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Tue, 10.20.1914

Fayad Nicholas, Dancer born

Fayard Nicholas

*Fayard Nicholas was born on this date in 1914. He was a Black dancer and choreographer.

From Mobile, Alabama, a family friend who had traveled to France and encountered the name there suggested His first name.  He and his brother Harold Nicholas grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of musicians who played in their own band at the old Standard Theater, their mother at the piano and father on drums.  At the age of three, Fayard was always seated in the front row while his parents worked, and by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the great Black Vaudeville acts, particularly the dancers, including such notables of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant and Bill Robinson.

Nicholas and his brother were boys when they were featured at New York's Cotton Club in 1932. They were billed as "The Show Stoppers!" and with the racial hurdles facing Black performers; they went on to Broadway and Hollywood. Fred Astaire once told the brothers that the acrobatic elegance and synchronicity of their "Jumpin' Jive" dance sequence in "Stormy Weather" (1943) made it the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen.

In the number, the brothers tap across music stands in an orchestra with the fearless exuberance of children stone-hopping across a pond. In the finale, they leapfrog seamlessly down a sweeping staircase. The two were vaudeville brats who toured with their musician parents, Fayard stealing dance steps as they went along and teaching them to his brother, who was seven years younger. "We were tap-dancers, but we put more style into it, more bodywork, instead of just footwork," Harold Nicholas recalled in a 1987 interview. Harold, who died in 2000, once said of his older brother's dancing, "He was like a poet, talking to you with his hands and feet." Their dancing betrayed not only creative genius but also the athletic marvel of what no one else would dare attempt.

Their trademark no-hands splits in which they not only went down but sprang back up again without using their hands for balance left film audiences wide-eyed. The legendary choreographer George Balanchine called it ballet, despite their lack of formal training. Nicholas died Tuesday at his home from pneumonia and other complications of a stroke, his son Tony Nicholas said. "My dad put Heaven on hold and now they can begin the show," the younger Nicholas said Wednesday.  Fayard Nicolas died January 24, 2006, the elder brother of the tap dancing pair The Nicholas Brothers.

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