Friday, October 10, 2014

"Peg Leg" Bates Did Not Let An Amputation, Or The Color of His Skin, Stop Him From Having A Successful Dance Career!

"Life means, do the best you can with what you've got, with all your mind and heart. You can do anything in this world if you want to do it bad enough," ~Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates, (1907-1998)

I was reminded today of a tap dancer I used to love to watch dance when he appeared on television.  I don't recall the first time I ever saw him dance, but it may have been in the 1950s as I recall discussing him with my father.  I was always fascinated by his wooden peg leg and his ability to maneuver and tap dance so well.

He first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1955 and made numerous appearances on the show.  

Here is a video of Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates, dancing, and a video of a Dedication of a Statue to honor him in Greenville, South Carolina, the place he moved to when he was 12 years of age, and the place where he began his successful dance career, despite his disability, and despite the color of his skin. 

 Quoted from Constance Vallis Hill,

"Bates worked his way upward from minstrel shows and carnivals to the vaudeville circuits. At fifteen, after having become the undisputed king of one-legged dancers, able to execute acrobatic, graceful soft shoe, and powerful rhythm-tapping all with one leg and a peg, he established a professional career as a tap dancer. In 1930, after dancing in the Paris version of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1929, Bates returned to New York to perform as a featured tap dancer at such famous Harlem nightclubs as the Cotton Club, Connie's Inn, and the Club Zanzibar. On Broadway in the 1930s, he reinvented such popular tap steps as the Shim Sham Shimmy, Susie-Q, and Truckin' by enhancing them with the rhythmic combination of his deep-toned left-leg peg and the high-pitched metallic right-foot tap. As one of the black tap dancers able to cross the color barrier, Bates joined performers on the white vaudeville circuit of Keith & Lowe and performed on the same bill as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly. In 1949 Bates sang and danced the role of the swashbuckling pirate, Long John Silver in the musical review Blackouts. "Don't give up the ship, although you seem to lose the fight; life means do the best with all you got, give it all your might," he sang in the Ken Murray musical that played for three years at the Hollywood and Vine Theatre in Hollywood."

I had a below-the-knee amputation nearly seven years ago, and although I have an excellent prosthetic and a expense carbon fiber prosthetic foot with ankle movement,  I don't think I could tap dance, even with taps on my shoes!! 



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