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Arthur Duncan: The ‘Entertainer’s Entertainer’

Arthur Duncan

One thing can be made clear for Arthur Duncan: he was born to dance. As a well-known show business legacy, Duncan has graced the stage and television scene with his song and dance skills for many years. Known as a “song and dance” man, Duncan’s tap skills mixed with fancy footwork put him on the map for success at a very early age. During a time when tap dance seemed to be fading in Hollywood and on Broadway, Duncan’s talent and charm captivated the audiences for which he performed.

Tap as an art form eventually came to a new medium because of Duncan, and it allowed Americans across the nation to experience the tap genre in the comfort of their own home. Some of Duncan’s TV appearances include, but are not limited to, Diagnosis: Murder, starring Dick van Dyke; Columbo, starring Peter Falk; and The Betty White Show. Of the TV appearances that Duncan has made throughout his performing career, one of the many great opportunities for him was when he made a guest appearance on The Lawrence Welk Show.

Duncan became the first African-American regular on a variety television show. Eventually, Welk made Duncan an official member of his “musical family” and further paved the way for Duncan’s entertaining song and tap skills to reach audiences worldwide. After 18 years as a regular performer on the The Lawrence Welk Show, Duncan’s performance journey continued to soar. In 1989, Duncan was featured in the movie, Tap. Duncan had the honor of working with other famous tappers including Sammy Davis, Jr. and Gregory Hines.

Dance legend Arthur Duncan. Photo courtesy of Duncan.

Dance legend Arthur Duncan. Photo courtesy of Duncan.

As the tap genre continued to spread throughout television and movie outlets, Duncan also participated in several USO tours with well-known comedian Bob Hope. Duncan took his fancy yet fun footwork a step further and even appeared in a high-spirited commercial for McDonald’s. Through touring different countries around the world, Duncan has spread his love for tap and continues to share the spotlight with students whom he mentors.

From Europe to Asia and even the Middle East, Duncan has been bringing his “magic” of song and dance to audiences all around the world. His performances have been characterized as “dazzling” and “stunning” by those who have the pleasure of watching him dance. Tap is gaining prevalence worldwide as well.

“In my recent entertaining engagements in Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Canada these past two years, there is more enthusiasm for this dance form then you might realize,” Duncan tells Dance Informa.

Apart from being a phenomenal tap dancer and entertainer, Duncan has received various honors commemorating his accomplishments. Duncan received the Flobert Award for Lifetime Achievement of Tap Artistry in 2004 and the Living Treasure in American Dance Award from Oklahoma City University in 2005. To top off his list of great achievements, in 2011 Duncan accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters.

Today, Duncan continues to perform live as he did before and after The Lawrence Welk Show, and he recently graced the El Portal Theatre stage in April 2016 to share his smooth blend of song and dance. His performance, which he titled One More Time, was described as an intimate evening of song dance and memories with a living legend. At age 82, Duncan still taps and entertains like he did years ago.

As he performs for those who grew up watching him on television or new audiences, Duncan’s knack for captivating and creating a fun-filled show has not wavered.

Arthur Duncan. Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Welk Show.

Arthur Duncan. Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Welk Show.

“Performing at the El Portal was wonderful as it was in the previous years,” says Duncan.

Tap can be seen in many facets of the dance world, whether it’s televised, in film or at the competitive level, and Duncan’s grace and footwork, along with the influence of other well-known tap dancers, have continued to keep the genre prevalent to this day. As he continues to tour around the world, Duncan’s light-hearted performances continue to make contributions to tap as an art form.

In reference to tap dance as a whole, Duncan says, “It continues to be alive and well and even expanding all over the world.”

Duncan certainly is, and continues to be, an icon, legend and pioneer of the tap world, with a lasting impression on those who have the honor of learning from him.

By Monique George of Dance Informa.

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