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An Old-Time Hoofer with New Tales to Tell
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An Old-Time Hoofer with New Tales to Tell


It's time now for StoryCorps, the interview project canvassing the country collecting stories of everyday people.

Mr. MAJOR A. MASON III (Mr. Belcher's Friend): My name is Major A. Mason III. My age is 65.

Mr. HENRY BELCHER (Former Tap-dancer, Pittsburgh): My name is Henry Belcher. My age is 91.

MONTAGNE: These two friends came to StoryCorps to talk about Henry Belcher's tap-dancing days. He started performing when he was a teenager on the streets of Pittsburgh.

Mr. BELCHER: Well, I had a buddy and he used to dance up and down the docks down there for, you know, nickels, dimes and pennies and things. And naturally he taught me the steps he knew. And you go to the shows or go to the movies, and you see certain ones do different kind of steps, and you practice them. That was your teacher.

Mr. MASON: Did you guys dance on the streets then…

Mr. BELCHER: Right, right. We had jam sessions on the corners. You know, they had different dances. You know, one it was called the Sham, Boogie, Fall off the Log. You dance a little, you rap a little. Like (singing) step back, you apple jack, sham, sham, sham, now, dig it, jack.

We had a trio. We was called the Six Sensational Sizzlin' Shoes. We went to New York in '39. But the more my partners made, the worse they got. They got to drinking and fooling around with the drugs and whatnot.

Mr. MASON: And so you gave it up?

Mr. BELCHER: Yeah. I told them, you all go ahead. I'm just going to get me a job and forget it. Yeah, I got married and settled down, forgot about dancing.

Mr. MASON: Well, I know when I first met you, you were tap-dancing again. So how did you get back into tap-dancing?

Mr. BELCHER: Gregory Hines's bunch came here, and they wanted to know if there was any of the old-time dancers still around. So they come and got me, and they say, well, come on down and do the show with us.

So after I went down and did the show, one of the boys - old-timer from Pittsburgh here - I told him, I say, well, we might as well get together and form a team here in Pittsburgh. And we did. This is a wonderful experience. I didn't make a lot of money, make around no million dollars, but I had a million dollars' worth of experience.

MONTAGNE: That's 91-year-old Henry Belcher, and Major Mason III at StoryCorps. Henry Belcher used to dance to this tune, Sunny Side of the Street by Dizzy Gillespie.

(Soundbite of Sunny Side of the Street)

MONTAGNE: This conversation and all other StoryCorps interviews are archived at the Library of Congress. Mobile recording booths are currently in Garden City, Kansas, and Burlington, Vermont. You can learn how to make a reservation for your interview at

(Soundbite of Sunny Side of the Street)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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