Jeni LeGon (1916-2012)

By Jacqueline Hansen
  • Jeni Legon with Bill 'Bojangles" Robinson / Photo courtesy of American Tap Dance Foundation archives

African-American dancer, teacher and actor Jeni LeGon died on Friday, December 7th, 2012, at age ninety-six in Vancouver. According to the American Tap Dance Foundation (ATDF), LeGon was one of the first African-American women to develop a career as a tap soloist. She challenged stereotypical female roles at the time, by donning pants when others wore skirts, and performing toe stands, acrobatics and complex rhythmic dancing. LeGon, born Jennie Bell, grew up on the south side of Chicago. The ATDF says LeGon landed her first job in musical theatre when she was thirteen years old. It was the beginning of an incredible career that spanned her lifetime, and included performing with stars such as Bill \Bojangles\ Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire and Fats Waller. LeGon also played roles in Hollywood films, including the 1935 musical Hooray for Love, at a time when the industry was primarily white-dominated. LeGon settled in Vancouver in 1969 where she became a well-respected and beloved teacher. Canada’s National Film Board produced the documentary Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way in 1999. LeGon is survived by her husband, drummer Frank Clavin, and will be remembered as a great dancer and teacher and as a pioneer for black performers.

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