TAP DANCE HALL OF
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The Nicholas Brothers
Fayard (1914- ) and Harold (1921-2000)
Nicholas created an exuberant style
of American theatrical dance melding jazz rhythm with
tap, acrobatics, ballet and black vernacular dance.
Their rhythmic brilliance, musicality, eloquent footwork
and full-bodied expressiveness are unsurpassed, and
their dancing represents the most sophisticated refinement
of jazz as a percussive dance form.
From a young
age, at the Standard Theatre in Philadelphia where
his parents conducted a pit band orchestra, Fayard was
introduced to the best tap acts in black vaudeville.
He then proceeded to teach young Harold basic tap steps.
The "Nicholas Kids" made their professional
debut in Philadelphia in 1930-31, and in New York, at
the Lafayette Theatre one year later as the "Nicholas
In 1932 they opened at the uptown
Cotton Club, which became their home base for next few
years. Dancing with the orchestras of Cab Calloway and
Duke Ellington, the brothers evolved a classy and swinging
musical performance in which comic quips and eccentric
dance combined with precision-timed moves and virtuosic
Alternating between the stage and
screen throughout their career, they made their first
film, the Vitaphone short, Pie, Pie, Blackbird, with
Eubie Blake in 1932 and their first Hollywood movie,
Kid Millions, for Samuel Goldwyn in 1934. On Broadway,
in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and Babes in Arms (1937),
they worked with choreographer George Balanchine, and
during the same period performed at the newly-opened
downtown Cotton Club and starred in the London West
End production of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1936, in
which they worked with Buddy Bradley.
At the Apollo, Harlem Opera House,
Palace and Paramount theatres in the thirties and forties,
the brothers danced with the big bands of Jimmy Lunceford,
Chick Webb, Count Basie and Glen Miller. Collaboration
with Hollywood dance director Nick Castle on seven musical
films for 20th Century-Fox embellished the brothers'
modern style of jazz dancing. They tapped on suitcases
in The Great American Broadcast (1941), jumped off walls
into back flips and splits in Orchestra Wives (1942)
and jumped over each other down a flight of stairs,
landing into a split on each step, in Stormy Weather
(1943). These dazzling feats were always delivered with
a smooth effortlessness. In Down Argentine Way (1940),
they moved in perfect synchrony: arms and wrists circling,
they slipped and slid along the floor, dipping into
splits and whipping into one-legged wings.
By the late forties, their high-speed
and rhythm-driven style was fast and fluent enough to
endure the radical musical shift in jazz to Bebop. The
Brothers headlined "The Hepsations of 1945"
on a southern tour with Dizzy Gillespie's big band,
and worked with bop composer/arranger Tad Dameron, but
they were irresistibly drawn to the steady and danceable
rhythms of Swing and continued to work in that musical
Working as solo artists in the late
1950s and early 60s, Harold in Europe and Fayard in
America, the brothers were reunited for three Hollywood
Palace television specials in 1964 and continued to
perform as a team.
Constance Valis Hill
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