Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Dance Party: "Musclehead" Manning


One of the pioneers of the Lindy Hop in the 1930s and '40s, Frankie "Musclehead" Manning was a featured dancer at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom when he invented his signature "airstep move," in which his partner was tossed into the air, landing on the beat. It was the first step in the evolution of the Lindy Hop, an exhilarating, acrobatic swing dance which became the rage in pre-World War II dance clubs. Many of the moves are preserved in this week's Dance Party, from 1941's Hellzapoppin'.

As be-bop jazz, and later rock-and-roll, became popular, Manning left the business and worked 30 years as a clerk at the Post Office. His dance career revived in the 80s, and in 1989, he won the Tony for his choreography of Black and Blue. He taught Denzel Washington the Lindy Hop for Malcolm X (the dance takes its name from a dancer's exclamation, "We Flyin' like Lindy!", a reference to aviator Charles Lindbergh), and he choreographed for Alvin Ailey and other dance ensembles. This clip is a terrific example of the exuberance which accompanies the dance, as the couples propel each other into the air, over the back, through the legs, and into any other available space between partners. Manning is the dancer in overalls who gets kicked in the butt by his partner:
Frankie "Musclehead" Manning died this week at age 94.