“Just watch me peg it, you can tell by the way I leg it, I’m Peg-Legged Bates, the one-legged dancing man.”
– Clayton Bates
Clayton Bates was born in 1907, and raised in South Carolina. At the young age of 5, he began dancing on the street of Fountain Inn, South Carolina for change. At twelve, Clayton caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt of a cotton-seed gin mill, while working. His leg had to be amputated, which was done on the kitchen table of his home. Clayton’s uncle carved him a wooden peg leg, and just a short time later, he was back dancing and partaking in shows. Within a few years, he made his way to the vaudeville circuit. As a teen, he didn’t want to be pitied or felt sorry for, so he worked hard perfecting his craft. He would study two legged tap dancers and figure out a way to imitate their sounds. He was able to perform strong rhythm tap, acrobatic tricks, and smooth soft shoe styles, which earned him the respect he yearned for. Clayton went on to perform in theaters and on stages all over the world, including Broadway. He was one of the few black tap dancers able to cross the color barrier. Clayton joined performers on the white vaudeville circuit and performed on the same bill as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly. He took his technical abilities and flashy steps onto TV as well. He performed and completed tap dancing challenges on the Ed Sullivan show over 20 times. Throughout his career, Clayton performed and taught as well. He reached out to a variety of groups of people in order to spread his passion for hard work and doing your best, no matter the conditions or circumstances that are presented to you. Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates was one of the best rhythm tappers and has been honored with many awards from the tap community. He has been an inspiration to many, and will continue to be as his one legged tap dancing legacy lives on to those passing down his history.
Evan Ruggiero honoring Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates
“There’s an easy way to say this, Peg Leg Bates and I both have one leg! Plain and simple. I watched a lot of his videos when I wanted to get back into tap dancing. While I have a strong connection and similarities to Peg Leg Bates, I have always tried to create something that was organic to me. I used his footage as a platform, a place to start, and then grew from there. Movement is something that keeps my blood flowing, literally and figuratively. I say this because dancing excites me. It was something that kept me looking towards that light at the end of the tunnel during my chemotherapy treatments. Now, as a teacher I allow my students to try new movements, like dancing with their own “Peg Legs.” It’s important for them to step outside of the box and try new things. When teaching tap classes, I also always include dance history. It’s important for tap dancers to understand how these tap steps came to be, as well as who was dancing them in the past. Many dancers today are unaware of the history of tap dancing and how it started. Case in point with me, had I not known about Peg Leg Bates, I may not have been able to see how it would be possible to dance again.”
One-Legged Tap Dancer, Singer, Actor, and Motivational Speaker.