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Happy Birthday, Frankie Manning!

a workshop with the late Frankie Manning

Teaching with Frankie Manning–joy personified!

Today my friend and mentor Frankie Manning would have turned 102.  If you’re a dancer, you would have been delighted if you used google and noticed the google doodle honoring Frankie’s birthday.  Several people brought this to my attention, which is all to the good, because although I missed the pleasure of seeing it  by chance, it’s just as likely I wouldn’t have noticed.  From now on, I’ll pay more attention to the doodle when I’m using google!  
If you are curious about my relationship with Frankie and want to see him in action, go back to this post I wrote a year ago at this time.  Enjoy!

On Being A “Lindy Legend”

Me on the panel

Expounding as one of the Bay Area Lindy Legends

My Lindy History

Last week I got to be on a panel at an event at City College in SF called “Bay Area Lindy Legends”.  More than a couple of decades ago, few people in the bay area had heard of Lindy Hop and you certainly couldn’t go Lindy Hopping if you were the rare exception who had.  My colleague Belinda Ricklefs and I were practice partners back then.  We both taught by ourselves and got together every week to work on material that needed refreshing and sometimes learning new dances.  We had been exposed to Lindy, liked it, and longed for a community of dancers.  When we began to build the community, spurred by the desire to dance with anybody besides each other, never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the scene that exists today.

Frankie Manning

We couldn’t foresee that we would become friends with, and teach with, the charismatic embodiment of joy Frankie Manning in the last 15 years of his amazing life as the ambassador of Lindy Hop.  One of the people who invented the dance, a living history book, Frankie died just shy of his 95th birthday, still dancing until his last year when his knee finally made it too painful.

A Supportive Lindy Community

We built our community with care, making sure it would be one with a cooperative spirit, where everyone would help to promote one another’s classes and workshops and dances, hoping that when it got too big for us to have any control over it, that it would take that positive spirit with it.  Now that we have one of the biggest communities, and hardly anyone knows me from Adam any more, I can stand back and think we gave it a pretty successful shove in the right direction.  I’ve visited Lindy dances in other countries and states, and ours is the only one I know of that has visitor jams where we single out and make out of towners feel welcome.  

 

So I was honored to be on the panel and proud of my part.  I teach a lot of different dances, but Lindy is the one I dance most often for my own enjoyment.  It’s a highly creative, music oriented dance with a welcoming friendly community of people.  If you like swing music and joyful dancing, and you live in the Bay Area, take advantage of the wonderful opportunity you have here.  It wasn’t always available and it will only be here as long as the dancers continue to support it!

 

By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Dance and the Benefits of Oxytocin

 

two women dancing together

The author having a blast! What can be more fun than dancing?

Oxytocin is the hormone our bodies make that makes us feel sociable.  It’s what gives us the desire to collaborate with each other and to help other people out.  It’s what makes mothers feel connected to their babies and what bonds lovers to each other.  It’s one of the all time  great feel good hormones.  Women have the power to make more of it than men, another fabulous perk of the gender, but men make it too and all of us can consciously seek out ways to get more of it.

 

I first heard about Oxytocin at Rise, a conference of an organization called Braveheart Women, whose goal it is to bring women from all over the world together to collaborate and support each other to the end of no less a goal than saving the planet.  Founder Ellie Drake created an exercise designed to raise the level of Oxytocin in a room of 800 women who were mostly strangers to one another.  After this remarkable activity, we felt like an enormous family, emotionally connected to a room full of sisters whom we all wanted to support and trust.

 

One of my heros, the Dalai Lama, said that is the world was going to survive, it was up to western women to save it.  My guess is that it is our combination of access to global connection through technology, access to free time, and yep, oxytocin.  That’s what makes us WANT to understand people of other cultures instead of eradicating them.  I hope we’re up to it.

 

Clearly right now the world is mostly up to seeing other cultures as enemies and trying to eradicate everyone it doesn’t understand, so perhaps we need more oxytocin and less testosterone in the foreign office.

 

Well, how did we get into this mess and how do we get out of it?  In a so called primitive African culture a western visitor held a contest for a group of boys.  These people were impoverished, by our standards, and had very little.  The winner was given a delectable treat  which he divided and shared with the other boys.  The perplexed westerner asked why he didn’t keep it for himself.  The equally perplexed boy said what would be the fun in that?

 

There are a lot of wonderful amazing things about western culture for which I am very grateful, not the least of which is leisure time, Lindy Hop, and indoor plumbing. But we have gotten so far removed from our own basic natures that greed is more natural that our natural intstinct to share pleasure with others.

 

Human beings are social animals and we thrive on human contact.    People need to touch each other in order to be physically and mentally healthy.  That very touch, the source of Oxytocin, is becoming more and more scarce in a society that is becoming more and more technical. People need to touch each other in order to be physically and mentally healthy.

 

Respected family therapist Virginia Satir is famous for saying “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  She said that in 2012 and it’s been said so many times it’s become trite. You might say, especially if you’re single and don’t have a cat, “I don’t get 12 hugs a day and I grow.  I don’t even get 4 every day and I’m still alive so obviously it’s not only trite, it’s bullshit.”

But here’s the thing.  When you experience real growth, you might look back on your hugless existence and say “I can’t believe I called that surviving.”  It’s all a matter of degree.

Because  I’m a single woman, it’s hard to get enough hugs every day to thrive even though I do have a cat.  Two cats even.  And I’m an introvert.  I envy those people who can stand in a public square with a sign that says “Free Hugs!” but Nooooooo.  That’s way too extroverted for me.  Plus, I like people and I’d like my hugs to be connected at least most of the time to actual relationships.  If not deep friendships, at least people I know or have met and feel some kind of connection to.

Partner dance to the rescue!

Partner dancing is like a musical hug, but that’s not the only reason it’s an Oxytocin raiser. Even dancing by yourself to music you love will raise your oxytocin levels.  Dancing is joyful and joy is big trigger.  Combine the joy of dance with the touch of partner dance and you have a double whammy of Oxytocin.

And of course you have community.  When you go dancing regularly, you get to know the other people who regularly dance in the same places.  You connect over a shared activity. And it’s an activity in which you are constantly touching one another physically, in a natural, organic way.

I know it works, though, because of the way I feel when I do it.  In a word, joyful.  At Frankie Manning’s memorial service, the minister cited this quote in the bible: “The purpose of life is joy”.  I think God said that, but I can’t find it so I’m not sure.  The minister said that Frankie, who never went to church, was a deeply spiritual man because as the “ambassador of Lindy Hop” he spend his life spreading joy.

When I think about world change, I think first about joy.  Joyful people want others to feel joyful.  Sharing joy creates joy.  Dancing with a partner is not fun if your partner is not having fun.  It’s all about connection.     Go out there and be joyful and together we just might make a real change!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Go out there and be joyful and together we just might make a real change.

In Honor of Frankie Manning

a workshop with the late Frankie Manning

Teaching with Frankie Manning–joy personified!

This is the week Frankie Manning would have turned 101 had he lived and I always like to leave a tribute for him every year.  I was privileged to have been friends with this wonderfully positive and highly charismatic man for the last fifteen years of his life.

 

Frankie was one of the people credited with creating the Lindy Hop, and due to his delightful personality was in many ways responsible for the resurrection of this joyful dance in present times.  After being pulled out of retirement in his 70’s, he began traveling the world teaching workshops and spreading the popularity of Lindy Hop world wide.  He was modest and unassuming, always grateful to his students and the burgeoning Lindy community for bringing back this dance that he loved and giving him the opportunity to spend the last years of his life spreading it’s joy.  “I’m happy to be here”, he would say at every workshop.  “But at my age, I’m happy to be anywhere.”  And right up until the end, he was.

 

I met Frankie on his 80th birthday at a big celebration in New York City.  Practically everyone who danced Lindy in the bay area was there.  About 5 out of 6 of us!  We were exposed for the first time to dancers from all over the world, and to exciting new (to us) styles of the dance.  We fell in love with what was known as Modern Savoy Style and brought it back home.  As our community grew, Savoy style was what was mostly danced here.

 

When Frankie came to the Bay Area for the first time shortly after the New York workshops, I got to teach with him for the first time. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  It was one of the high points of my life and although it was the first of many, nothing beat the high of that first time.

 

He was a piece of living history, a joy to know, an honor to call friend, and I’ll always feel lucky to have crossed paths with him at the end of his life and the middle of mine.

 

I’ve included two clips to give you a glimpse into the joy he brought into dance and the charm that was always the hallmark of his teaching style.

 

Here he is dancing the Shim Sham Shimmy with his son Chaz Young at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden.  He was in his mid eighties believe it or not at the time!

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This clip gives you a window into Frankie’s style and sense of humor.  To Frankie every woman was beautiful, and he made every woman feel beautiful and special.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing with Strangers: a Way to Intimacy

teaching with Frankie

A joyful dance, as always, with the inspirational Frankie Manning

Intimacy without dance

I was at a conference a few weeks ago run by Bill Baron in which  I participated in a very interesting process.  We split into groups of 5.  We each commented on whatever our intuitive hits were about each other.  We learned a lot by what we heard each other say as well as what we picked up just from the person’s vibe.  Then each person completed the sentence: “If you really knew me, you would know this about me…”  The examples given set the tone to say something revealing about something traumatic that helped to shape who we are, but no rule said it couldn’t be positive.  When someone was particularly courageous, it inspired others to take risks as well.  Then we did it again, and the second time many of us felt inspired to say something more positive about ourselves.  I was astonished at how seen I felt by the intuitions 4 strangers were able to express about me.  By the end of this 10 or 15 minute exercise, we all felt as if we had made 4 new friends whom we could trust with our innermost thoughts.

Intimacy with dance

Intimacy is so difficult to achieve in our society, yet it’s right at our fingertips in so many ways.  Needless to say, my favorite is through dance.  Frankie Manning used to say that every dance was a 2 minute love affair.  “For two minutes,” he would say, “you’re in love with this lady.”  Every time I danced with Frankie, I felt the truth in that.  I felt appreciated.  I felt his joy in the connection.  I felt honored by him as much as I felt honored to be dancing with such a legend.    I felt loved and I also felt in love with him for that space of time. He was absolutely right.

Connecting through dance

I’ve spoken before about the importance of connection in partner dance.  I don’t mean just the physical connection of good lead and follow skills.  I also mean eye contact, showing appreciation for your partner, and allowing yourself to be totally present in the joy of the moment.  When we share such an experience with another, we often find that elusive human connection that we all crave.  When we participate in a dance community where we see the same people regularly over time, we also have community in our lives.  A circle of friends with whom to share laughter and support and conversation.

I have this in my dance community and it’s what I wish for all of my students.  It’s humanity at its’ best!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Does Dancing Keep you Young?

 

Shim Sham Shimmy

Frankie Manning, in his 80s, performing with his son, Chaz.

People often assume dancing is why I don’t look my age.  A lot of dancers look younger than their years and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.  Dancing keeps your body limber and active.  Doing what you love keeps you joyful, so it’s a great combination if dance is what you love.  Of course, genes play a part, too.  I got mine from my father who does not dance, and so did my sister, an accomplished square dancer who can hold her own on a jitterbug floor.  So maybe dance has enhanced the youthfulness given a jump start by our genes!  Doing something joyful that keeps you active is, in my opinion, a recipe for youthfulness.

All dances, however, are not created equal.  I’ll never forget my tap teacher telling me years ago that ballet is the only dance style that teaches the body to do that which is unnatural to it.  Ballet dancers retire young and often deal with physical problems later.  It’s common, in contrast, to see elderly tap dancers still moving with grace and ease.  Tap is a difficult dance to learn, but it requires a relaxed natural movement.  Once mastered, the body remembers it.

Frankie Manning, my friend and mentor for the last fifteen years of his life, was an example of how we’d all like to age.  The picture I included at the beginning of this post shows how youthful he was well into his eighties.  Chaz, only 18 year younger than his dad, ages just as gracefully.  Frankie was eighty when we met, continuing to dance and look forty years younger into his nineties.  He popped an aerial with me at the end of his birthday jam on his 85th birthday, with perfect grace,balance and timing.  His son Chaz, now in his eighties, looks just as young, so you could make an argument for genes, but then again Chaz is a dancer, too!

There are lots of reasons why people age as they do, but a joyful attitude has to be one of the best anti-aging tools around.  I’ll be sharing some inspirational videos of older dancers in future blogs, so keep an eye out and keep dancing!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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