On Monday, January 20th 2020 the funeral of Frankie Jaffey took place at Brandwood End Cemetery. A clear blue sky on a cold January afternoon saw Frankie’s closest family, her partner, and a few close friends attend a traditional Jewish burial that marked the end of her fight with cancer.
I first met Frankie not through dancing but through work. A bright enthusiastic lady starting a new job in a secondary school in Chelmsley Wood. With an infectious smile and positive attitude, we soon became friends and eventually, she convinced me I should attend her Lindy Hop class. At this point, I hadn’t done any partner dancing and even my dad dancing was sub-par. That was in 2008.
Cricket Club Days
I don’t have lots of details about when Frankie started to Lindy Hop. I know that she was a big part of JazzJiveSwing with James and Bridget in Cheltenham; that for many years she taught at Kings Heath Cricket Club. I’ve tried to remember more details but they’re not clear and hopefully, those who were there can fill in the gaps in the comments below. My personal Lindy Hop journey starts in 2008.
The Billesley Era
In 2008 I started to attend Lindy Hop classes at the Billesley Pub in Kings Heath. Here Frankie was teaching 3 classes on a Thursday evening with Phil Morland. The classes were extraordinary! Frankie’s boundless enthusiasm, passion and sheer enjoyment left everyone wanting more. In that first set of classes, I met beginners who later on would become a much bigger part of the wider Birmingham swing scene.
There were occasional social dances at the British Legion in Northfield and excursions down to Staverton, Cheltenham to JazzJiveSwing Social events. In Birmingham the scene was small, one set of classes a week and the occasional social.
The start of something new
Things in Birmingham developed in 2010 when a couple of the dancers from class decided to host an event at the Dark Horse in Moseley. Hot Ginger. Andy Conway and Stephen Badham got together and over the next couple of years put on themed dances. Stephen still runs Hot Ginger and is one of the founding members of the Birmingham Swing Festival. Andy continues to love Jazz music and is a prolific author.
Frankie continued to teach and DJ at these events and at also at the Sunday Afternoon tea dances which were organised by more dancers from class, Martyn Nelson and Claire. The scene in Birmingham was being established.
During 2010-2013 Frankie encouraged dancers to break out of Birmingham and attend other events. Bristol Swing Festival, London Swing Festival, European Swing Dance Championships. No matter where we went, everyone knew Frankie, wanted to dance and spend time with her. Frankie always had a smile in public.
Time for change
In 2012 Phil Morland needed surgery on his knees, this left Frankie without a partner. Step in Martyn Nelson, later to become the founder of The Swing Era. Along with the change in teacher Line up the classes also moved to the Caledonian Corks club in Kings Heath. The newly found partnership bought a new lease of life to classes and to both of their dancing. Frankie’s enthusiasm for teaching and dancing reached new heights, unfortunately, this was short-lived and in the summer of 2013 Martyn quit teaching for personal reasons. That summer Frankie took stock of what Lindy hop meant for her. She’d been teaching for nearly 10 years, dancing was becoming less and less enjoyable. There were some tough decisions ahead.
September 2013, Frankie recruits a teaching assistant, me (Karl Bisseker). Classes continue with Frankie doing all of the teaching, it’s exhausting for her. I see the fatigue and there are many conversations about how to make this better. They all end with the same scenario.
In 2014 at the Bristol Swing Festival, Frankie’s energy levels are up and dancing is a joy. It’s clear that this scene holds something that she’s been craving. It’s also the event where she meets Max, her future partner. She leaves the event on a high, noted by the drive home with Frankie and Sam both sing loudly all the way back to Birmingham despite the obvious fatigue from a weekend of workshops and dancing.
Stepping down but not out
Summer 2014, Frankie takes a step back from teaching. In Birmingham, things begin to change. Sam Rooney joins me to continue teaching for JazzJiveSwing and, Rob Farley and Sarah Kelly join to start a second night of dance classes. Rob and Sarah also having been taught by Frankie in the previous years.
And this is when Frankie becomes a dancer of two cities; Birmingham and Bristol. Something that she adores. Unburdened from teaching she’s able to re-ignite her passion for dancing and life. It’s also when later in the year she is diagnosed with Bowel Cancer.
In 2015 three new swing dance companies emerged in Birmingham; All About Swing ( Rob and Sarah), Lindy Hop Birmingham ( Karl and Sam) and The Swing Era ( Martyn). All of whom were taught and inspired by Frankie and her passion for Lindy Hop. Without her influence Swing dancing in Birmingham would probably be very different.
To be continued
At this point, this brief and abridged history of Lindy Hop in Birmingham ends, temporarily. Please add your comments regarding your memories of Frankie and how she influenced swing dancing in Birmingham. It would be great to fill in the gaps regarding the Cricket Club period.