History of Jeni LeGon
February is well known as Black History Month, but when we think of Black History Month we think of famous African Americans like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. In the world of dance, another African American woman is just as prevalent. Jeni LeGon, one of the first African American women to establish a solo career in tap dance, is one of the tap dance pioneers in America. Tap dance originated in the mid 1600’s from Scottish and Irish laborers brought to the New World. Slaves that resided in the south learned to imitate the rapid steps and combined them with African dance styles. The two styles combined and formed the American tap Hybrid. As tap-dancing grew in the 1800’s and into the 1900’s, famous men such as John “Bubbles” Sublett and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson stormed the scene. In 1916, Jeni LeGon was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Hector and Harriet Bell, worked as a chef, railway porter, and housewife. LeGon learned to tap on the streets of southern Chicago with neighborhood bands and musical groups (Taylor). LeGon grew up with her older sister Mary Belle in Chicago's overcrowded Black Belt. Practicing and performing with other children, LeGon received her first formal training from Mary Bruce's School of Dance (Taylor). LeGon often skipped school to learn new dance routines from the movies, and she graduated from Sexton Elementary School in 1928. Later, in London, LeGon learned that she was descended from General Henry Beauchamp Lygon, the 4th Earl of Beauchamp, through her father, Hector Ligon, a "Geechie" from the Georgia Sea Islands (Kupperman). At the age of 13, Jeni LeGon landed her first job in musical theatre, dancing, as a soubrette. By the age of 16, she was dancing in a chorus line backed by Count Basie Orchestra, and soon after touring as a chorus line dancer with Whitman Sisters (Taylor). The Whitman Sisters were the highest paid act on the Theatre Owners Booking Association, or the vaudeville circuit...
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