Written and Illustrated by: Lynne Barasch
Published by: Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Published on: February 25, 2005
My daughter loves to dance. She sings to herself to dance, she dances whenever she hears music, and sometimes she dances to a tune I know she only hears in her head. She loves to dance to Baby Rotation by AKB48, one of the most horrifying examples of J-Pop and inappropriate sexualization of young girls in this country, which I wouldn't listen to for anybody but her. I want to get her into classes when she's older, but all the classes I have found seem to be during the day, and since I work we are automatically ineligible.
I've been looking for books about dancing for her, most of which come from the fantastic blog Picture Books and Pirouettes. Personally I have an interest in tap, which I have never seen in Japan, but which I like because you make your own music. So I set out to find a tap book and got this one.
This is a picture book biography of Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates (1907 - 1998). Clayton was born to a sharecropper but would do anything to get out and dance. He took a job the local cotton seed mill when he was twelve and soon lost his left leg in an accident. This didn't stop him dancing though, he recovered and went on to be better than the two-legged tap dancers.
That's doesn't mean Peg Leg, as he was now known, would get his happy ending from his talent and drive. Because when he was at the height of his popularity segregation still abounded in the US. After performing to a sold-out theatre he would have to leave to have a meal in the black restaurants. But Bates was not one to take anything, even the loss of a leg, lying down, and he eventually opened up his own Peg Leg Bates Country Club where he performed and welcomed guests no matter their colour.
The illustrations in this biography show great depth in the backgrounds, which gives kids a feel for the early 20th century, on poor farms or in vaudeville theatres. The weak point is that the faces of the characters have the same expression at all times.
This is food for a lot of conversation. My son remembered reading Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged a couple of weeks ago, and asked why Peg Leg didn't just leave and go to Desmond's hometown. It was an interesting conversation and we touched on a lot of issues, and I think he has figured out that I don't know everything now as I don't know where there would have been less racism at that time. We also talked about Bates' mothers faith and how her "Lord" is different from the gods he has been introduced to by Buddhism and Shinto.
I was curious to see Peg Leg's dancing after this, and found this video. He's 60 in his last performance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Peg Leg Bates is truly inspiring. He got up and danced no matter the obstacle, and he brought smiles to millions.
It's time for me to stop making excuses. In this day and age, with music everywhere, and Wii games and Youtube videos that will teach you to dance, my daughter can do anything she wants even without lessons, and I will support her to do that.