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Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging
Posted: May 21st, 2009

Watch the entire documentary of Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging here on the SundayArts Web site, also to air on May 24th for SundayArts on THIRTEEN.

The documentary features the last major interview of Frankie Manning before his death, as well as precious archival footage of his dancing from the 1930’s to 2009 in New York, Hollywood, Sweden, France, Italy and Singapore. Footage highlights include scenes of Manning’s birthday parties, where he danced with one woman for each year he’d been alive, the legendary dance scene choreographed and headlined by Manning for the film “Hellzapoppin,” and the phenomenal duet with his 76-year-old son, Chazz, himself a professional dancer. Frankie was a born storyteller, with a huge smile and an even bigger laugh.

“Frankie Manning was a man who truly LIVED every moment of his life,” said Julie Cohen, director of the documentary. “Having spent the past two months watching hundreds of hours of footage of him dancing from the 1930’s to the present, I’ve seen the joy he took in every step.”

As a teenager, Manning started dancing in the best venues in Harlem, including the legendary Savoy Ballroom. He became a member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the energetic, immensely talented group that made the dance a national phenomenon. As a young man, Manning traveled the world, and entertained on stages with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The group developed a large international following, even as they fought the racial prejudice that often barred them from sleeping at the hotels where they performed, or eating in the restaurants where their cabaret act brought in big profits.

Frankie’s performances were captured on film in a number of Hollywood movies. His dance sequence in “Hellzapoppin” is still considered the great swing dance number of all time. And it’s not just the oldtimers who enjoy it; the clip has more than million hits on YouTube. Frankie wasn’t just a dancer; he was a choreographer too, although no one called him that at the time. He devised many of the acrobatic “air steps” that made his Lindy Hopping troupe such a huge attraction.

Frankie stopped dancing for a few years to serve in the Pacific in World War II, then picked it up again after he returned home from the war. When the swing dancing craze died down in the 50’s, Frankie got a day job: he worked in the post office for thirty years. Then in the late 80’s when swing came back into fashion, so did Frankie. He was one of the choreographers of the Broadway smash Black and Blue, for which he won a Tony Award. He also did choreography for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.

Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging, is a half hour documentary produced and directed by Julie Cohen, the producer of the hugely popular shows The Jews of New York and New York Goes to War. The program will also feature an interview with Ruthie Rheingold, a 92 year old Jewish woman, who along with her partner Harry Rosenberg made up the only white couple to dance in Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and a reunion between Frankie and Ruthie, caught on film.

  • Cricket Jaber

    Frankie Manning touched young and old with his gift of dance and love of people. He was all over the place teaching us how to dance and how to live. He told me once how important it was for him to be back in New York on Mondays because that’s when he danced with his friends. Frankie called that his “social” security.
    The man had a sense of humor and a smile that made a sunny day even brighter. I am deeply honored that Frankie considered me his friend, and I’m a better person for having known him.
    Thanks for the memories THIRTEEN.
    Cricket Jaber

  • Jennifer Fullmer Harris

    It’s the end of an era….. Thank you so much for airing this documentary. Swinging with Mr. Manning — whether for Hop the Millenium in Ensenada, Mexico or “just” your average dance camp weekend in the States — it was an honor and thrill to see him in action. I hope to keep Frankie Manning’s memory alive by dancing the Lindy hop and stepping his praises as long as I can stand up on the dance floor. We know what to do!

  • Steve Tateishi

    Thank you Thirteen for this tribute to Frankie Manning! Hopefully this will be picked for national broadcast by PBS. I watched it on the internet here in Los Angeles. He made the world a better place as an ambassador of dance. We will all miss him.

  • Randy Thomas

    I had met Frankie Manning only one time. Yet, it was that one time that has left a lasting impression on me. He was a great man who loved to share dance with anyone who wanted to learn.
    What a great man! Now, more people will get to know him through the documentary, Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging. He will be missed.

  • John “DJ Spin Doctor” Tomeny

    Thanks for creating this wonder tribute to such a great man. For many of us, our lives would not be the same today if it were not for Frankie. The life and inspiration that he instilled for Lindy Hop, and for a life of dance in a broader sense, contributed to a great change in my life that began nearly 20 years ago. I am a better person because of Frankie’s influence. And three of my children have also met and been inspired by him. He has been to our home three times. One of my sons will always remember how Frankie attended his 18th birthday party. My youngest son talks about him often when he sees Frankie’s picture in our studio. Frankie’s influence extends beyond dance to inspire people to live more generously. He was one of the most humble, most genuine people I have known. A great man both on and off the dance floor.

  • April Palmieri

    I was lucky to have taken dance classes with Frankie Manning and hear him speak on several occasions. I have even met Ruthie Rheingold one of the dancers interviewed in the film on several occasions. This film is an extension of what I learned first hand. Thanks for making this informative production available to the public on line. What a wonderful tribute to an original American art form and the people who made it happen.

  • Donna Martin

    What a pleasure to have met Frankie at a special swing dance up here in the Hudson Valley – Kingston NY to be exact! He was 93 years young then….I will never forget him as I was attempting to learn a step he was showing the entire class when I went in the wrong direction he came up to me and said “Your going the wrong way doll” – he did this 3 times until I finally got it right…..what patience and humility he had. I am sure he is teaching in heaven ….” And a one and a two and you know what to do!” What a shim sham that will be!

  • DJ Swingster

    Thank you THIRTEEN and everyone else responsible putting this together! In all my years of playing swing music and teaching, I have always given credit to Frankie Manning. Frankie has been my inspiration. I have met Frankie on several occasions; one which sticks out was at Beantown Camp. During one of the instructor jams which happened almost nightly at the evening dance, one of the lady instructors grabbed Frankie to dance. Frankie, moving very slowly at least half-time to the music acting like he was old and tired, all of a sudden breaks out into this fast pace lindy step. The crowd went wild! It was definitely a “Frankie” moment. If I can touch dancing half of the people Frankie touched during his years, I would think this would be a huge accomplishment! For those who have never Lindy Hop, it is never too late… just look to Frankie!
    Neal D.
    Westlake, Ohio

  • SwingKid

    I would just like to thank Thirteen and everyone responsible for putting this great Frankie Manning tribute video together. I feel very privileged to have been in a few of Frankie’s classes (thanks to the Houston Swing Dance Society’s Lindyfest) and every time someone asks me about my dancing I find myself telling them of how swing dancing first came about and how Frankie Manning was the true “Ambassador of Lindy Hop” and swing dance in all of it forms. Swing dancing has been a blessing in my life and Frankie will always be one of my greatest inspirations.
    Ryan K.
    Abilene, Texas

  • rik panganiban

    Thanks so much for producing this. What a lovely profile of an amazing dancer, teacher, and human being. I was lucky enough to study under him, help him promote his book, and call him a friend.

    Your documentary will help thousands more know about this remarkable man.

  • George Gee

    Watching this show bought a tear to the corner of my eye. A happy tear, but a tear. I, like thousands and thousands of other, miss you with all my heart and soul, FRANKIE! You always reminded me that we are in the “HAPPY” business…..

  • Jennifer Sowden

    This was wonderful, thank you to all involved! I find it priceless to this day that he was actually recognized for his talents in person. And not only talents as most people say but for his heart. Thank you!

  • Dancin Dan

    Brilliant, Sadly missed

  • Grant Sunada

    I finally watched this over the weekend. What a lovely, touching tribute. I fit so much of what I knew to be “Frankie” and so much more. Thank you for helping record some of his legacy and some of our memories of him.

  • Joanna

    Oh, thank you so much for sharing this with us. I took one workshop with him (when he was in his 80s!) and I remember his exhorting the men to treat their partners like queens. He did that with this beginner, and I did indeed feel like a queen for the few moments I danced with him. He inspired me to keep dancing the lindy, and I love him for it.

  • Mikael Antic

    This brought a tear to my eye. Frankie Maning D.I.P. We miss you…

  • amradf

    Well made and incredibly important historically. Chazz was my first tap teacher! PBS thank you for airing this!!

  • Gretchen Christopher

    What an honor to have danced with Frankie Manning and to have learned from him, the “Shim Sham Shimmy,” as he called it. Now, when I teach the Shim Sham, I’m a purist; I do it Frankie’s way! Thank you Frankie. And thank you, Erin Stevens, for bringing Frankie out of retirement. I remember our celebrating with him, several birthdays in his eighties, and Catalina Island in 1999, the year he turned 85. Watching this video of his last interview, I truly think he just kept getting younger, right up to almost 95! DIP, dear Frankie, and thank you for sharing your gifts with thousands and, exponentially, perhaps millions of people. As long as we live, a bit of you lives on in us. And thank goodness for these films that will keep your talents, good natured humility, humor, dazzling smile, energy and beautiful spirit with us forever. What a legacy you’ve left us!

  • Richard Tindale

    Loved the documentary, wish I could have met Frankie and had the pleasure of learning from him. A great man who has inspired thousands.

  • ardeane G.cook

    Mr manning is a ledgend my mother rubina harris was a Lindy Hop dancer at the savoy and compted and won the Madson Square Garden competetion in 1950 I want to learn how to dance like that in mermory of my mom.. I enjoyed this film It brought me to tears……… RIP Frankie

  • james pelton sr

    When I went yo work at the main post office {GPO}, Frankie was already working there. At that time I had no knowledge about his dancing exploits, until he told me about :Hellzapoppin”, in which he was in a dance skit. He then told me he had won the Harvest Moon Ball for “Jitterbug Dancing”, and later took me to meet his dancing partner. .We became best of friends and unbeatable Bid Whist partners, at lunch time at GPO. In 1959 I went into the NYC POlice dept, and we lost contact for a while. We ran into each other again, at a dance place, at 17th or 18th street , I don’t remember the name, but they were reviving the “lindy”, which was the much cooler dance than the acrobatic “Jitterbug”. Frankie was teaching the “ShimShamShimmy” , at that dance place.also. I moved to Florida. and about 9 or 10 years ago, I was reading the paper, and almost fwll out of my chair, when I read that ” Frankie Manning “, was coming to the Harborside convention hall, her in Fort Myers, for one night. I went to the hall and knocked Frankie for a loop when he saw me. To be very honest I cried, out of the joy of seeing Frankie again , after having lost contact with him. I have a picture of us together, and as I am writing this I’m tearing up, in remember our earlier friendship. I ‘m hoping I see him again in that big ” Dance Hall In the Sky

  • Lauren Nguyen

    I am actually going a 3 part project on Frankie Manning and I would like to say Thank you Frankie. Though I know your gone, you contributed so much to Swing Dancing itself, especially Lindy Hop. Your an inspiration to me and I’m so glad that you lived your life the way that you wanted to. Your an idol and though I did not know of swing dancing till you passed away. It is truely one of the most greatest things that you could do in your spare time. Thank you Frankie, for all that you have done for all dancers of the world.

  • Larry Byrd

    Frankie was a good friend of my dad [John “Larry” Byrd]. They worked together for years at the U.S. Post Office and my dad was a timekeeper with Frank at GPO & Morgan Stations. Frank never mentioned to me that he was a dancer, but my dad knew. I found this documentary to be quite enlightening and clearly stated. We all love his mild mannered persona. May God Bless Frankie Manning, his family and his numerous friends.

  • Nadya King

    Several years ago friends encouraged me to sign up for a couple of classes Frankie was teaching here in the Pacific NW – what a delight! This video does a lovely job portraying the gifts Frankie brought to his teaching, & his joy of life!! I’d love to follow the lead of dancers like Frankie, who indeed, never stop dancing!

  • zsolt balasy

    This video stops at 22:42. Plz do sg!

  • James Boy

    Wow what an inspiration for all of us!

  • Richard Layh

    This is a great documentary…..when music was hot and feet flew….Is it possible to buy a dvd of this wonderful tribute? I’d really like to have it was part of my collection. Please let me know if possible and what the cost and shipping is. Thanks, Rich Layh

  • Richard Layh


  • Darrin Martin

    He taught me the Shim Sham and then autographed my notes !

  • Annie Hirsch, CA

    Frankie was and still very dear to both me and Jack Carey. We were so lucky to have spent time with him.
    A gentle, modest, wonderful person, a dancer, Yes…and always a gentleman!….. WE miss him.

  • oliver

    Frankie manning used to dance with my dad – leon james

  • Julie Cohen

    Yes DVDs are available for $20. Email

  • Note to Julie Cohen

    Please, I want to buy this. How can I get it? Sari Magaziner

  • Judy Peres

    Congratulations, Julie. Your work has become so varied and interesting!

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.