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Bates, Peg Leglocked

(11 October 1907–08 December 1998)
  • Constance Valis Hill

Extract

Bates, Peg Leg (11 October 1907–08 December 1998), tap dancer, was born Clayton Bates in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, the son of Rufus Bates, a laborer, and Emma Stewart Bates, a sharecropper and housecleaner. He began dancing when he was five. At twelve, while working in a cotton-seed gin mill, he caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt. The leg was amputated on the kitchen table at his home. Although he was left with only one leg and a wooden peg leg his uncle carved for him, Bates resolved to continue dancing. “It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two-legged dancer,” he recalled. “It hurt me that the boys pitied me. I was pretty popular before, and I still wanted to be popular. I told them not to feel sorry for me.” He meant it. He began imitating the latest rhythm steps of metal tap shoe dancers, adding his own novelty and acrobatic steps. He worked his way from minstrel shows and carnivals to the vaudeville circuits. At fifteen, after becoming the undisputed king of one-legged dancers, able to execute acrobatic, graceful soft shoe and powerful rhythm-tapping all with one leg and a peg, he established a professional career as a ....

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