[This article follows the article of August 8, 2021, “Were These Brothers the Greatest Tap Dancers of All Time?” See also the email newsletter version.]
“I think it’s pretty safe to assume the Nicholas Brothers were superhuman,” was what one commentator had to say to the Nicholas Brothers’ performance in the 1943 film, Stormy Weather.
I totally agree!
A Legacy of Wow
Harold and Fayard Nicholas, the tap dancing virtuosos of Hollywood’s Golden Era, were electrifying entertainers and had impressive careers even after they had passed their peak performance years. Their last film as a duo was in 1948, but each went on to dance individually for many years and to become choreographers and trainers of other dancers.
If you do a simple YouTube search of the Nicholas Brothers, you’ll see all their famous routines and probably leave with a sense of “Wow, how did they do that?” They left a legacy of wow, joy, and professionalism that later dancers such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, and even Janet and Michael Jackson emulated.
Fayard Reflects on the Jumpin’ Jive Routine
The National Visionary Leadership Project interviewed some 250 African American elders who shaped the 20th century in their respective fields, and before he died in 2006, the NVLP interviewed Fayard Nicholas about his long and distinguished career.
The whole interview is quite fascinating, and worth the time to watch. The video below is a four-and-a-half minute clip of Fayard, then age 90, reflecting on the Jumpin’ Jive routine. It’s absolutely delightful!
Bookends of a Career
Perhaps more fascinating than the NVLP interview is the 1990 performance of the two brothers at the America’s Dance Honors ceremony when they were both in their seventies.
They recreated a routine they had done at the Cotton club fifty five years earlier which featured the film clip of their dance as kids projected onto the audience’s big screen while the brothers, on stage, perfectly reproduced the dance, step for step. It is spectacular.
More importantly, it is apparent that even in their waning years, the brothers hadn’t lost one ounce of their enthusiasm for dance. Their smiles are contagious even half a century later.
I recommend that you skip over the first minute or so of the introduction until you see Jumpin’ Jive on the screen. After that, the brothers themselves come out on stage and recreate their 1935 routine. No one goes away from this without a huge smile on his face!
In the end, how should we assess the legacy of the dynamic duo of dance?
The Nicholas brothers weren’t superhuman, of course, and in fact they had all the flaws that seem to be endemic to entertainers, but their dancing was an immense gift to the world.
Let’s hope that we too, despite our flaws, can leave such a legacy of joy to others!
The Lord tells us not to worry about the future (Mt 6:34), but there is also a deep desire in the human heart to leave something behind, to make a contribution and be remembered for something that makes the world a better place.
That concern should not be a source of anxiety for us but a motivation to live life to its fullest and have something to show for it at the end.
Take a few moments today to assess the legacy you wish to leave behind you. What is it you do best? What do you offer and continue to offer that will live on after you?
If that question leaves you searching for an answer, don’t worry. Ask the Lord to give you a gift and then offer that gift generous for others. It will be your legacy of joy.