Frankie Manning was known as the “Ambassador of Lindy Hop” because he was such a positive, friendly, and affirming representative of swing dance and the swing community. Following the month of May where we celebrated Frankie’s birthday month at WNH, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hole that Frankie’s presence leaves in the community. When you think of the “spirit of Lindy Hop”, what comes to mind? What qualities? When I think of that question, I invariably choose words that were embodied by Frankie Manning, and so I’m amazed at how enmeshed Frankie’s character becomes with how we evoke and live and propagate the dance today.
I took part in an LGBTQ+ discussion on Yehoodi (link forthcoming) recently, and I was struck by what Adam Brozowski had to say about diversity and inclusion being part of the core values of Lindy Hop. Those core values affect not just minorities of gender/sexual diversity, but all types of marginalized peoples. Can the same methods we use to attract, retain, and affirm LGBTQ+ folk be used to make our community more welcoming to racial minorities, class minorities, disabled minorities, elderly or young minorities, or financially challenged minorities? Frankie could always bring people together. Lindy Hop has the ability to bring people together. Sometimes I feel we need that skill, that spirit, now more than ever before.
In that vein, I want to bring attention to people in our community who are usually overlooked in their importance. They’re sometimes organizers or teachers, but more often than not, they’re students or frequent social dancers. They are usually untrained, unguided, and uncompensated. I think of them as our every day “ambassadors” of Lindy Hop.
Ambassadors approach/are approachable. They don’t worry about walking right up to someone new and striking up a conversation. Or maybe they don’t approach right away, but they stand to the side with a smile and a laugh at something they see from across the room. They’re often asked to dance by complete strangers and are gleeful accepters. They look like they’re having a good time, and they attract people wanting to share in that joy.
Ambassadors make eye contact. When they talk to you, they really see you, they really give you their attention. They ask questions about you, how long you’ve been dancing, and how you got here. They tell you about themselves and what keeps them coming back again and again to the dance/event/community. Conversations aren’t long, but even a “see you next week!” on your way out the door is encouraging.
Ambassadors make connections. Their favorite phrase might be “oh, I think I know someone…” They remember names or offer to make introductions to your next carpool buddy, balboa practice partner, dancer in your age group, musician looking to start a jazz band, private lesson instructor, or just someone you share interests with. “Oh, you love artichokes? I know someone who GROWS artichokes! They’re that dancer in the blue top over there…”
Ambassadors notice things. When you’re late. If you’ve been crying in a stairwell. They might offer to be your buddy when you complain to an organizer. Or they might be a person you vent a “non-issue” issue to. Ambassadors don’t need to be friends with everybody, but they are somehow sensitive to the overall tenor of the community and can feel a sour note. “Hey, I noticed that dance out there was a little rough…how are you doing?” might be a question they ask.
Ambassadors are not always the top dancers in a room. They’re not always the people in authority. They’re not always teachers, or volunteers, or people you might naturally assume should help out. But personally, I measure the health of a scene in the number of ambassadors and ambassador-like activities happening on the floor. They are the glue of the community and without a social community there can be no social dance. I know we’re mostly socially awkward peeps who got into dancing because it allows for 3 minutes of structured personal interaction without strings, but if you have an ambassador (or several ambassadors!) in your scene, you better hold on to them. If you know one, maybe take a moment this week to tell them “thank you”. Thank you for being a bright light in the community. No one can replace Frankie, but then, he was just a light himself…the kind that lights all other lights around him.