This is the second installment of a special feature that I’m doing with Ramona Staffeld. We’re looking at some very old school clips of her past performances and getting her reactions. The first one was from the 1998 American Lindy Hop Championships. This one is Ramona dancing with Frankie Manning at Midsummer’s Night Swing at Lincoln Center. Everything after the video below is written by her with a few hopefully helpful edits from me. Enjoy!
Wow, I don’t know where to start. I actually have never seen that clip, and I thought when I saw “Ramona Staffeld and Frankie Manning 1999” in the link, I was sure it was the clip on YouTube from Albany, New York. So when the first frame appeared, I got chills all over; I froze for a second or two. After my moment of recognition, I had a test of patience waiting for the clip to fully load. It felt like forever, and along with the my excitement, I could feel judgment creeping in.
Lately I have been thinking about how hard it is to be in the moment while taking [everything] in. Even though I was watching myself dance with the one and only Frankie Manning, and even though our dance was 12 years ago, I was critical of myself. It’s so hard not to be. Still, my goal was to watch and be present with a fresh eye.
Of course I must be honest, I was filled with so many emotions at once. Immediately I felt sadness, even though my heart was smiling. I laughed, I noticed my body moving with the music, and I could not help the intense feeling of awe for Frankie’s incredible style.
Style is an expression of being. It’s like saying “it’s the man that makes the cloths,” [and] not the other way around. Frankie’s style came from within. His way of moving with other people came from his way of being with other people. And you know what’s so gorgeous? He wasn’t even trying, it came natural to him. Frankie’s style was natural.
Frankie was the perfect gentleman, and you can see that so clearly in the way he danced with me; the way he took care of his dance partners. Everything about his body language was so respectful, playful, and down right gorgeous. I had to watch the clip a second time, and when I did, I just felt gratitude. Grateful for his numerous contributions to the lindy hop, grateful for his teaching, and grateful to have been in his presence. Really, there are so many things to thank Frankie for, and that feeling of thankfulness is alive all around the world.
Going back to the actual events, I remember getting a phone call, in maybe April, from Frankie. He asked if I would like to open Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Swing Series with him. Of course, I was extremely flattered and excited by his invitation. Needless to say, I accepted. This was a big deal for me, but also for the rest of my family. In preparation, we rented a hotel room on the upper west side. [A] tiny place, I remember getting there and [thinking], wow, this is so small, barely enough room to walk by the beds. Still, that’s the beauty of New York City, those things don’t matter. It’s just being there in the midst of all that life that gets you so high.
I have vivid pictures in my mind, and feelings in my heart. I remember not being able to decide (so me) what dress to wear. It was a toss up between a blue velvet or the black and white check [that] I ended up [wearing.] I remember the way Frankie made sure my parents and I were taken care of by Lincoln Center. He made sure we were fed, which meant a sit down meal together before the evening began. He introduced me to the band members back stage, and the other performers: the beautiful Micky Davidson and the legendary Buster Brown. I remember Bill and Livia Vanaver, and all the rest of my friends from the Vanaver Caravan cheering me on. I remember my parents, and the great support of other lindy hoppers from Ithaca. I remember feeling special. Not so much because I got to dance in front of hundreds of people at Lincoln Center, but because of Frankie. Frankie made you feel special. Not just me, but each and every person he met. You mattered to him, and it was genuine. That’s what I remember, not so much how he treated me, but how he treated everyone else.
[When we started,] it was [just] about having fun for us. The pure simplicity of that motivation produces a certain kind of dancer, I believe, we just could not get enough of the lindy hop. We could not wait for the next opportunity to social dance, and once it came, we could never get our shoes on fast enough.
I guess I wish I could say I was conscious of inheriting the Lindy Hop as a tradition at that time, but it’s more that I had respect for Frankie as a legend and a master. He also felt a bit like a grandfather figure to me, which really made me feel loved. I think his greatest mentoring for me personally was dancing with me. The blessing of having danced with Frankie is a knowledge that goes way beyond our day to day consciousness. What we learn we are not aware of at the time. Our cells remember, our heart remembers, but it’s not so much about thinking or analyzing. I know his movement and music [are] a part of me.
Honestly, I always felt that just the fact that he was interested in us kids from Ithaca, NY was encouragement that went a long way. I remember Bill Borgida had organized a special class with him for the Swing Kids, we have a picture from that day, and it includes many other kids who danced at that time. We all knew we were in the presence of someone extraordinary. There was no way not to. His smile, laughter, and energy put you in a place so light in spirit, it was as if you were flying. Thank you Frankie.