Delno Polk Bailey

Listen. Just listen. You’ll find each step is different. Listen. It’s like a drum. It’s like the Africans when they beat their drums. Each staccato is its own sound. It’s different. The tap is talking. The tap is talking.”

delno

At ten years old, Delno Polk Bailey toured nationally with the Junior Ebony Follies on the RKO Orpheum Circuit, accompanied by her grandmother as a chaperone. Later, she performed with George Holmes and Company, Shelly Rhym, the Johnny Otis Band, the Swinging Swankies, and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. She also danced with the Nicholas Brothers, in USO shows, with Sammy Davis, Jr., and with Paul Motley.

Ellie Sciarra interviewed Delno in 1998, in a conversation that ranged from her personal story of performing as a child, to the impact of race on tap, to her comment on how, “The white people have taken the tap and run with it. White people are tapping all over the place.”

My sister and I took from some of the best teachers in Denver [CO], in fact, we were the first black students they ever had. I did tap, I did acrobatics. I did toe, I did toe tap … I think we went out on the road when we were nine or ten. My sister was ten and I was twelve I guess. We went with what they call the Junior Ebony Follies. You have to remember that back then the circuit was segregated … We had about five routines … Walter and I did a duo and I did a couple of solos and Walter did a solo and we had a good show … We did all kinds [of things] … we had one girl who was a complete contortionist. Carol could wrap herself like a rope … While you’re out there you learn a lot about people … I learned a little about segregation … I was too young to be shocked I think. We became very seasoned and we had gorgeous costumes. The troupe disbanded and I danced in every theater and stage … There are a lot of good musicians that came out of Denver and they would always get a gig. The bands would get a gig and if they needed a tap dancer, they would call me … The Orpheum Theater. That was quite a thing to be in the Orpheum Theater in Denver. That was a stage I was lucky to dance on … There was a whole club of black women girls that tap danced. They were called the “Real Ritas”!  Right now I can’t dance worth a nickel or give you change for conversation … The other day we went to a wedding in Temple Texas … and they were up doing the electric slide. I couldn’t stand it. I took my oxygen off and got up and did the electric slide. It felt great. And I didn’t have any problems breathing. Wasn’t that great?

[Tap dancing] gives you a feeling of doing something. I don’t know … it gives you a freedom like in your mind. It soothes your mind. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I’ll start dancing and I’m fine.