Catching up with the Atlantic City home-girl and dance legend.
ATLANTIC CITY — I sensed a real sweetness, almost innocence, while talking and laughing with Ms. Pattie Harris, who usually exudes a more diva-like persona. Sitting in her modest living room full of animal-print sofas, pillows and rugs one recent Sunday afternoon, she was still nursing an Achilles injury.
In a cozy purple sweater and gray sweatpants, the orange Mohawk was expertly coiffed as usual. I remembered attending her 75th birthday party a few years ago and knew then I wanted to hear her story from her own mouth, but she is one hard lady to catch up with. Only recently has she stopped teaching dance classes part-time because of her injury.
Considered an Atlantic City home-girl, Ms. Pattie was as interesting and funny as I had expected.
She was actually born in Henderson, N.C., but grew up in Newark and Atlantic City, N.J., having arrived here permanently around fifth grade.
She attended New Jersey Avenue School and recalls her teachers as “elegant, professional women who would not pass you on to the next grade until you had learned everything they wanted you to learn.”
She can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t love dance and believes that is what she was sent to this planet to do.
Staring out her sunny front window, she wistfully recalls being a little girl “who was always singing ‘Stormy Weather’ and asking God to make me be Lena Horne.” While attending and performing in small shows at Atlantic City High School, she also took lessons at the Chloe Price Dance School, because it was “the biggest one, where all the Jewish kids went, and she did a show on the Steel Pier.”
Chloe Price let Harris teach some classes where she heard about a beauty contest for black girls being held at the Apollo Theater in New York City. Basically, she went on a whim and though she didn’t win the contest, she did meet Larry Steele, who told the young contestants about his Club Harlem shows in Atlantic City.
Steele’s shows, one known as the “Sepia Revue,” were reputed to feature the most beautiful and talented black women dancers in the world.
When Harris returned to Atlantic City, she found out where Steele lived, boldly went to his house and asked for an audition. That was the beginning of her real career as a dancer, but she only performed in chorus lines at the Club Harlem during the summer months because of all the things people said happened to girls on the road.
It dawned on me the other day that I have completed my first year as an acweekly.com columnist. It’s been one of the best years of my life, a year that has forced me to challenge myself and grow as a writer.
The Atlantic City Ballet’s two newest productions, 'Caught Up in the Swing' and '7 Sins.' will be featured as double-header productions at three southern New Jersey locations — Rowan University’s Wilson Hall’s Pfleeger Theater (Saturday, March 17, starting 7pm); the Ocean First Theater in Manahawkin (Saturday, March 31, 7pm); and at Richard Stockton College’s Performing Arts Center (Thursday, April 19, 7pm). Both productions are family friendly and appropriate for all ages.
On Tuesday, Feb. 22, groundbreaking will commence on the newest Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s 19th museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will occupy a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W., between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Over the last few months when families were gathering for all types of occasions, some of the young men in our family refused to attend because of “so many divorced couples and so few new marriages.” I was disappointed by their absence but understood their sentiments. Like many modern American families, we’ve had so many divorces now that one niece asked, “Is divorce a tradition in our family?”
Let’s set the record straight: Kwanzaa is truly African-American. It is NOT a religious holiday.
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