See C. V. Hill, Brotherhood In Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers (2000).
U.S. tap-dancing duo. Fayard Antonio Nicholas (b. Oct. 20, 1914, Mobile, Ala., U.S.—d. Jan. 24, 2006, Los Angeles, Calif.) and his brother Harold Lloyd Nicholas (b. March 17, 1921, Winston-Salem, N.C.—d. July 3, 2000, New York, N.Y.) developed the “classical tap” form, combining jazz dance, ballet, and acrobatics with tap. They gained fame at a young age while dancing at Harlem's Cotton Club (1932–39); they went on to appear in films such as Stormy Weather (1943), as well as on Broadway and later on television. They began their careers at a time when opportunities were few and stereotyped roles the norm for black entertainers, but they rose above this marginalization and enhanced the art of tap with their elegance and sensational showmanship.
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The Nicholas Brothers were a famous African-American team of dancing brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold Nicholas (1921–2000). With their highly acrobatic technique ("flash dancing"), high level of artistry and daring innovations, they were considered by many the greatest tap dancers of their day. Growing up surrounded by Vaudeville acts as children, they became stars of the jazz circuit during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance and went on to have successful careers performing on stage, film, and television well into the 1990's.
The Nicholas Brothers grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of musicians who played in their own band at the old Standard Theater, their mother at the piano and father on drums. At the age of three, Fayard was always seated in the front row while his parents worked, and by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the great African American Vaudeville acts, particularly the dancers, including such notables of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant and Bill Robinson. Neither Fayard nor Harold had any formal dance training.
They became the featured act at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club in 1932, when Harold was 11 and Fayard was 18. They were the only entertainers in the African American cast allowed to mingle with white patrons.
In that exhilarating hybrid of tap dance, ballet and acrobatics, sometimes called acrobatic dancing or "flash dancing," no individual or group surpassed the effect that the Nicholas Brothers had on audiences and on other dancers. In 1938, there was a face-off dance competition at the Cotton Club between the Nicholas Brothers and the Berry Brothers, an African-American acrobatic dance trio. It has become a legendary confrontation, a sort of dance-fight for supremacy. By some accounts the Berry Brothers were more athletic but the Nicholas brothers were better overall performers - better at pleasing the crowd.
Two years later they were in Hollywood and for several decades alternated between movies, nightclubs, concerts, Broadway, television, and extensive tours of Latin America, Africa, and Europe.
The Nicholas brothers taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe as Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. Several of today's master tap dancers have performed with or been taught by the brothers - Dianne Walker, Sam Weber, Lane Alexander, Mark Mendonca, Terry Brock, Colburn Kids Tap/L.A, Channing Cook Holmes, Chris Baker, Artis Brienzo, Chester Whitmore, Tobius Tak, Carol Zee and Steve Zee.
Upon his death his memorial service was standing room only. Presided over by Mary Jean Valente of "A Ceremony of the Heart", the service was a moving collection of personal tributes, music and dance and as appropriate, one last standing ovation. See program for full details at http://fayardnicholas.com/page14.html
Two of Fayard's granddaughters call themselves the Nicholas Sisters and continue their dances and award winning achievements.
Harold was first married to actress Dorothy Dandridge from 1942 to 1951, the couple had one child, Harolyn Nicholas, who was born severely mentally handicapped. Ultimately Harold also married three times.
One of their signature moves was a "no-hands" splits, where they went into the splits and returned to their feet without using their hands. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography was ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one could duplicate them. Famed choreographer George Balanchine called their acrobatic movement ballet, despite their lack of formal training. Ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.