Fayard and Harold Nicholas in Stormy Weather
March 27th marks the birthday of one of the halves of the Nicholas Brothers, Harold Nicholas. Seeing his birthday coming up made me reflect on one of show business’ greatest acts and what it means to be truly timeless. Often I show videos to my students as a means of passing on tap dance’s history, giving a lesson or step context, and most importantly as a vehicle to inspire the prospect of possibility. The Nicholas Brothers and their dances from decades ago still to this day move the viewer to awe, shock, amazement, spontaneous applause, and most importantly to wonder. Their dances being physically virtuosic, musically specific, artistically deft, spatially expansive, and spiritually joyous made for the perfect combination of a body of work that defies time and sets a standard.
Part of what made the Nicholas Brothers the Nicholas Brothers and what makes any great artist a great artist is that they work to have a voice that is unique and is impossible to duplicate. The appearance of it looking easy and arriving to such a state is only possible through years of practice, refining, reflecting, and ultimately struggle. The result of timelessness is the act of putting time in to arrive into that space. This is why the history of an art form is as important to study as the technique of the art form itself. It saddens me to see so many young aspiring dancers not know who Gregory Hines is, or who Fred Astaire is, or who Jimmy Slyde is, or who Bob Fosse is, or who Martha Graham is, or who George Balanchine is, or who Mikhail Baryshnikov is. They along with so many others are timeless artists who gave their lives to dance. They deserve to be celebrated, remembered, and studied. Dance teachers the world over take note that the producing of a dancer is teaching the steps, however the producing of an artist is the teaching of the life behind those steps.
In an industry today that focuses so much on trendiness, attention spans (or lack there of), affect, surface, and speed of producing/distributing I often wonder what future generations will look at as the timeless artistic works of our generation. What will we leave to inspire possibility to the artists that are coming behind us? What does it take to produce something that is timeless? What of our work will stand against time’s relentless march? What will fall into the ether of the forgotten or even worse the uninspired? These are questions ultimately that history will answer, however as we create for the 21st century and all of the mediums available to us today let us remember the standard that the exceptional artists that came before us created. Let us honor, celebrate, and study the past all while developing our OWN voice here in the present and looking forward to a future with invigorated possibility. With one eye looking back and the other eye looking forward I salute the memory of Harold Nicholas on his birthday and look forward to the next time I show a video of he and his brother to a group of awestruck aspiring tap dancers.