Peg Leg Bates could leap five feet in the air and perform almost every known tap dance step. He never considered himself handicapped. "God showed me what to do with one leg," he said. "God blesses us differently." Balance is one of the major elements of dance and the foot is essential to it. Notice how Bates balances on his wooden leg near the end of this dance, as he kicks his other leg high into the air.
"Peg Leg" Bates appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show at least twenty-two times. In this segment of the show from 1950 the set is the deck of a ship. Bates is doing a tap dance he calls the "Harlem Hornpipe." Tap was invented by African Americans, while the hornpipe is a an Irish dance often done by sailors. Both types of dance have fast, intricate steps. Here Bates has combined them into a distinctly American dance with African and Irish roots.
Born in South Carolina, Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates began dancing at the age of 5. When he was twelve his leg was mangled in a factory accident and had to be amputated on his mother's kitchen table. He began to dance again using two broomsticks as crutches until his uncle made his famous "peg leg." He had a long career as a tap dancer and received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest honor.