Interview with Mandi Gould

This month we are holding a special Lindy Hop and solo Jazz workshop with Mandi Gould. In addition to being an incredible teacher, Mandi organizes major dance events and is involved with the Frankie Manning Foundation. We sat down with her to find out more about her thoughts on Frankie Manning, dancing, and teaching.

How did you get into dancing?

I’m aging myself when I answer this question, but here it goes. I began University on a large campus in 1997 and really felt that there was something missing in my life. I didn’t feel a sense of community, and was really craving some form of artistic and creative expression. I had not had the chance to dance growing up and it was always something that I feel I’d missed out on, so when my sister heard about “swing dancing”, we decided to check it out. On the very first Thursday of January ‘98, a very cold winter’s night, we rushed in to a cozy little upstairs club and on to a scene right from the Hot Club of France. It was not at all what I was expecting. I was really anticipating something more like the solo musical theatre stuff that you’d see in films like Grease but WOW, the moment I laid eyes on it it was love at first site. There were only a handful of people dancing the Lindy Hop in my city at that time, but seeing young people partnered dancing to live music charmed me from the very first instant.

Are there any dancers that inspire you?

Historically, I’m really attracted to the wild abandon of all the old social dance videos from the Savoy and Harlem, though those videos are pretty few and far between. My contemporary inspirations are mainly Swedish dancers, and though there are fewer videos available of those dancers because they tend to not participate in competitions there is a history of learning directly from Frankie Manning in Sweden that has resulted in a rich appreciation of the more authentic, grounded, and African rooted side to the dance that beats anything else for me. The old Rhythm Hot Shots (disbanded around 2003) were my original inspirations and above all else I found inspiration from Åsa Heedman (then Åsa Palm). Åsa along with her partner and husband, Daniel Heedman, continue to be my favorite dancers, along with members of the original generation of the Harlem Hotshots who I spent a great deal of time with from about 2002 to 2005; Hanna and Mattias Lundmark, Lennart Westerlund, Frida Segerdahl and Sakarias Larsson. There are some other great dancers around too, but this bunch really set the benchmark for me.

Harlem Hot Shot performing at Herrang in 2011.

You’ve taught with Frankie Manning before. Tell us about what that was like.

I was privileged enough to teach with Frankie Manning in 2002, 2006 and 2008 and knew him on a shy but friendly level for about 7 years. I never truly got over feeling shy and star struck in his presence. He was just such an incredible force of a man and the kindest soul. I’ll always remember how he called all the women ‘baby’ and all the guys ‘Jim’ and I just loved that. Teaching with him, he exuded the music in every way and I was always struck by how much the rhythm was in absolutely every ounce of he moved and taught.

Mandi teaching with Frankie Manning in Toronto in 2008.

What things do you enjoy most about teaching?

I’ve been teaching Lindy Hop for a very long time and my my enjoyment and satisfaction has started to come from different places than it once did. Above all else, I love the feeling of spreading the passion and spirit of Lindy Hop. There’s something so wonderful about that moment when you see someone’s eyes open wide because they’ve just had a new realization of some kind and the excitement that can bring. And I love how Lindy Hop changes people lives for the better. I love being a part of that process.

In the past you have been involved with the Herrang Dance Camp. What is Herrang like?

Ah, Herrang. My home away from home. Yes, I used to be part of the Herrang administration and that’s something I might return to, and I’m looking forward to going back this year in the new role of “Beginner Mama” which is a true pleasure for me. Herrang is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, a couple of hours outside of Stockholm. It just so happens that this little town has been undergoing an invasion by hundreds of dancers from around the world since 1992. It’s really a bizarre but wonderful recipe for magic. I could tell you all about the nitty gritty and ins and outs of Herrang but it would probably take hours. What I really love to emphasize is what an international mecca of Lindy Hop this little town becomes every summer. There is nowhere quite like it.

You were one of the main organizers for the Frankie 100 Celebration in NYC last year. Tell us about the event.

Frankie 100 took place in New York City May 22nd to 26th, 2014. The event was the largest swing dance event of modern day and brought together over 2000 dancers from 47 countries to honour Frankie Manning on his hundredth birthday. The festival celebrated the roots and origins of Lindy Hop and Big Band Swing with historic events including the show, Swingin’ Frankie’s Way, at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater which was one of the highlights of my life. It was an insanely huge production, and ruled my life for about a year and a half, but it was something very special for a very special man.

What led you to get involved with the Frankie Foundation? What are some of the things that the foundation is involved with?

I’m a volunteer-aholic. After Frankie passed away in 2009, I felt a great responsibility to help carry on the gift that Frankie gave to me and to all of us. I got in touch with Judy Pritchett, Frankie’s long time girlfriend and companion, and offered to help. I started out by helping with the scholarship program sending people to Herrang and eventually joined as a full Board member.

The Foundation preserves Mr. Manning’s life work in three ways. First, the Foundation is continuing to take steps to have Mr. Manning’s memorabilia housed in a library where it will be easily accessible. Second, the Foundation aspires to create an archive of all video materials connected with Frankie. Third, the Foundation looks to share Frankie’s life and artistic heritage by supporting those who are working to pass on his legacy. The Foundation’s vision for the future is to spread Lindy Hop around the world and continually engage new dancers.

What advice would you give students who are interested in getting started with Lindy Hop?

Do it! It will change your life in all the best possible ways! The main thing to keep in mind is that during the swing era, nobody went to a dance class to learn how to dance. There was a culture of incredible jazz music and the dance came out of the music. People would make stuff up because it felt good to do it to the music. So when you’re first starting out, try not to stress out too much about the steps and the details. Those things will come with time. What’s really important is to try to step in to the spirit of where the dance came from and social dancing, not necessarily for ‘practice’ but for the simple joy of dancing socially no matter what your level is trumps any technique you learn in class. Get out there and make it your own.

Do you have any other hobbies outside dance?

Um, no. Haha. That’s not exactly true. I’m a jazz enthusiast and enjoy the music even when I’m not dancing. I also enjoy ballroom dancing, though not as much as Lindy Hop. I love birds and am borderline obsessed with my two birds; they were the two “actual” organizers of Frankie 100, I like to say. I dabble in raw food and plant based diet health foodie stuff. And I’m known to geek out on fantasy and sci fi.

On a scale of 1 to 10 rate pecking.

Pecking can’t even be contained on a scale.