Lives of famous tapdancing duo recognized at CSUN

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As Fayard Nicholas walked into the Alan and Elaine Armer Theater, he was greeted by a standing ovation from both individuals who knew of his lifelong accomplishments and others who did not.

With the entourage of individuals surrounding Nicholas as he walked down the aisle, it was hard to catch a glimpse of him. Seconds later, the small and frail 90-year-old man, short in stature, emerged. A huge smile appeared across his face; he could tell the audience was looking at his physical appearance and wondering what he was like.

“You’re old if you’re walking down the street and someone compliments you on your alligator shoes and you’re barefoot,” Nicholas said. “I can still move, just not like I used to.”

Monday night, in a collaboration between the Pan-African Studies Department and the Cinema and Television Arts Department, with funding provided by the University Student Union and the Union Program Council, CSUN was able to bring history to a packed Alan and Elaine Armer Theater.

Nicholas made up one half of the Nicholas Brothers duo that became famous in the 1930s and 1940s for their unique high-energy dance routines that incorporated their tapping and gymnastic skills.

In the 75 years that they performed, the Nicholas Brothers appeared in more than 60 films and performed alongside many well-known names in the entertainment industry, including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Dorothy Dandridge and Cab Calloway. They even taught both Michael and Janet Jackson how to dance.

“This was history in the making of the best sort, for the students, the faculty, the departments, the institution as a whole, and certainly our surrounding community,” said Johnie Scott, a professor in the Pan-African Studies Department who helped head the event.

Other faculty members who were instrumental in making this happen were John Schultheiss and Nate Thomas, both professors in the CTVA Department.

“I truly had never heard about the Nicholas Brothers, but now I have,” said Cristina Michel, who attended the event. “It was a great learning experience for me. They were so talented and we need to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans and other minorities in this country. It keeps one going, and it motivates people.”

“I know there were chills running up and down my spine when I saw the Armer Theater filled, and to see those in attendance give not one, but two standing ovations to Fayard Nicholas on that very special evening,” Scott said.

The first 45 minutes of the tribute were dedicated to viewing a documentary called, “Flying High,” which chronicled the lives of the Nicholas Brothers.

Immediately following the documentary, individuals from the audience were able to ask questions regarding Nicholas’ life and achievements. Joined by his son, Tony Nicholas, he shared stories about his and his brother Harold’s life. Harold died in 2000.

“I miss him so much,” Nicholas said.

Later in the evening, Nicholas was presented with the Legends of African American Cinema Lifetime Achievement Award, which he said he would treasure all his life.

“I never thought about being a legend,” Nicholas said. “I just wanted to be on stage and be happy.”

Even after the event was over, Nicholas stayed to sign autographs for members of the audience. This was extremely hard for him, because he had recently suffered a stroke that required him to begin to write with his left hand although he is naturally right-handed.

“It was clear to me, watching him sign those autographs and watching students, as well as faculty and others, take pictures with the man that this was truly one of those nights to remember and cherish,” Scott said.