Frankie’s Performance Troupes

CARLY ROBB

I get to give you all a brief overview of the performance troupes that Frankie was involved with, in particular Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and some of the work that the group did in Hollywood.  Some of the material on the web is a little contradictory, and dates can be hard to come by, so the best way to find out about Whitey’s and Hollywood is still to ask the great man himself, just like I did myself in Adelaide last year.


WHITEY’S LINDY HOPPERS [1935]

Savoy Ballroom dancers as a professional performance troupe with Frankie “Musclehead” Manning becoming the main choreographer, and serving as artistic director to Whitey’s business management role, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers became was the most famous performance Lindy Hop team in the world.

Smaller groups drawn from Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were sent around America and the world to perform under different names, but all where still his Lindy Hoppers. Originally called “Whyte’s Maniacs”, then “whitey’s Hopping Maniac’s” and finally “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.”


WHITEY’S HOPPING MANIACS

In late 1936 Whitey’s top dancers worked a 6 month gig at the Cotton Club under the name of “Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs” officially making the big time. Frankie Manning was in charge of this group and various websites have also named this group as The Harlem Congeroos after Frankie declined an offer to have the group renamed Manning’s Lindy Hoppers. Without firm dates it’s a bit hard to tell whether these groups are one and the same, certainly many of the principle dancers would have been.


WHITEY’S LINDY HOPPERS

Meanwhile for the first time using the name “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers” a second group was pulled together for their first major Hollywood film, the Marx Brothers “A Day at the Races.” Unfortunately Frankie was part of the Cotton Club team which means he was not able to be part of the performance troupe for “A Day at the Races.”


THE HARLEM CONGEROOS

This group was also formed from Whitey’s tops dancers so was probably similar to the Whitey’s Hoping Maniacs group, although I believe that this group was put together in later years though still headed by Frankie Manning.


THE CONGEROO DANCERS [c. 1946-54]

Lindy Hop Performance troupe led by Frankie Manning after WWII The group was originally the primary group of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers known as The Harlem Congeroos. (Though some sites call them the Congaroos rather than the Congeroos).  Appeared on the “Milton Berle Show”, toured with Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Martha Raye and Sammy Davis Jr.  Playing in the Cotton Club and dancing in the movie Hellzapoppin’ and the soundie Hot Chocolates as the original Harlem Congeroos with Whitey as manager.  The group disbanded in 1954 as the popularity of stage shows was declining and the music was developing along lines that did not always suit Lindy Hop.


HOLLYWOOD MOVIES:

  • 1937 “A Day at the Races” – The Marx Brothers
  • 1937 “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round”
  • 1938 “Radio City Revels”
  • 1939 “Keep Punchin’”
  • 1941 “Hellzapoppin’”
  • 1941-42 “Hot Chocolates” (Cottontail) Soundie
  • 1948 “Killer Diller” (The Congeroos)
  • 1991 PBS-National Geographic “Jitterbug”

ALMOST MADE IT INTO:

“Everybody Sing” – Judy Garland. Apparently the Lindy Hop scene was removed from this film after Whitey had a dispute with the producer over the lack of breaks for his dancers and tore up the contract.
Frankie’s choreography in the movies includes:
“Malcolm X” – Denzel Washington. Frankie tells an amazing story of teaching Denzel Washington how to swing and says that Denzel’s version of Frankie’s trademark snatch aerial is the best he’s ever seen.

Whiteys Lindy Hoppers: A Day at the Races

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