This is one of two documents, prepared by the director and board chair of the Philadelphia Folklore Project for hearings held statewide by the PA Council on the Arts in 1994, included here for two reasons. The issues continue to haunt us: most grants programs and peer panels in the arts continue to see the world from a point of view that doesn't usually apply to grassroots and folk arts. We need to work collectively to change these institutions, and to develop our own tools and resources. Stay in touch with the PFP for information about continually occuring issues, and organizing efforts.
Have you ever seen Frankie Manning do the Lindy? Have you seen the elegance in the easy but determined placement of his hands, in the fluid thrust of his feet and legs and in the suspended glide of his hip? Have you considered the splendid tension he maintains between the anchoring structure of the dance and his breakaway improvisational virtuosity that seems just short of out-of-control? Have you ever reflected on what his dance represents in the social and cultural history of African Americans - an opportunity for release from the disequilibrium of life in the industrialized North in the 30s and 40s, a chance for personal recognition in an environment where all blacks merged into one indistinguishable stereotypic profile, a powerful engine for the evolution of American classical music as represented by the great Swing Era. His dance suggests the enduring debt - often minimized or overlooked altogether - that jazz owes to vernacular dance for its conception, spread, and artistic fulfillment. That and much more is there to behold when Frankie Manning does the Lindy.
A couple of months ago, I went to see Anna Deveare Smith's one-woman play, "Twilight," a collection of monologues reactive to the eruption of violence in Los Angeles following the acquittal of police offers charged with the Rodney King beating. Ms. Smith faithfully quoted the words of a dozen or more real-life people who experienced the L.A. tragedy. She imitated their physical and linguistic mannerisms. She represented their clothing and environments. She simulated their cultural traditions.
The production had all the earmarks of substantial financial support: a nationally recognized director, beautifully designed and executed set, and creative exploitation of a variety of media techniques. I asked myself, if we can provide this level of support to someone telling other peoples's stories, why can't we provide meaningful financial support for people to tell their own stories - the stories embodied in their traditional dances and music, in their needlework and carvings, in their sign painting, dollmaking, palmweaving, puppetry, street games and metalworking.
Anna Deveare Smith deserves support in her effort to bring the thoughts and emotions of her subjects to audiences who might never otherwise appreciate their poignancy, banality, stupidity or honesty. But Frankie Manning deserves equal time.
- Germaine Ingram
January 13, 1994