Diary of an Ex-Soul Train Dancer: Behind the Scenes Heroes

Line Dance #1.74_smAs anyone knows, it took a team effort to make a program like Soul Train the huge success that it was for four decades. It of course was Don Cornelius’ vision to make the program happen, but over the years there were many that helped to bring that vision into fruition.

These are the unsung heroes behind the scenes that television viewers have never seen. While I was on the show, I saw the diligent hard work that went into making Soul Train the entertaining program it has been for years. The lighting people always made sure that the proper lighting fit each segment on every episode. I saw how lighting was so important for the mood of the songs the artists performed and if the lighting wasn’t right, there were retakes.

The sound technicians constantly checked the sound levels on the songs played for us dancers to dance to as well as for the tracks the artist sang or lip-synched to. Everything had to be on point.

The set designers were constantly making sure that the set looked right. One time the “S” in the neon Soul Train sign above the main stage was crooked and it was dangling and it appeared it was going to drop to the floor at any moment. So, a member of the crew had to fix it.

Since many of the girls who danced on the show wore provocative clothing, a female member of the staff constantly checked to see that the girls’ outfits fit appropriately for television. They made sure not too much cleavage was showing which would have caused wardrobe malfunctions–something that happened a few times while I was on the show.

Of course there were all the cameramen, whom we would all joke and kid around with. Many would quietly ask the cameramen to make sure that they got some good shots on camera. They tried doing this without Mr. Cornelius noticing.

Then there was the operations manager or floor director, a guy named Reggie whom we all loved and joked around with on the set. He always made sure that while Maestro Clark, Shemar Moore or Dorian Gregory were taping introductions or doing interviews that there was total silence in the studio. If not, the guilty parties were given a warning but if they persisted in talking, they were escorted out of the studio.

Reggie would always prompt us dancers when to applaud for the guests, when the guests arrived and when they were ready to come out on the stage and when it was time to do the various segments on the show such as the Scramble Board, the Soul Train line and the openings and closings of the show.

There was also Pam Brown, who was with the show since its inception. She was the dance/audience coordinator but in later years she just saw to it that everyone paid attention to her successor, Eric. She would also go to all the dancers with a paper cup and ask that if we were chewing gum to spit it out into the cup since it looked unprofessional on television to be smacking gum. Everyone loved her.

It was really a family atmosphere. Sometimes during long breaks the stagehands and technicians would be watching a football or basketball game on a small TV in the back and several dancers would come and watch along with them until they were needed on the set.

There were many other people behind the scenes who helped make Soul Train what it was such as Clinton Ghent, who hosted the local Chicago version of Soul Train after Don moved to Los Angeles. He also helped find dancers for the Chicago version of the show, Joe Cobb, who yelled, “the sooooooooooooul traaaaaaaaain” at the top of every show.

And a special spotlight on another unseen behind the scenes individual on Soul Train, the program’s announcer, Sid McCoy, who died recently. His voice was heard at the opening of the show introducing the program and its guests as well as the sponsors and the prizes couples would get for solving the Scramble Board. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times when I wandered in the control room area where the director and his staff were. He was such a very pleasant and friendly individual.

Special mention was given to McCoy at the recent Soul Train Awards held Nov. 10th which I attended.

All of these unsung behind-the-scenes individuals and many others were the reasons for helping to make the show the longest running, first-run syndicated program in television history. Along with the show’s chief engineer, Don Cornelius and us dancers, they helped to give the world more than 35 years of love, peace and soul!

Until next time, love, peace and soooooooooul!!!

— Stephen McMillian

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In addition to being a dancer/performer, Stephen McMillian is also an up and coming actor and filmmaker.

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