Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Disability History Image #2

This week's image is a photo of "Señor Donato," a one-legged dancer popular in England in the 1860s. According to a report at the time, from The London Review of Politics, Society, Literature, Art & Science, Saturday, 7 January 1865, p.12a/b, quoted here (which is also where I found the picture):
Much has been written about Donato's dancing, but the most we can say of it is that it enables him to conceal his physical defect. He is a small, good-looking young Spaniard, dressed in a gay crimson velvet dress, a good timist, a good player on the castanets, and a very clever twirler of a cloak, which he uses in what is called a mantle dance. In this dance he spins round with considerable rapidity in the centre of a spiral column formed by the cloak. The leg he has lost is the right one; and the steps he is able to perform with the left leg are necessarily very limited, but he moves from place to place with great ease, and relies much upon that very graceful and incessant motion of the body which is one of the chief characteristics of Spanish dancing. His performance is very ingenious, and is not so painful to look at as we expected it would be. Of course we can have nothing to say in favour of such exhibitions at a first-class theatre.
But Señor Donato didn't have the one-legged dancer niche to himself, even in the "first-class theatre"; in fact, the niche was occupied by quite a few acts, for decades. This 1924 article from London Life mentions not only Donato, but an unnamed Frenchwoman, "pirouetting with wonderful ease and effortlessness, entirely unsupported save by her single slim leg and foot"; "Nimble Jack Joyce," an American WWI veteran popular in the early 1920s; "The Merry Monopedes," who were two men, both with one leg, "acrobats and jumpers" more than actual dancers; the Bistrews, a pair of French WWI veterans; a German woman with a water-ballet act, called the "Living Mermaid," and a further two-man team, calling themselves "the Donatos," no doubt after the subject of our Disability History Image this week.

More? Clayton "Peg-Leg" Bates (1907-1998) was a popular dancer at Harlem's Cotton Club and in Atlantic City, toured Australia with Louis Armstrong, played Carnegie Hall with Count Basie, was the first African-American performer on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in 1952 opened his own country club in the Catskills. "Crip" Heard was featured in a musical "race movie," Boarding House Blues (1948, available on DVD). Among present-day acts involving dancers using one leg/foot: Five Foot Feat, and the Tamil film actor/dancer Kutty, star of "Dancer."

(UPDATE 11/6/11: All the links in the last pgh were bad, so I've replaced them with good links.--PLR)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jack Joyce was my uncle and I am having trouble finding any more information about him than is mentioned in the article of 1924, if anyone does know anything, please share.

Susan Reynolds
cavester2000@yahoo.com

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hunter said...

there were other one legged performers, a beautifull example is bargold who was billed as the one legged universal artist he performed early 1910-1920s we suspect that at one point in time dancing was not novel enough any more thus some of these performers were versatile enough to learn more tricks. i suspect that this was also the reason why he started dancing since one legged or any other person missing a member (hand, leg, feet) was not commercially interesting to the victorian spectator. the only thing you could do was either learn a profession (if he didn't lose it during work) or beg.