Diary of an Ex-Soul Train Dancer Presents: Sharon Hill Wood

Sharon Hill Wood was one of the prettiest and most energetic dancers to grace Soul Train. Her dance routines with her regular dance partner, Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor, won each of them many fans across the country and they became one of the show’s most popular dance couples. They even won a dance contest on American Bandstand. She also met her husband, Mark Wood of the R&B/funk group Lakeside, through Soul Train. Here is her story.

Soultrain.com: Coming from Galveston, Texas, what were your ambitions growing up?

Sharon: I was geared towards a career in dancing and music. I just wanted to dance.

Soultrain.com: How did your journey with Soul Train begin?

Sharon: My older sister always invited one of her sisters to California for a two-week vacation. So she invited me this time. While I was staying with her, a neighbor named Cedric invited me to a skating rink in Los Angeles. It was fabulous! There was strobe lighting, great music and lots of kids. After I skated, I went to the ladies room and while I was looking up in the mirror, I saw that Pat Davis of Soul Train was standing right next to me. We spoke and she invited me to Soul Train, taking me on as a guest. Pat and I clicked. It must have been destined for me to be on the show. I am so thankful to Pat. If it weren’t for her, I might have never been a Soul Train dancer. 

Soultrain.com: What do you remember about the first time you were on the Soul Train set?

Sharon: To see all of the dancers and the Soul Train sign, it was just like a dream.

Soultrain.com: When did you first meet your future dance partner Tyrone Proctor?

Sharon: Well, Pat told me that I had to have a partner on the show. So she saw a new dancer named Tyrone behind the bleachers rehearsing his dance moves. She asked him if he would be my partner. So we got together and we were asked to do a routine for the weekly dance contest. Tyrone and I did the “P.A. Slaughter,” which got us into the Los Angeles finals of the Soul Train dance contest. Tyrone and I became real close friends, like two peas in a pod.  We remain close friends to this day.

Soultrain.com: What were your impressions of Don Cornelius?

Sharon: Don would sit in this tall producer’s chair with his legs crossed with a cigarette. He would watch everything on the set like a hawk. A lot of the dancers would amuse him, especially Mr. X and Don Campbell. He would tell the coordinator Pam Brown to put certain dancers on the risers or at the beginning of the Soul Train line. He also would not permit certain types of clothing to be worn by the girls. Although he was quiet, he would throw out some jokes before introducing the acts. Pam Brown was basically his voice on the set to the dancers.

Soultrain.com: What were some of your favorite memories of recording artists that came to the show?

Sharon: Labelle, for one. Patti Labelle had such a sweetness about her. The whole group was so coordinated with their outfits. Everyone was excited when The Jackson 5 would perform on the show. All the dancers made sure they were on the set whenever the Jackson 5 would appear. The Whispers were just amazing! Lakeside was so funky. Chaka Khan, I loved her voice! Barry White and so many other great bands and artists came on and they really appreciated the dancers. It was like the dancers were given free mini-concerts.

Soultrain.com: In August 1973, you, Tyrone, Pat Davis, Connie Blackino, Gary Keys, Don Campbell, Jimmy “Scoo B Doo” Foster and Edith Pickens were chosen to perform as part of the Soul Train road tours. That must have been quite an honor for all of you.

Sharon: We didn’t expect to be so popular! Everywhere we went the audiences were so happy and excited to see us. They reacted to us like we were stars, like they were seeing The Jackson 5! They would even be screaming for us! It was like a dream.

Soultrain.com: One of the Soul Train road tours’ first stops was at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. What was that experience like?

Sharon: I believe we did two shows that night. You have no idea what that was like! We were told that if the audience didn’t like us, they would throw things at us. We were so nervous, but we worked hard, rehearsed and realized we just had to do what we do and do our best. We were also told to touch the tree stump backstage for good luck. When we went out on stage, the kids screamed as we danced. They didn’t throw anything at us. The audience received us very well and they wanted to touch us.

Soultrain.com: News and magazine clippings noted that the Soul Train Gang was a smash on the road tours everywhere they went, and the audiences would go into pandemonium when all of you would dance on stage.

Sharon: Absolutely! One time at the Apollo, however, I almost got pulled off the stage by my wrists by some overzealous fans. I started to lose my balance and nearly fell into the audience, but some of the dancers were able to pull me out of the grip of the fans in the nick of time!

Soultrain.com: All of you had to execute some pretty intricate routines. Were there any steps that were difficult for you to do?

Sharon: I remember when it was time to do a hand stand/flip routine with Tyrone, I had a problem doing it. I had to mentally go into myself and say that I could do this so when it was time to execute the routine, I did it. Pat could do all of her movements with such grace and ease. Her splits were something to watch!

Soultrain.com: Do you have any other special memories about the road tours?

Sharon: We were on the road with The Whispers during one of our stops in either North or South Carolina and I remember seeing my full name on a street sign. I wasn’t sure if that sign was made for me or if it was just a coincidence! In Chicago, we met Muhammad Ali. He stayed at the same hotel that we did. He playfully acted like he was punching us (laughs).  We took pictures with him and he spoke with us for a while. When we toured with Joe Simon, he and his wife invited us to their home for dinner. It was more like a huge feast to us because up to that time we were just eating quick fast food because we were doing one nighters. My parents were sitting up front during our show with Joe Simon. My dad told me my mom was crying happy tears when she saw me perform. She was so proud of me.

Soultrain.com: You and the other dancers that were part of the Soul Train road tours–and, subsequently many other Soul Train dancers–graced the covers and inside pages of Right On! Magazine. You and the dancers that toured on the Soul Train Revue must have taken over 1,000 photos for the photo shoot done at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Sharon: We were so young at heart! We were just having so much fun during those photo shoots.

Soultrain.com: Being that you and Tyrone were one of Soul Train’s most popular couples, it must have been an exciting experience for you two to win the American Bandstand dance contest in 1975.

Sharon: There is an interesting back story to this. I was sitting at a bus stop and I prayed to God to help me get a car. Later that same month, Damita Jo Freeman told me that Dick Clark had asked for two dancers–a black couple–for a dance contest on American Bandstand, and she suggested me and Tyrone. We participated in the dance contest for six weeks. During that time frame, Tyrone and I would rehearse and rehearse. We tried to be more creative than ever before. We would go to clubs and tell the people that we were in the American Bandstand dance contest, and then we would do a dance routine and give them the information on where to send postcards to vote for us.

Soultrain.com: Were you and Tyrone confident you were going to win the contest?

Sharon: We didn’t think we were going to win. We were the only black couple in the contest. We got 60,000 out of 100,000 votes and ultimately we won the finals that sixth week. I remember everyone in my hometown of Galveston was so excited and proud. I won a Mazda! God answered my prayer request for a car! [Fellow Soul Train dancer] Mark Moore taught me how to drive in an empty lot. I was blown away by the whole experience of winning American Bandstand’s dance contest.

Soultrain.com: A lot of viewers assumed that the Soul Train dancers were rich and lived in upscale, ritzy neighborhoods, but in reality many of you were high school or college students and had regular jobs. You worked at Burger King during your time as a dancer on the show, right?

Sharon: Absolutely. I wasn’t too good to work anywhere. When there were dry spells, such as when the dancers weren’t touring or when the show wasn’t taping, I would get a job for about six months until it was time to go back on the road. I was always able to get a job during slow times. People who recognized me from Soul Train would see me working at Burger King and would ask, “What are you doing working here?” People would want to take pictures with me but my bosses didn’t mind at all since it helped to boost their customer base. My bosses were real cool about it.

Soultrain.com: From 1976 to about 1978, you, Tyrone and two fairly new Soul Train dancers–Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniels–were like quadruplets in terms of your dancing. The four of you were so in sync with one another, whether you were roboting or free-styling.

Sharon: Our chemistry was so good. Jody and Jeffrey were a lot of fun. Tyrone and Jeffrey would be like two six-year olds when they were together!  They could make your day! Jody was pretty quiet but she could be funny, too. We happen to both be Aquarians. The four of us would be at Jody’s house and be creative as we danced and rehearsed our special routines for the Soul Train dance segments and Soul Train lines.

Soultrain.com: Did you ever have a problem with stalkers?

Sharon: Not really. When we performed at the Apollo, we met a guy who had driven from Chicago to New York City to see the show. This man wanted to take me out. I was scared, but I told him the other dancers and I were going to a club. Later, a lady invited the dancers to her house for dinner. Ironically, it turned out that the guy who wanted to take me out was the nephew of the woman who had invited us for dinner at her home.  He was actually a nice guy who was just a huge fan of mine and not a stalker.

Soultrain.com: You and Mark Wood of the group Lakeside met through Soul Train. Tell me about that experience?

Sharon: Mark had seen me dancing on Soul Train and then he and his group first performed on the show in 1977. Mark asked Chuck Johnson, who worked for Don Cornelius on the show, if it was okay to get my phone number. I told Chuck no. Chuck asked me five times and five times I said no. Finally, Chuck pleaded with me to call Mark since he told me that he was worrying him to death! So I called him to get him off Chuck’s back. I was ready for him to be the type of singer that was looking for a groupie, which I was not. But when we talked, he said all of the right things, he talked about family and was not talking about himself. I really liked his personality. So we eventually met and went out to the movies and went out to dinner. Our chemistry was so good.

Soultrain.com: How long have you and Mark been married?

Sharon: Since 1982. We have two sons and two daughters. Mark and I hardly bump heads. He’s got my back. I don’t have to have a million dollars to be happy. I’m just happy to have my husband and my children.

Soultrain.com: Soul Train regular Little Joe Chism put together the first Soul Train Gang reunion in 1997. It was a wonderful event, and I was there to witness the emotional reunion of you and Tyrone Proctor. You two hadn’t seen in each other in many years, right?

Sharon: Right! Little Joe didn’t tell me that Tyrone was going to be at the reunion. I was so happy! We’ve been so close over the years. He was my left arm and I was his right arm.

Soultrain.com: Speaking of Little Joe, we lost him in 1998. He was a dear friend of yours and many of the other dancers. What would you like to say about him?

Sharon: He had that great big smile. He was a jokester and was always on the inside scoop of everything. He just made everyone feel good. He talked to everyone.

Soultrain.com: Don Cornelius, who gave you and many others their first exposure in show business, tragically passed away early this year. What would you like to say in his memory?

Sharon: He gave an opportunity for young black dancers and paved a way for us. He opened the door but you had to go forward yourself once that door was opened so you could open bigger and better doors.

We loved Don and loved dancing on Soul Train for the black community. We danced until our feet burned until the wee hours of the morning, but we loved it and never asked for a dime. You had to be there to feel the energy and the love.

Soultrain.com: Recently, you and some of the other dancers participated in an event celebrating Soul Train. Tell me about that.

Sharon: It was an event held on Labor Day. Me, Perry Brown, Thelma Davis, Damita Jo Freeman, Don Campbell, Jimmy Scoo B Doo, Freddie Maxie and I were a part of this African Festival celebrating Soul Train. Deniece Williams and Lakeside performed. I didn’t know what dance routine I was going to do because Tyrone and I would always do routines as a couple. But when my name was announced, “It’s A Love Thing” by The Whispers came on and I did my thing! Afterwards, we did a Soul Train line. It was incredible! The line was so long. Children and little babies came down the line; even people with walking canes came down the line! The whole event turned out really nice.  It was a joy seeing people locking and doing other routines the Soul Train Gang did years ago.

Soultrain.com: You used your popularity on the show to help new dancers get on Soul Train.

Sharon: Yes. Once I became a regular and my face became noticeable, I didn’t have to wait so long to get inside the studio. At that time, all the dancers had to have partners and Tyrone and I would see new people waiting on line to get in. So Tyrone and I would bring in people waiting on line in the heat and tell Pam or Chuck that they were our partners. We never excluded anybody. Years later, I ran into one of the guys I brought in and he never forgot what I had done for him.

Soultrain.com: What are you doing currently?

Sharon: Now that Mark and I have raised our kids, I started going back to acting and commercial classes. I put those ambitions on hold in the past because I wanted to be able to raise my kids. I am very happy and thankful and I have no regrets about anything.

Soultrain.com: Do you have a word of wisdom you want to share with readers of soultrain.com?

Sharon: Find God first, and everything will fall into place. Stay grounded with God and stay in His word. He knows your desires and what you want to do. It won’t be easy but never give up. You have to be rooted in God first.

–Stephen McMillian

Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music historian.

 

 

 

 

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