Welcome back to Part 2 of our 3 Part series on Jazz Dances that Every Lindy Hopper Should Know. Next up:
3. The Tranky Doo (difficulty: medium)
Performance by Nathan & Audrey’s Sunset Lindy Hoppers:
The Tranky Doo is another 1940s jazz line dance that has staged a recent comeback among modern Lindy Hop dancers. The dance likely originated in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and like the Shim Sham Shimmy, the Tranky Doo is danced in a line formation. The dance incorporates a wider variety of steps than the Shim Sham, as well as steps with more interesting and challenging rhythmic syncopation.
Most accounts cite either Pepsi Bethel or Frankie Manning as the choreographers of the dance, and in fact there are at least two common versions of the routine being taught these days. The most widely known version is based on a performance by Al Minns, Leon James & Pepsi Bethel that was recorded on film and is included in the 1986 dance documentary the Spirit Moves. I learned the second, lesser known version of the Tranky Doo from modern Lindy Hopper Manu Smith, who had in turn learned it directly from Frankie Manning. When teaching the routines these days, I make a point to distinguish the two versions calling the first the “classic” or “common” Tranky Doo and referring to the second more specifically as “Frankie’s Tranky Doo.” Which one came first? The jury is out.
Classic Tranky Doo from the Spirit Moves:
Frankie’s Tranky Doo taught by Manu Smith & Ria Debiase:
The classic Tranky Doo and Frankie’s Tranky Doo both start out with a signature sequence of steps that includes Fall Off The Log, Shuffles, the Lowdown, Shoe-Shine & Boogie Forward, but the routines quickly diverge. Watching Frankie’s Tranky Doo, you’ll probably notice a motif of variations on the Fall Off the Log step, that is noticeably absent in the classic Tranky Doo.
I once had an opportunity to ask Frankie about the origins of the dance. His partner Judy Pritchett conveyed the question, “who choreographed the Tranky Doo?” and Frankie responded something like “oh yeah, I did that Tranky Doo.” In my mind there was still some ambiguity about whether Frankie was the original choreographer, especially since so many other sources credit Pepsi Bethel. This is purely my own speculation, but I could imagine the dance evolving collaboratively among a group of dancers with many variations and versions being developed, mixed and matched and propagated, but eventually dying out to history.
During the 1940s, dancers commonly performed the Tranky Doo to Erskine Hawkins tune Tuxedo Junction. These days modern Lindy Hoppers will often jump on the dance floor and perform the Tranky Doo to the song the Dipsy Doodle (with versions by Tommy Dorsey and Ella Fitzgerald especially popular). This is due to the fact that Tommy Dorsey’s Dipsy Doodle is dubbed over as the audio track in the Spirit Moves film clip; note that the original archive footage had no audio.