance Association from Washington D.C. invited many Old Timers to their event in May 2013. George and Sugar Sullivan and many others were invited and celebrated then. Also The National Hand Dance Association in Washington D.C. did a good job in this sense in their event in the end of September 2013.

The Apollo Theater event in the beginning of the Frankie100 included the fundamental truth that you cannot do only one thing for the whole show. Instead of performing only The Lindy Hop, the show contained various Authentic Jazz Dance forms, in addition to The Lindy Hop. Thus also honoring the environment of the dance in the decades when Frankie was active in the past. At the time different Jazz Dance forms and practitioners affected each other. It was not only about The Lindy Hop. According to different sources, thanks for this goes to Chester Whitmore who had put the pieces together for the show. The various forms of Jazz Dance presented at the Apollo Theatre showcased a lot of talent. When once again asked from the Old Timers, the overall tenor concerning the show was that “it was good”. The more profound analysis, however, revealed that there were differences between the performers when observing Old Timers’ reactions in the audience. It was striking to see how some of the Old Timers did not applaud, for example, the “Swedish kids” whose performance in the show was otherwise praised by others who were not strictly Lindy Hoppers in the past. One of these Old Timers told me later that they “did too many mistakes. They had shortcuts. They have not practiced enough. We practiced differently.” There were also other Old Timers who stated the same. In spite of that, one of “Swedish kids” told in Facebook how they practiced for six months for the show, and they were praised for their performance. Maybe next time these kids have to practice longer and better.

Basically, it seems that also “Swing Dance history” follows “Swing Dance” as the branch where mistakes are allowed, and it is the most important to have fun. The serious attitude is not appreciated among most of the enthusiasts. So, you can twist the facts into the form you want and make your own kind of history writing as it seems to be the case when taking a look at the current Facebook sites and other Internet sites where historical “facts” are stated. The author of this article recently participated in a bitter debate in one of those sites. Some of the opponents began to post threatening messages which included personal facts. The safest way was delete my comments concerning the recently published study where the author of the study has serious methodological weaknesses. That was not first time as the author of this article has got “hate mail” from various parties. They rather posted these personal attacks than defended the study, especially by bringing out its merits. Does that mean that they stay uncertain what are really the merits of the study compared to other existing studies on the subject? Anyway, are these hostile, persona targeting attacks the way so-called ‘Swing Dance’ community really works?

When it comes to the Frankie100 Research Roundtable, it was a hard fought battle. When the author of this article suggested not to talk about ‘Vernacular Jazz Dance’, which has not had a proper definition, he got only the answer that it cannot be changed and vernacular does not mean only ‘ordinary’. That came after when the author of this article suggested that ‘ordinary’ is not a correct term to describe complex Jazz Dance techniques. It was also told to him that ‘vernacular’ can also mean ‘native’. So, it is a correct term, and there is no need for further discussion. Period. Well, if ‘vernacular’ means native, it is then ‘native jazz dance’. What is that? As far as the U.S. is concerned, the Indians were only natives who existed there originally. So did the Indians do Jazz Dance? With all respect to their dance culture, I, however, do not think so because jazz music did not even exist then, and the original connection comes from people whose origins are in Africa.

One of the reasons for the unwillingness to criticize current “Swing Dance” and “Swing Dance history” is probably money. Many of the practitioners of the branch seem to want to make money with people involved in the scene. It has been a big business for a while. Some people claim that you can earn even 700 dollars per day in the dance camps. Surely you can earn even 100 dollars per hour for private lessons. That is probably why many of the practitioners seem to keep telling how everything is good in the community. At the same time, they seem to ignore some of their Elders and keep classifying even social dancers into different skill levels, because of the dance classes, and thus scattering the scene into small pieces when the original social dance scene worked for incorporating different dancers onto the same dance floor.

Basically, you do not need many dance classes or not even one class when considering the fact that many of Old Timers learned by observing other dancers. When you know your basics, you can always add your own style without paying all your money for maintaining or improving your dance skills. That has been the general tenor when the author of the article has discussed with Old Timers. It also should be noted that during this era of YouTube and the Internet, it cannot be unclear to most of the enthusiasts how people danced in the past, and how they dance nowadays. There exist so many examples of different dance styles for free that you really cannot miss those if you have access to the Internet. Of course, it is true that there have been dance styles which you cannot find in the Internet clips, but anyway you get an idea what it has been about.

It is not exaggerated to claim that nowadays this “swing culture” is too often based on “modified truths”. There have been “dance teachers” who have said that you are better than before when you leave the class. That is not usually true: very few learn immediately. The most of the Old Timers, I have discussed with, have stated that you really have to practice to be good. There also are “teachers” who claim to teach authentic styles. As mentioned before in one of my articles, you only can be authentic in your own style. If someone claims that he or she teaches ‘Savoy Style’, and has never been in the ballroom, or has not even seen the building, how is that possible?

Well, it is time to finish this article for this time. Thank you for reading this. I save your time and leave you waiting for the part 2 which is coming in the near future.

By the way, here is the Apollo Theater show. It is the same 10pm show that I’m talking about. You can make your own judgement on how it really was. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_-AP8u1R94

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About authenticjazzdance

The author of the site is Harri Heinila, Doctor of Social Sciences, political history, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki. He is interested in Authentic Jazz Dance: all jazz dances from different eras of jazz. E.g. Cakewalk, the Charleston, Black Bottom, The Lindy Hop, Mambo, Rhythm Tap. Heinila researches jazz dance, in particular, in the context of Harlem, New York. His doctoral dissertation, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality - The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 is a groundbreaking study in the field of jazz dance and Harlem. His ORCID iD is 0000-0002-7783-9010 .
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15 Responses to Afterthoughts from Frankie100

  1. Mike says:

    Thank you for this interesting discussion, I think people should give credit to Mama Lou Parks dancers and they did at Frankie 100, before that, I never knew about them. Thank you for enlightening me on their role.

    I don’t think people are trying to invoke revisionist history, but like all history, we can only pass on what we know and in the “fog of war” things get distorted. Just as we know that there are more important things during the Revolutionary War than George Washington crossing the Delaware, or him chopping down the cherry tree, etc etc. This sort of mythology occurs, and there’s a mythology built up around Frankie. People want to believe he was this towering mythic figure that toiled in obscurity at the Post Office, only to wake up like Rip Van Winkle to find interest in what he did 30 years prior by a new generation of Lindy Hoppers. And while that might not be true, there is a grain of truth to it, and I think Frankie was delighted that the surge of interest in young people that could grow and carry this dance forward, and the subsequent explosion that occured in the 1990s was a source of endless fascination and wonder for him and others. This is the real revival and you can credit all of those folks and the bands of the time (even the awful ones such as Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Lee Press On & the Nails) for helping to further the movement and grow the Lindy Hop community.

    Also, on the meaning of “Vernacular”, it means more common,ordinary and everyday speech. In the context of Jazz, it would mean the movement and moves common to early Jazz dancing. Calling it Authentic Vernacular Jazz isn’t such a bad thing, it’s overly descriptive and not very colorful. But more importantly it was coined to distinguish itself from Modern Jazz dancing which has a different vernacular.

    I enjoyed your blog post and others that I have read. Thank you again.

  2. In the link below you can read Terry Monaghan’s comment concerning different ‘jazz dance’ terms. There has been a claim that ‘vernacular jazz dance’ does not refer to ‘ordinary’, and the misunderstanding comes from the author of the article because of English is a second language to him. Well, also Terry thinks that ‘vernacular’ means ‘ordinary’. See: http://www.yehoodi.com/comment/64567/what-is-the-history-of-lindy/3/#comment_90 . By the way, it is Terry from whom I got the idea that the term ‘vernacular’ means ‘ordinary’.

    • Mike says:

      This is from the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary…yes I think the writer of this article obviously English is not his/her native language….I think the 2nd definition is how it is used in this context.

      1ver·nac·u·lar adjective \və(r)-ˈna-kyə-lər\
      : of, relating to, or using the language of ordinary speech rather than formal writing

      : of or relating to the common style of a particular time, place, or group

      Authentic, by contrast is more controversial (Merriam-Webster definition):
      au·then·tic adjective \ə-ˈthen-tik, ȯ-\
      : real or genuine : not copied or false

      : true and accurate

      As it implies that other jazz dances are false, untrue or not genuine. Just as our Lindy Hop and authentic Jazz movements that we make are indeed authentic to us, but are they really authentic, or are we anachronisms? Or are we just mimicing age-old movement. If I dance Authentic Jazz, shouldn’t, for the movement to remain authentic and thus “genuine” come from my own interpretation of the dance. I’m splitting hairs here for the sake of being absolutely literal, and I do not mean to demean these descriptive terms. They are just terms that stuck. Just like the Lindy Hop has nothing to do with Lindbergh, and Charles Lindbergh did not originate the dance…

      • Hi Mike! The term ‘authentic jazz dance’ is definitely anachronistic like the term ‘vernacular jazz dance’ is anachronistic as well. I’m not going to the details here now. Those are explained in my dissertation. I think that the use of ‘Authentic Jazz Dance’ began because of the need to distinguish original or authentic (you name it) jazz dance forms from “Modern Jazz Dance” which was very different than original jazz dances, at the time, when the term ‘Authentic Jazz Dance’ was begun to be used (I’m not going to the details here…more later). The best alternative would be that the term ‘jazz dance’ is used as such for the original jazz dance forms. How that happens: Well, hopefully someone figures out that!

      • I also would like to comment your statement that ‘authentic Jazz movements that we make…are they really authentic, or are we anachronisms? Or are we just mimicking age-old movements’. Well, I have heard many times how Old Timers have told that there is nothing new “under the sun”. All steps were used already in the past. It is just the way you do those steps, which separates you from the others who have used those steps. So are you authentic in your own style of the steps or are you doing them just in the way they were done in the past? When asked from me, I would suggest the first one…

  3. Hi Mike! Thank you for your response! Frankie’s role in The Lindy Hop still needs an objective research. His role is now highly speculated area of the research. Nobody seems to challenge his claims. I don’t say that Frankie didn’t know what he talked about. I say that you should always put these memories to the bigger picture and crosscheck details with the help of other sources. There still seems to be a lot of the history where we just have to trust in his memory. When it comes to Mama Lou Parks Dancers, their role in the Lindy Hop history is less known like the history of the other groups (Sonny Allen and The Rockets, Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Theatre etc.) is as well. There still is a lot to write about. When it comes to the ‘jazz dance’ terminology, there have been different usages of ‘jazz dance’ term during decades. That is one part of my research, to which I’m not going here now. You can read about those later in my PhD dissertation. Anyway ‘vernacular jazz dance’ seems to have been a rarely used term in the past. It is interesting that it has succeeded especially during last years. As Terry said in his comment, ‘vernacular jazz dance’ still needs a workable definition if it is going to be used without a confusion.

  4. Mike says:

    My point was not a literal one on “authenticity” but rather a metaphorical and rhetorical one. We are authentic inherently, because we are real and whatever we do is authentic relative to us. It is of our time and our experience, even if we are doing in-authentic or fake representations, there is an authenticity to our phoniness. (Irony intended). Have fun with that…it’s a mobius strip of logic.

    • Hi Mike! Sorry for not getting your point in the first time. There, however, is a serious side in your comment. I suppose that you know people who have claimed that they teach certain dance styles which they claim to represent the ‘Savoy Style’ (in the sense of The Savoy Ballroom), the styles you can see in certain film clips like the ‘Spirit Moves’ documentary etc. Thus, connecting themselves “authentically” to the environment, about which they have only second or even third hand information. You can find these claims in the Internet as well.

  5. Mike says:

    Savoy Style was a term used to differentiate the style taught by Frankie Manning and coming from the Savoy Ballroom from the Hollywood style (trademarked by I believe Erik & Sylvia) or Dean Collins-style as observed in movie clips.

    The Savoy Style has it’s origins in African American culture and Harlem, whereas the Hollywood Style/Dean Collins Style came from movies and obviously the Savoy scene but was filtered through a White American experience and professional dance backgrounds.

    I don’t think people use Savoy style to claim that they have danced or learned dance from the Savoy, anymore than they learned Lindy from Lindbergh, again, it’s just a term to differentiate one style from the other…just as West Coast Swing split off from East Coast Swing and needed a term to differentiate itself…now there is talk of dropping the Swing from West Coast Swing and just referring to it as West Coast, as some people feel a lot of the music and dancing no longer swings…but I digress. I think, while terminology is important, we shouldn’t get hung up on it.

    • Hi Mike! Now you should see how confusing it is to use different terms concerning the same thing. I would like to notice that Frankie Manning answered to the question: How you danced at The Savoy, by questioning: ‘During what day of the week?’. Thus referring to the fact that there existed different styles at The Savoy Ballroom even at the same time. So, how do you describe other Savoy Ballroom styles if only Frankie Manning taught the ‘Savoy Style’? If you don’t believe me, just look at the Hellzapoppin’ dance scene where Frankie and others are dancing. You see different styles in the same clip. When it comes to the ‘Hollywood Style’ term, I think that you are correct in who originated the term. The term, however, is misleading as Dean Collins and his affiliates were not the only ones in the Hollywood movies. When it comes to the usage of the term, ‘Savoy Style’, as I described, that is the way it has been used. Especially in Finland, there have been different teachers during years, who have sworn to teach the ‘Savoy Style’ in connection with The Savoy Ballroom, although they never have seen even the building! And yes, there also have been teachers who have taught ‘Hollywood Style’… Anyway it is confusing to treat different ‘dance styles’ as different dances like the ‘West Coast’ and ‘East Coast’ Swing, when the origin of them comes from Harlem and has been known as The Lindy Hop. Ps. Don’t forget, that there have been claims that Dean Collins came from The Savoy Ballroom before he went to LA. If so, it is all connected.

  6. Mike says:

    Dean Collins’ dancing style would not exist without the Savoy dancers. I think when people refer to the separate styles they are noting small differences in, well, style. Posture, and slight variations in footwork, rockstep vs ball change on 1-2. Subtle things, the dance is ever evolving and collapsing and expanding. And yes, comparing Al Minns to Frankie to Shorty George yields great variation. And for those who wish to codify the dance and compete, the effort to make us all dance like Skye & Frida is a fruitless and not very soulful endeavor.

    Nonetheless people like categories and they like things to strive to, and when dance starts to evolve into something different, it’s given a different name…you can see this with 2 recent offshoots of Lindy Hop, blues dancing and fusion dancing. These just ripped off of the Lindy evolutionary tree into their own branches within my dance lifetime and Blues dancing is quickly forming its own vernacular, it’s own basics and styles…and I’m sure there are sub Blues genres forming…it’s fascinating to watch and let’s not get hung up on individual style vs overall basics of footwork or style. There are subtle differences between Hollywood Style and Savoy Style, the terms are nearly dead on the dance floor in 2014. But for awhile there was a dialect that was slightly different and watching the Savoy-styled Minnie’s Moochers dance troupe of 1999-2000 meet the DC dancers who did Hollywood style discover each other was fascinating to watch. They have since merged and converged out these stylistic differences into one thing, Lindy Hop.

    Many of those practicing Hollywood style went towards Balboa and Bal Swing. Not sure why, but there are always those who seek to differentiate themselves from those “other” dancers…just as some seek blues, some seek fast dancing…either it smacks of elitism or not, who knows? Maybe they are contrarians, maybe one dance is less creative and they like “knowing” what to do? Who am I to say…

    • When talking about Dean Collins style, I’ve heard that Frankie claimed that the Dean Collins style existed also at The Savoy Ballroom. I won’t tell without permission from whom I heard about that.

      When it comes to copying the styles, it has been stated so many times by different Old Timers that everybody has to have his own style. Some Old Timers have even said that you don’t copy them because you have to make your own style. Period. That seems to be hard to explain to the ‘copy cats’ who try to copy even hand movements of certain dancers! I have heard them even arguing how those hands should be used that you can be a exact lookalike! The Old Timers, who keep insisting on your own style, have also argued for creativeness. You have to be creative in your dancing. Just make your own moves. Don’t worry about the next man what style he is using. That is something that you likely hear rarely in dance classes… That is why you just can create whatever you want. It is you who decides what is correct.

      When it comes to Blues Dancing, please see my other article called ‘A Few Words About Blues Dancing’ in this blog. There is a lot of confusion in the usage of the term. We can discuss more about that as connected to the article.

  7. Mike says:

    Yes, I would agree w/ the old timers, however, old time blues musicians and new blues musicians still play the blues, there are Chicago styled blues, Texas styled, and many more…but it’s still the blues. But the subgenres have their own styles and quirks and inflections, just as regional dialects of any language sprout up, people in different parts of the South have very different accents, but it is still a Southern accent. But Georgians and Texans talk differently.

    Same with blues musicans, now let’s take Koko Taylor who is Chicago styled blues because she sang in Chicago and came up in the Chicago scene. She’s seeped in Chicago style, has affectations and stylizations indicative of that part of the country, despite the fact that she was born in Memphis and also she’s also got her own thing going on. Personal style doesn’t necessarily trump what style of music or dance a person does. Just as the Southern accent doesn’t necessarily trump an American accent which doesn’t necessarily obfuscate someone with a deep voice or someone with an unusually high voice or someone with a stutter. The high voice, stutter, lisp would be personal style/affectations…the Southern drawl would be the Southern accent and the vernacular would likely be American still and all within the subcontext of English.

    Dance is no different. Dance taxonomists should be careful to note these distinctions.

    • Hi Mike! You are basically correct. Please, however, make comments concerning Blues Dancing as connected to the article of the blog I told about. If you or others, who read this, don’t believe anything else I have written, believe at least this: It is all about the same steps. Everybody learn the same steps. It is about what you do with the steps. It is up to you to use those steps and make new ones. It is about your way and style. You can pay all your money to learn certain dance styles from certain teachers. But basically it is you who has to move your own body. Your teacher does not do that.

  8. Mike says:

    Agreed, make it your own, make it comfortable for you and your body movement is always the best, and be the best you you can be. Don’t try to be Skye or Frida, or Frankie or Norma…just try to be the best YOU.

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