In honor of Frankie Manning’s birthday month, we wanted to highlight a variation of a well-known line dance choreography.
The Tranky Doo is usually attributed to Pepsi Bethel for the common version of the choreography. In the documentary The Spirit Moves, dancers Al Minns, Leon James, and Pepsi Bethel were recorded dancing Pepsi’s version of the Tranky Doo with Ella Fitzgerald’s “The Dipsy Doodle” dubbed over the video. Frankie Manning also choreographed a version of the Tranky Doo (for the sake of clarification, we are going to be calling this the Frankie Doo). It is unknown which choreography came first – Pepsi’s or Frankie’s. Dancers usually danced the Tranky Doo at the Savoy Ballroom when Erskine Hawkins’ “Tuxedo Junction” played. We need to remember that this song is performed at a variety of tempos, leading to variations in the line dance choreography. Today’s dancers usually leap onto the dance floor for Pepsi’s version of the Tranky Doo when hearing “The Dipsy Doodle” even though the original steps had nothing to do with this song. It is unknown why Maura Dehn chose to use “The Dispsy Doodle” as the audio track for that specific part of The Spirit Moves.
There is a lot of speculation on the origin of this dance. There is even a debate on the correct spelling; I have seen Tranky Doo, Trankey Doo, Trankey Do, Tranky Do, and Trunky Doo. Today, a few versions remain of the many that used to exist. We’ve spoken with a few different dance historians in the process of writing this blog. Many thanks to Margaret Batuichok, Judy Pritchet, Jun Maruta, and Karen Goldstein for your valuable knowledge and contributions to our beloved dance.
Judy concludes that Frankie Manning choreographed the Tranky Doo for Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Prior to the swing revival, the Tranky Doo was performed many times by Al and Leon, and by a couple named Ruby Reeve and Harry Connor. During the revival, Frankie taught his version and it varied depending on with whom he was teaching (but it was still the same dance as far as he was concerned).
Jun was a member of Frankie’s Wednesday/Thursday night dance group in New York City. In an email interview, Jun says that Tranky Doo was the nickname given to a specific chorus girl at the Club De Lisa in Chicago; she could “really get down” which inspired Frankie to create a short routine in her honor. Frankie had explained that the routine was for his post WWII Congaroos, not Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. The version Jun and the other Wednesday Night Hoppers knew is what Frankie put together specifically for his group in the early 2000s. Jun speculates that only the first two or three steps are the same as the original since Frankie had said he couldn’t remember all the choreography. Frankie had preferred dancing his versions to a medium tempo.
Jun had also spoken to Pepsi Bethel about the routine. Pepsi stated that his version was the one that Al and Leon had taught him and he thought the routine was for Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Frankie did share the Tranky Doo with many people and so there are many versions, including Harry and Ruby’s.
New York City dancer Charles Herold wrote a very interesting blog article regarding the Spirit Moves’ version of the Tranky Doo. Using a detailed and laborious process, he re-imagined and re-edited existing footage to match “Tuxedo Junction.”
We broke down the Frankie Doo from a performance in the Frankie95 show. In the beginning of the video, Margaret Batuichok announces that Frankie choreographed this version for the New York Swing Dance Society performance group, who later became the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers.
The dancers in this video are Karen Goldstein, Jun Maruta, Yvonne Marceau, Kathy LaQuadra, Michael Jagger, Elena Iannucci, Margaret Batuichok, Eva Carozza, and Matt Bedell.
Here’s our walk through with counts:
We want to bring this classic back and there’s no better time than Frankie’s birthday month.
And for some fun…
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