Tap roots: Documentary on Peg Leg Bates this Sunday

Publicity photo of Peg Leg Bates.

Publicity photo of Peg Leg Bates.

Don’t look at me in sympathy,
I’m glad that I’m this way;
For I feel good and I’m knockin’ on wood…
I mix life’s fantastics up with hot gymnastics,
I’m Peg Leg Bates, the one-legged dancing man.
– Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates

On Sunday, February 10 at 2 p.m., the Rosendale Theatre will present a screening of The Dancing Man, an entertaining and uplifting 1992 documentary about the life of Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates (1907-1998), who lost one leg from the knee down in a cottonseed gin mill accident in South Carolina at the age of 12 but nonetheless went on to become a world-renowned tap dancer. Fitted with a leather-and-rubber-tipped peg leg, Bates worked his way up from minstrel shows and carnivals in the ‘20s to the vaudeville circuits and then on to the big time, working as a featured tap dancer in top nightclubs like Harlem’s Cotton Club, on the Broadway stage in musicals and in film and television, making over 20 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

After the screening of the documentary at Rosendale Theatre, people who knew and worked with Peg Leg Bates will reminisce about their memories of him in a conversation with the audience. Bates had a strong connection to Ulster County, having opened the Peg Leg Bates Country Club in Kerhonkson in 1951, which flourished as the first and the largest African-American-owned-and-operated resort in the country, catering to black clientele and featuring performances by hundreds of talented jazz musicians and tap dancers.

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