Master Tap Dancer Fayard Nicholas Still Smiling at 90
Along with celebrating Black History Month, Santa Monica College celebrated artistic, genuine passion when Fayard Nicholas, one of the most talented African-American tap dancers who ever lived, gave a lecture last Tuesday on campus.
At 90-years-young, the master of modern dance showed the public that "a life of passion keeps you young forever," as Judith Douglas, a SMC dance faculty teacher, said.
This passion not only led the artist to an exiting and glorious career, but it seems to have kept him a happy, brilliant man with a great sense of humor.
"I was very good at gymnastics in school. I think they could have had me in the Olympics," said Nicholas jokingly.
Considering the flexibility, the artistic grace and the magnificent dance mechanism that Nicholas has developed, winning a Olympic gold medal would not have been a surprise at all.
During the lecture, three breathtaking film clips were projected of the great dancing team, the Nicholas brothers - Fayard and Harold. Harold, who died in 2000, and Fayard captured the hearts of all in attendance as the films were followed by a public ovation.
The three artistic performances featured the brothers not only dancing, but singing and acting.
Among the three films was "Stormy Weather," a legendary 1943 film renowned for a panting, acrobatic staircase routine where the two brothers go down a flight of stairs by jumping over one another, landing on each step by performing the splits.
This piece is Nicholas's favorite amid the 30 films he made. Acrobatic routines were also incorporated in "Down Argentine Way," a 1940 film where the Nicholas Brothers did splits, ran up walls and flipped back.
Influenced by European ballet, the Nicholas brothers have created their own style of tap dancing: a smooth mix of acrobatic moves, ballet and tap dance.
What Nicholas calls "classical tap" has inspired and affected many artists as well as many contemporary dance techniques throughout the world. A great example of this is hip-hop dancing.
For Jeremiah Carter, a young dancer who had been waiting his whole life to see the Nicholas Brothers "mastered" into originality, "They didn't just tap, they came up with their own style - kind of if you took Fred Astaire and made him funky."
But more than a rendezvous for jazz lovers, or Broadway melancholiacs, the presence of Nicholas was an honor that not only celebrated a passion for dance, but also brightened a heavy past of intolerance and racial discrimination, which the artist prevailed over with the beauty of his art.
At a time where the color of your skin had more significance than your humanity, the Nicholas brothers succeeded in overcoming the most resistant barriers.
For Carter, the Nicholas Brothers have made "the young black people proud by always being so classy and dignified."
The brothers were never used as tools of African American racial stereotypes, such as the "Coon" or "Sambo," which is dancing exaggerated with black painted faces.
The talented and versatile master of modern dance never had a teacher. He developed his incredible dance mechanics by watching different vaudevillian artists perform as a young child at the old Standard Theater where both his parents were part of an orchestra.
Soothed into dance and music at an early age, Nicholas became a mentor for his younger brother Harold. Even though he was self-taught, Nicholas believes that education is fundamental to success.
"If you want to be a dancer, a lawyer or a doctor, whatever you want, you need to get your education so you will be a better dancer, lawyer or doctor," said Nicholas, who strongly encourages people to believe in their dreams and stay in school.
"My brother and I had such a wonderful time doing this and all that jazz," Nicholas said many times.
From teaching Debbie Allen tap, Michael and Janet Jackson tap, dancing for the King and Queen of England, and for nine United States presidents, to his own Hollywood star on the walk of fame, a Tony award, the Kennedy Center honors, and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, the tributes are countless.
The Nicholas Brothers have lived a life of passion that has and will continue to inspire and awaken admiration in persons throughout the world. As for dance, the contributions they have made in pushing the limits, will forever be remembered.