The Night Club Era
by Stanley Walker
"Been Rich All My Life"|
There's old age and... there's old age. A troupe of tap dancing ladies from 84 to 96 show us a new wrinkle in soul and in aging with an extension of a glittering past. After once sharing the hottest nightclub stages in Harlem's hayday with the likes of Louie Armstrong and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, they avidly train for and perform their current act -- one that adds new meaning to the concept of longevity.
Dancing is one of those things that's simply in the blood, as Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles, Elaine Ellis, Fay Ray, and Geri Kennedy amply illustrate with their love of and ability to tap dance (with the vestiges of a little grind.) The version of maturity this documentary brings us is an eye opener and a message for every one of us who has a concern about personal endurance. It is done with a soft brush of endearment and a firm outline for inspiration, tracing the individual histories and the troupe members.
After the World War II years when women were factory workers in the war effort, demand for dancers faded, causing these and others of their trained breed to find other work. But love of their art never faded and, in 1985 they put it all back together in a performance act that they continue to rehearse, perform and cherish.
At a time in their lives when their contemporaries are bouncing great-grandchildren on their knees, these Harlem divas of dance are bouncing their booties around enough to produce the occasional sizzle for Cotton Club audiences who are brought to their feet in astonished admiration. As the Silver Belles, they appear all tripped out with showy but tasteful costumes and knock us out with a demonstration of what's possible in the span of one's life.
The African-American hoofers exemplify two things, it seems to me: the health benefit of a life-long athletic activity, which dancing assuredly is, and the kind of positive outlook that allows you to realize your own good fortune, as these determined ladies, and the title of this documentary, amply express.