If Frankie Manning decided to close the door to his past life, swing as we know it could have been forever sealed in history. None of our lives would have crossed, dance camps around the globe wouldn’t exist the same way we have them today, and you definitely wouldn’t be reading this article.
That door he opened was no small gesture- in it rested the memories of a world in transition. Those living at that time felt the residual choke hold of the great depression- enduring the sting of socio economic differences, and legislation that fought to keep human beings separated based on their skin color. The times were not easy to live.
In the midst of that chaos, the spirit of swing burned into the hearts of a generation reminding the world that we are not so different. Its spirit couldn’t be silenced by politicians, or isolated to one side of town by those afraid of the truth. No, the door that Frankie reopened was enormous, and allowed us to walk into his world without leaving our own. Overnight we inherited a reawakening movement without having to share in the same struggles that the original generation had to endure.
Recently I turned 37 and sat reflecting on my life. I kept going back to a statement I heard said that, “People don’t find lindy hop, lindy hop finds them.” Though some of our stories may be more dramatic, we all have a unique story that brought us to swing that is worth listening to.
We’ve been singled out individually by this infectious culture and may not completely understand all the far reaching implications of our decision. It doesn’t matter if we are that small fraction of 1% who are professional instructors, or the 99% majority- we are in, and deputized to share the joy that we experience in this culture with our world of influence. Fires start small, and so do world changing movements.
A powerful match has been ignited, and now it’s time to fan the flames. Our swing culture is growing past the limits of borders, languages, cultures, socio economic differences, and skin colors. Its soul is burning in the hearts of so many, and we have the power to infect new generations to come with our movement. But will we? With over 6 billion people in the world compared to our thousands- we have no option to become alumni or cheer in the stands reminiscing about “how things use to be.” We must remain in the game by keeping our hearts and hands open, ready to share what we know, and help others do the same. Frankie did.
It doesn’t matter if we are the most experienced mature dancer or the novice newbie full of energy, we are in. You may be a musician who is passionate about the music- keep the fire alive. You may be passionate about starting a small event for your community- dream bigger. You may be a volunteer who feels your contribution doesn’t really make a difference- it does. If you are lost in identifying how you can share, start with what is in your hand.
Frankie represented one extraordinary person doing something outside of the ordinary. He could have easily sealed off his experiences to the confines of his memory. But he didn’t. He kept his hands open and ready to give. That contagious spirit has duplicated in such a short amount of time, that it’s difficult to measure the exponential growth and impact our world will experience because of his choice. There is no longer such a thing as an insignificant moment for us. We are part of a story that is unfolding- weaving destinies in and out of lives faster than the latest smartphone technology, and there is no sign of the momentum slowing – that is if we decide to do our part.
Hellen Keller said, “I would rather be physically blind and have no sight, than to have sight and no vision.” Everyone one of us are involved in this story no matter how seemingly invisible our mark may appear, and we have to recognize that our part is intrinsic to the survival of the scene. Without new dancers our movement will slow down dramatically. Workshop numbers will stagnate or deflate, teachers will stand in the square of an empty room, instead of a circle of students, and musicians will play for themselves unable to share the spirit with accompanying dancers. We cannot let this happen.
Everyday we wake up and go about our daily routine in life. We dress how we want to be addressed, leave our homes and begin to interact with other people throughout the day. Have you ever thought that many of the people you see in passing are looking for what you have to offer? You may only plant a small idea in the minds of a person, while others may cultivate it, but ultimately that new person will find their unique place in our community.
I believe Frankie set a precedence that can and will be met. He didn’t let age stop him, language or color differences, nor did he choose to just memorialize his past. He chose to share the spirit of this movement with the world. His example is our call to action. The future is waiting on us. Will we rise to the occasion?