homeless dance pioneer's family to reunite after news story FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 10:48:10 -0700 (PDT)


http://search.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WAPO/19980413/V000926-041398-idx.html
 

FAMILY REUNITED AFTER NEWS STORY

By Lisa Holewa
Associated Press Writer
Monday, April 13, 1998; 5:44 p.m. EDT

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The deacon approached Patricia Coleman on Easter
Sunday, the day of rebirth and resurrection. Had she seen the article about
her brother?

No, it wasn't Tony, who had died of cancer 18 months earlier. And not Dale,
the IBM executive in New York.

The Associated Press story he had read in The Tampa Tribune was about
Arthur Bell, a 71-year-old man, once a pioneering ballet dancer, who'd been
found homeless and disoriented on a Brooklyn street, his feet almost
frozen.

Arthur! The missing brother, the one who had fled a stifling life in a
small Southern town as the first son of a preacher who reviled dancing --
the thing Arthur loved best in all the world. The brother she and her four
sisters and two brothers had hunted for decades.

``I said, `Oh Lord. Is he dead or is he alive?''' Mrs. Coleman said. ``He
has risen. My brother rose on Easter Sunday.''

``Only God could do this,'' another sister, Annie Stubblefield, 63, said
Monday, as she and  her sisters worked to arrange a reunion with their
brother, now in a New York City nursing home regaining strength and
relearning to walk.

By midday they had arranged for Dale Bell, who had met Arthur only once, as
a grade-schooler when the dancer returned briefly in the mid-1950s, to
visit the nursing home this week when he returns from a business trip. The
rest of the family plans to visit as soon as they can make arrangements.

Arthur Bell's reaction to hearing about his family was recounted by social
worker Clare Osman: ``He said, `Oh, my God, Dale.' He said, `That's a great
thing.' He has a chance to see all of his family again.''

The reunion was a long time coming. His sisters recall a charming teen-ager
who loved to sing and could dance like no one else they knew, but who so
chafed at his strict upbringing that he boarded a bus for New York City on
the day he graduated from high school. World War II was not yet ended.

Patricia was in elementary school and decided the brother she was crazy
about just didn't love her. Evangeline was 5 and remembers the day Arthur
sat down and told her he was going to New York to dance. Sharon was an
infant; she grew up hearing about the glamorous brother who had picked out
her name.

``He was just determined to be a dancer,'' Mrs. Stubblefield said. ``He was
determined not to be a laborer, and he made it.''

They saw him only once again, the quick visit in the 1950s when their
father was ill. After that, Arthur Jr. fell out of touch and they watched
his career from afar, hearing from an aunt that his dancing career had led
him to London and Paris.

Then he seemed to vanish entirely, and all their efforts to locate him
ended in dead ends.

Until Easter Sunday.

Arthur has missed the births of three dozen nieces and nephews, as well as
a dozen grandnieces and grandnephews -- including a few who have a knack
for dance themselves.

His father died shortly after Arthur's visit. His mother, who prayed every
night for ``Arthur,  wherever he may be,'' died in the 1980s. Arthur
doesn't know yet that Tony is dead, too.

The oldest child, he missed seeing the younger ones grow up and find their
way. Dale is IBM's program manager for education and training. Sharon
Greene is the receptionist at the Hillsborough County Center. Mrs. Coleman
became Tampa's first black female police detective, retiring in 1988. Her
daughter modeled in Europe, always keeping an ear open for any news of her
Uncle Arthur.

``He missed the best part of our growing up,'' said sister Evangeline
Kennedy, 59. ``And we missed the best part of his career.''

His sisters believe his departure was keyed to their religious life in tiny
Palmetto, south of Tampa, where their father was minister at the Church of
God and Christ.

Dancing was a sin, he believed. A son who danced was too much --
especially, Mrs. Stubblefield said, a son whom they thought was gay.

``I think he was disgusted with the South,'' she said of her brother. ``And
I think he figured we didn't love him, maybe.''

In New York, Arthur found work in the bustling garment district and started
taking dance classes with Katherine Dunham, the renowned black dancer and
choreographer.

He moved to Paris in the early '50s, where he says he lived in the same
rooming house as James Baldwin, the writer. He danced with the Ballets de
la Tour Eiffel while studying with Olga Preobrajenskaya, the retired
Russian ballerina.

In 1950, Frederick Ashton, the great British choreographer, chose him as a
guest soloist in the New York City Ballet's world premiere of
``Illuminations,'' then a rare honor for a black dancer.

His family remembers him dancing in a 1950s movie. His sisters sat in a
Palmetto movie house one whole day, watching the film over and over.

Arthur says he returned to New York in the 1960s, forced to give up his
career as he approached 40. He turned to clerical work and odd jobs, then
gradually dropped from his family's sight.

He was found in March, disoriented on a Brooklyn street, barely standing,
his feet severely frost-bitten. He can't remember how he wound up on the
street, where he had been living for  months in the dead of winter. His
last address was a men's shelter.

His family says they searched for him over the years, tracking him as far
as a shelter or a street address, but they got no further without his
Social Security number. Each Thanksgiving, they'd have a family reunion --
without Arthur.

The newspaper article changed all that.

In the story, Arthur didn't mention Tampa. But he did say he grew up in a
large family in Florida and his father was a preacher.

``And that's all God needs,'' Mrs. Stubblefield said. ``That's all God
needs to work with.''

END FORWARD







 








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