An Old-Time Hoofer with New Tales to Tell

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Henry Belcher, left, visited a StoryCorps mobile booth in Pittsburgh with his friend Major A Mason.

Henry Belcher, left, visited a StoryCorps mobile booth in Pittsburgh with his friend Major A Mason, III. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps

For Henry Belcher, learning to dance was a matter of osmosis. After a friend taught him the basics, he picked up steps from dancers at shows — and on the streets where he earned money for "hoofing," a form of tap dance.

From his earliest teenage days, Belcher and his friends swapped steps like the Sham, the Boogie, and the Apple Log. Before long, Belcher joined with two friends to become the Six Sensational Sizzling Shoes. But the group's success brought new problems.

"The more money my partners made, the worse they got," Belcher says.

Their growing troubles with drugs and alcohol led Belcher to drop out. He stayed away from dancing for years, choosing instead to get a regular job and get married.

But a chance encounter with dancer Gregory Hines — who was on the lookout for old-time Pittsburgh dancers — got Belcher dancing again. Soon after, he formed a new team, one that lasted.

Belcher still performs occasionally, as he did recently at a senior citizens' home in Pittsburgh.

In the end, Belcher didn't rise to fame, or make a million dollars. "But I had a million dollars' worth of experience," he says.

This piece was produced for 'Morning Edition' by Michael Garofalo and Katie Simon.



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