They were two dancing stars from two different eras, but they had one very big thing in common: Soul Train.
Tyrone Proctor and Rosie Perez were two of the most well-known dancers on the show Soul Train. And Wednesday night, they both joined author and filmmaker Nelson George at Restoration Plaza for a discussion around George’s latest book, “The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style.”
George talked about how Soul Train’s longtime host, Don Cornelius, played a huge role in making black culture “cool.”
“Think about 1971, when the show first aired: It’s the Black Power era in America; we were coming out of riots; we were overturning all the rules for what America was like,” said George.
“What Don did was revolutionary, because he brought celebration of black style, black passion into your living room on a weekly basis.”
George added, black-owned business like Ultra Sheen, Afro Sheen and black advertisers all needed Soul Train. They needed a vehicle where they could advertise.
“Soul Train was very powerful, its influence, across social life, economic life, and of course, dance music, so “So there was a symbiotic relationship between Soul Train’s evolution and the evolution of the black supermarket.”
Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor made his big break on the show in the early 70s. Not long after the show first began airing, he packed his bags, left his hometown of Philadelphia, PA, and boarded a plane straight for California. He was determined to get on the show.
And he did it– but not without a little strategy and planning: He was able to convince some of the other dancers to hide him in the trunk of their car. They were able to sneak by security right onto the studio’s lot. The rest was history.
“In the beginning, Don didn’t completely understand what dancing was on the West Coast,” said Proctor. “Remember, he was ‘Mr. Cool,’ coming from an era where it would be the cha-cha, it would be very smooth.
So when he came to L.A. in the 70s, and he sees these people are dropping down and flying, he was like ‘Wait a minute,’ because that was not his era. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t have them do that.”
But Proctor said, in the end Cornelius learned to just let the dancers do what they did.
Actress Rosie Perez, most known for her roles in “Do The Right Thing,” “Lakawana Blues,” and the series, “Lipstick Jungle,” arrived on the show in the mid-80s by way of a Soul Train talent scout.
She said she was approached while hanging out with some girlfriends in a New York City club. And when the scout said to her, “I want you to dance on Soul Train,” she said, she was so stunned, she nearly lost her breath.
Once she got to California, she quickly realized how different California culture was from New York’s. Not only did California folks talk differently, they dressed differently and danced differently. Not even Cornelius was prepared for Rosie’s comparatively “rough” style of dancing.
“Back then, we couldn’t always afford to go to the clubs. So we made our own fun. And when we had fun, it was hard. ” said Perez. “We were the 80s ‘Me Generation,’ the ‘Reaganomics-Trickle-Down-That-Never-Came-Down Generation.’
“But he felt that I was little too hard, too manly. But that was cool for us.”
But, Rosie added, Soul Train dancers were the “cool kids” of the dance world.
“That’s why this book is so important. Because the impact Soul Train had on us socially and culturally across the entire country was huge.”