homeless black ballet pioneer reunites with family FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 17 Apr 1998 17:54:58 -0700 (PDT)

FWD Associated Press, 04/15/98 19:48


NEW YORK (AP) - Arthur Bell was uncertain about seeing his siblings again
after more than four decades - but not because he was a homeless,
71-year-old man paramedics had found disoriented and half-frozen on a New
York City street.

``I was afraid my sisters might be like my mother, who was too strict with
me. My spirit is free, I need to express myself'' he said during a reunion
Wednesday with his 51-year-old brother, Dale. ``I want people to accept me
as I am or not at all.''

Arthur fled his religious home in a small town near Tampa, Fla., 57 years
ago and went on to become a pioneering black ballet dancer on some of the
world's premier stages. Then came the hard times; age forced him to give up
his career and he became homeless and alone.

In March, Arthur landed in a hospital where he was visited by social worker
Maria Mackin, a former ballet photographer who checked out his tales of
ballet life and discovered they were true.

Then on Easter Sunday, a minister in Florida spotted an Associated Press
story about him and pointed it out to one of Arthur's five sisters.

After affectionate phone conversations with the family this week, Arthur
agreed to meet with Dale, who lives in suburban New Rochelle, and later
with the family.

``I'm proud of him and of my family,'' Arthur said tearfully. ``Now I know
I'm all right.''

``I still can't believe it,'' Dale told his brother. ``You know, I never
stopped looking for you all these years. I looked on the streets, even in
Paris, and thought I might see you.''

The siblings' preacher father and their mother reviled dancing - the thing
Arthur, the eldest son, loved best of all.

``Daddy was a Pentecostal minister, extra-fundamentalist,'' said Dale, an
IBM project manager whose job has taken him around the world. ``There was
no worldly music at home, not even the blues - only spirituals. And we
couldn't dance.

``But there was a lot of love,'' he said.

Arthur yearned to be a dancer and fled to New York in 1941. In 1950,
Frederick Ashton, the great British choreographer, chose him as a guest
soloist in the New York City Ballet's world premier of ``Illuminations.''
He moved to Paris in the early '50s, dancing with the Ballets de la Tour
Eiffel while studying with Olga Preobrajenskaya, the retired Russian

Dale had seen his brother for the first - and last - time in 1955, when he
was about 9 and Arthur visited when their father was ill. Their father died
in the late 1950s, their mother in the 1980s. Another brother died last

The reunion with Arthur ended decades of searching by the family.

``The first thing he said was, `Dale!' And I said, `Hello, my brother. The
prodigal son has come home. That's what your mother would have said to
you,''' Dale said.


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