Wounded Dancers and Wounded Healers

“Life means, do the best you can with what you’ve got, with all your mind and heart. You can do anything in this world if you want to do it bad enough,” quote -Peg Leg Bates -Peg Leg was born in Fountain Inn S.C.- October 11,1907-Dec. 8, 1998

Clayton Bates was 12 the second day on his first factory job. His task was to tamp down a pile of cotton seed to be crushed in the gin. Momentum was faster than he expected as the seed slipped through the bowels of the machine so did Clayton, one leg trapped as he attempted in panic to back out of the spinning gins pulling him in. Left foot, then leg got caught in the conveyor and hit the auger, which crushes the seed into meal. His left leg was mangled and two fingers cut off his right hand. Clayton’s leg was beyond repair. Segregation in South Carolina did not give him access to the nearest hospital so his leg was amputated as he lay on his mother’s kitchen table. People today are still getting hurt working in commercial cotton gins in the American South.

Dancing had been his favorite hobby since age 5, before the accident he had danced on corners outside of barber shops for coins. His mother had tried to dissuade him because she thought the white patrons were making fun of him but Clayton had a strong will and kept at it. It was a source of extra pocket money for their hardscrabble life along with work in the cotton fields and that seemed to come to a screeching halt after the tragic catastrophe with the cotton gin factory.

After his amputation, his uncle whittled him a wooden peg leg. Peg Leg became his new name and he learned to use that wooden leg as a rhythmic instrument that made a deep base beat along with the higher tone of a standard metal tap shoe. Grit and determination drove him to hone his skills to be equal to if not better than they were before, he practiced relentlessly, his attitude sunnyside up.

‘’See, I did not realize the importance of losing a leg,’’ he recalled. ‘’I thought it was just like stubbing my toe and knocking off a toenail that was going to grow back.’’ Peg Leg quote

It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two-legged dancer,” he called. “It hurt me that the boys pitied me. I was pretty popular before, and I still wanted to be popular. I told them not to feel sorry for me.

Peg Leg had three things that may have made him so indomitable and very successful:

1. A deep, strong belief in a higher power, in his case God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit because he was Christian. One of his quotes was. “God showed me what to do with one leg. God blesses us differently” Businesspeople sometimes call this the ability to reframe an event.

2. He had radical acceptance before it became a thing. Radical acceptance is a Buddhist/ Hindu practice that was popularized as a phrase and concept by Dr. Marsha Linehan who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dr. Linehan’s story is very interesting, she was misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia and institutionalized at age 18 for two years and was one of the worst patients in the hospital (The Institute for Living in Hartford Connecticut). They subjected her to electroconvulsive therapy, Thorazine, and Librium). Miraculously she came out through that dark tunnel and become a major force in the field of psychology. She is a practicing Roman Catholic and trained in Zen Buddhist meditation practices.

3. His dancing gave him transferrable skills. According to Dr. Chris Stanovich athletic pursuits can benefit us in the following ways:

*Goal setting. People regularly set individual and team goals in sports/fitness.

*Communication skills. Communicating and resolving conflicts are regular occurrences in sports and fitness.

*Focus. Learning how to focus on the job and ignore distractions is big for sport and fitness success.

*Motivation. Pursuing goals and developing motivation are key components to reaching one’s potential.

*Teamwork. Learning how to get along with teammates is a daily experience for athletes.

*Resiliency. Dealing with stress, adversity, frustration, and failure happen all the time in sports and fitness.

*Relaxing under pressure. Adults and children are constantly dealing with pressure in sports and fitness!

Sometimes I slip into a state of overthinking deep self-analysis, from there into a sense of self pity and victimhood but I would like to be more like Peg Leg Bates- the ultimate overcomer. Peg Leg Bates used those “transferrable skills” and became a successful businessman, he opened up one of the first Catskills resorts for black patrons and continued dancing till the day of his death. He had no formal education.

In the future we will unpack these three points more. I look forward to the conversation.

foot notes:

What do Marsha Linehan and Carl Jung have in common? By Dr. Stephen A. Diamond PhD.Posted December 30, 2011, in Psychology Today

Jennifer Dunning NY Times obituary

Library of Congress Performing Arts Data Base -author unknown

By: Dr. Chris Stankovich | @DrStankovich | Apr 19, 2022 (I took the liberty of adding the word“adults” and “people” to this list.)

University of South Carolina African America History Calendar.




Yoga Teacher 500 hour yoga alliance certified, an admirer of flowers and trees, peripatetic autodidact.

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Wallace Mohlenbrok

Wallace Mohlenbrok

Yoga Teacher 500 hour yoga alliance certified, an admirer of flowers and trees, peripatetic autodidact.

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