Frankie’s Legacy: How He’s Touched Our Lives


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Alison Mozer, Amherst, MA

In 1998, I was recently divorced with two young children who were now spending time every other weekend with their father. Finally I had space and time to rediscover my self and my passions. Dancing was always one of them. From beginning to walk on my tippy toes to professional training as a ballet, modern, and jazz dancer, movement was an essential part of my life and self-expression.

Growing up in the 50s I had always watched movies and television shows, like American Bandstand, portraying teens swiftly swing dancing in what was known to me as ‘Lindy’ and ‘Jitterbug’. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have so much fun with a partner. Most of my training was dancing solo or in groups with little contact and improvisational play. I also was surrounded by jazz, swing music, and blues. My mother played Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Tommy Dorsey on our stereo. By the time I became a teen, it was the 60’s. Rock and Motown were in. And although we could groove quite erotically and whimsically around each other or in funky line dances, coordinated partner dancing was out. Jazz went ‘out’ too, interesting, but difficult to dance to.

So now it was about 30 years later, and I hear that Frankie Manning was coming to Northampton, MA to teach a weekend of workshops and do a presentation of the origins of Lindy Hop. I knew little about Frankie, but I knew I was dying to dance, and finally learn ‘real’ lindy hop. I wished to perfect my social connection skills both in dance and dating.

Memories of the weekend are still stamped with great clarity in my brain. Frankie was inspiring, a joy, an older man with such verve, vitality, and sensuality I could have no excuse for letting mine go while just in my 40s.

Since then Frankie and I have had numerous opportunities to connect. I attended his 85th birthday at Roseland Dance hall, celebrating with folks from around the world, back in the city I was born in. I was one of the lucky ladies to dance with him then, although I’m sure he could not remember (nor barely keep count).

I’ve been able to listen to Frankie’s stories at dance camps such as Beantown, workshops in Boston, ALHC, and in our beloved Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts. It has always been a treat when I have been chosen to demonstrate as his partner.

In 2003, I introduced my young daughter Mariel Adams, then 13, to the world of swing. That summer, at Swing Out New Hampshire, she became so enthralled that is has become a life passion for her too. Luckily she has had the opportunity to meet, learn from, dance, and hang with Frankie (Dawn and Norma too) and most of the top international Lindy instructors and dancers. Our shared love of dance and Lindy Hop has helped to keep us close throughout her teen years and offer a healthy fun way to spend leisure time.

In October of 2004, back in my hometown of N.Y, we were sure to make the historical Count Basie Centennial event. I have photos of young Mariel- one of the newest on the scene with Frankie, Norma, Dawn, and Steven Mitchell, one of her first mentors.

Now in high School Mariel was eager to share her knowledge and passion. We began a club the –The Hurricane Swingers - to educate interested students, and invited Bill Borgida to spark it off. And when the Amherst Regional High chose Urinetown for its yearly musical, Mariel and dancers were ready to choreograph and perform some Lindy and Charleston routines for the shows.

Then in May 2005 we wrote a grant to bring Frankie to Amherst High school for an assembly and workshops. We wished to introduce the students and community to the now 92-year old dance ambassador and the Lindy. Frankie’s ability to represent a generation and shed a personal perspective on the history of the times was inspiring, and we were able to get some of those ‘mostly-hip-hop-exposed’ teens to dance and engage with each other. As Frankie spoke and showed some of his favorite clips the students and teachers were intently focused and responded with appropriate sounds of appreciation and applause. Mariel, and dancers from her club, joined with Pioneer Valley Performing Arts students, led by Tricia Lea, in Lindy Chorus and Big Apple routines to honor Frankie.

Though Frankie has experienced many of these exciting and engaging moments in his travels and teaching, this certainly was a significant event for both me, my daughter Mari, and the community. Afterwards I invited Frankie to my home and he shared tea and more stories of his unexpected stay in Argentina when the war broke out, before I drove him to the train station to head back to New York.

Mari and I also got to celebrate Mother’s Day together with Frankie, and honor his birthday, at the Lindy League of Western MA community organized workshops that were scheduled to coincide with Frankie’s trip to lead the assembly.

And when Frankie came for a book signing of Happy Feet at Michelson’s Gallery in Northampton, we were there to shim sham along with others in his honor.

Of course in thinking of the impact Frankie has had on our lives, we also need to think and thank all the teachers and event organizers, Judy Pritchett, and Cynthia Millman who brought Frankie to various venues and recorded and documented his life and work. They also helped us learn and compile materials and reference from web sites to share with others.

So what now? Frankie’s 95th. It has been a decade since I began to learn and enjoy Lindy more ‘seriously’. It has brought lots of joy, music, and community into my and my daughter’s life. Now Mariel is off at college, organizing clubs and teaching to pass on her love and the love we all share for this dance. We plan to be back in NYC to celebrate in May. We are ever so grateful. We love you Frankie!

The spirit moves us on.

Alison Ozer March 2009
Amherst, MA

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