Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor is one of Soul Train’s all-time popular regulars. His unique style of dancing and his fashions–from pink jumpsuits to fur coats, as well as his upbeat persona, were a treat for viewers every week. He helped to popularize a new style of dancing in the early days of Soul Train called “waacking,” which he teaches in classes around the world. This Philadelphia-born kid was determined to jump aboard the Soul Train and become a star.
SoulTrain.com: You’re one of Soul Train’s all-time, best-known and most popular dancers. Would you say dancing is in your blood? What inspired you to dance?
Tyrone: My family would always congregate at my aunt’s and grandmother’s houses over the weekend, and when they came together they would bring their cousins. I was one of the youngest cousins. The elders would stay upstairs and they would send the younger relatives downstairs, and since I was the youngest they didn’t want me upstairs listening to the adult conversations so they put me downstairs with my cousins. My cousins would be making up steps to the cha-cha and doing the bop and all of these other things. So I’m just sitting there taking this all in, and that’s how it started.
SoulTrain.com: In late 1971, you saw a television program called Soul Train and it changed your life. You’ve said in past interviews you were determined to get on that show.
Tyrone: Each generation wants to be defined by their own, and when Soul Train first came on the air it defined our generation by who and what we are. It was a defining moment to see kids up there doing dances that normally weren’t being done, because back then blacks were very conservative in dance and they would be smoother. The only black people that would be “acting up” on stage were the entertainers such as James Brown. So I’m sitting there watching the show and I said to myself, ‘I’m going on there.’ I was in twelfth grade and I was telling people I was going on that show. They laughed and said, “You ain’t going on that show.” Low and behold, September 22, 1972 at 10:22PM pacific time I arrived in Los Angeles!
SoulTrain.com: When you first came to Los Angeles, you didn’t know anybody. One night you went to a club called The Summit and you met Little Joe Chism who danced on Soul Train, and he helped get you on the show, right?
Tyrone: Yes. I befriended Little Joe there and from Little Joe I met everyone else from Soul Train.
SoulTrain.com: There’s a funny story that you hid in the trunk of someone’s car when you went through the gate at the studio where Soul Train was taped. Tell us about that.
Tyrone: In the early days of Soul Train, Pam Brown, the teen coordinator of the show, would often go to Dinker Park, a recreation center, where dancers would be picked and chosen to go on Soul Train. At the time I met Little Joe it was too late to come to the show so we had to devise a way to get me on the show. We went to the television studio, and at the studio there is a guard in the front and he had a list. If your name was not on the list you were not getting in. So Little Joe devised a plan to put me in the trunk of the car and then he drove right through the gate, and that’s how I got in.
SoulTrain.com: What do you recall about that first day at Soul Train?
Tyrone: I remember looking at the set. I recall thinking that on television it looks a lot bigger than when you see it in person, and the set was small. I could see everyone mulling around. This was the first time I had ever been on a television set in my life and I had to act like I fit in, hoping that Don Cornelius didn’t see me because since my name was not on the list, I was not supposed to be there. Unbeknownst to me, Little Joe had already started telling other dancers about me. I had met Pat Davis and my heart is going, “Oh my God! Pat Davis!” At that very same time, she was talking about another dancer named Sharon Hill. I didn’t have a dance partner, so she said why don’t I dance with her. I turned around and she was the prettiest black girl I had ever seen in my life! Sharon Hill was unbelievably beautiful. That’s my memory of my first day at Soul Train.
SoulTrain.com: What are some of your favorite memories of recording artists that came to Soul Train? Who stands out?
Tyrone: Marvin Gaye, Donna Summer, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin are among them.
SoulTrain.com: You told me that there was one time James Brown came to the show late.
Tyrone: We had to stay on the show very late because he had either missed his flight or his flight came in late. We waited and waited and waited and he came and set up his show and we got out of the studio about 2:00 in the morning.
SoulTrain.com: When The Jackson 5 was on, you gave Tito Jackson a birthday card that was signed by all of the dancers because many of you were friendly with them.
Tyrone: I remember when me and Gary Keys (another Soul Train dancer) went to the Jacksons’ house, and the only person that was there was Janet. But Pat Davis, Damita Jo Freeman and some of the other dancers would go over to their house often and dance. When the Jackson 5 came to Soul Train during that time, they did the Robot and if you notice, Michael did the Robot the way Damita did it.
SoulTrain.com: You were one of several Soul Train dancers chosen to go on the Soul Train road tours, and all of you would travel to different cities with groups like The Sylvers, The Moments and other artists. I know that must have been an honor for you. What was that experience like?
Tyrone: I couldn’t get past the fact that I was going on the tour with Pat Davis, Damita Jo Freeman, Gary Keys, Don Campbell and Jimmy “Scoo B Doo” Foster. I couldn’t get over that. I remember we would rehearse at Dinker Recreation Center. The first concert we did was at Cow Palace in San Francisco and the Soul Train Gang opened the show. Sharon and I were the first couple that came out. I clearly remember that right before Sharon and I went on I went up to Don Cornelius and said, “But Don, the audience doesn’t know who I am.” Don said, “Bone, they know who you are. Just go on out there.”
So we went out there and the crowd just went up and they started screaming. Then Pat and Gary Keys came out and the crowd got even louder. When Damita and Don Campbell came out, the screaming was at a fever pitch. This place held 30,000 seats and it was sold out.
SoulTrain.com: You were very fashionable on the show. You wore every hairstyle–the Afro, cornrows, the process. You wore fur coats coming down the Soul Train line. Do you feel you were influential to future Soul Train dancers?
Tyrone: I think I influenced the dancers on the show that were there when I was on. I influenced Sharon, Jody Watley and a couple of other people. I wouldn’t exactly say influence, but more of directing and guiding.
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever have any problems with jealousy while you were on the show?
Tyrone: I don’t remember it. I’m sure there was. I didn’t have time to get involved in that.
SoulTrain.com: I remember you told me you were one of the only dancers allowed to go downstairs in the studio and have your hair professionally done by Soul Train’s hairdresser Ruby Ford.
Tyrone: Right, because I had a permanent and had to have rollers in my hair. I went downstairs and the only dancers who were allowed to go downstairs were me and Jeffrey Daniels. One of the reasons for this was Jeffrey and I took the lunches and put them in the recording artists’ rooms.
SoulTrain.com: You guys served the recording artists fried chicken?
Tyrone: No, they had something else besides chicken. The dancers had the two pieces of chicken from either Kentucky Fried Chicken or Goldenberg and the can of soda. We had to stick our hand in a basket filled with ice and take out our can of soda!
SoulTrain.com: We had to reach into ice-filled containers to get our sodas, too, when I was on the show years later. Now, you bought a new style of dancing to Soul Train that people had never seen before called waacking. Where did that style of dance come from?
Tyrone: Waacking came from a certain community. To be honest and to be fair, a lot of the dances that were done on the show were brought to the show. They weren’t invented on the show they were invented in the clubs. The Soul Train Gang was basically the first generation of club kids and we would go to different clubs every night of the week. There was a group of dancers on the show that I have a fondness and respect for including Lamont Petersen, Mickey Lord, Gary Keys, John Pickett, David Vensen, Dwayne Hargrave, Blinky, Arthur and Andrew. These guys would be waacking on Soul Train, and I mention them because they have passed away and it’s important that the readers understand and recognize the importance of their influence on dance and on Soul Train. They happened to influence me and it took me a long while to learn or to understand how to do the dance because I was doing it in all kinds of crazy ways. Eventually I learned how to do it. I think because of who I was, people started to imitate me.
SoulTrain.com: Waacking is still being done to this day all over the world.
Tyrone: That’s right! The dance groups that came from the show were The Lockers, Something Special; the Outrageous Waack dancers included myself, Jeffrey, Jody and Sharon. All of the dances that those dance groups performed are still popular to this day. This is a testament to their endurance. Out of all those dance groups, those were some of the most popular people on the show and people need to know that.
SoulTrain.com: It was Don Cornelius that gave you the nickname “The Bone,” right?
Tyrone: Yes, he gave me that name because at the time when I was a young little whipper snapper, he would always say, “Bone, up on the riser! Bone come here!” He would always call me that because I was so thin. I had other nicknames but I affectionately kept that one because I always had a huge fondness and respect for Don.
SoulTrain.com: You and other Soul Train dancers danced on American Bandstand from time to time. You and Sharon participated in and won a dance contest on American Bandstand. That must have been quite an experience.
Tyrone: Yes. When I first met Joe, he and Damita had just won a dance contest on American Bandstand and that they were going to Hawaii as part of the prize. The next thing I know, at some point, Dick Clark asked Damita and Little Joe if they knew a couple that could be in their next dance contest.
They gave him my name and Sharon Hill’s name. We went to Dick Clark’s office and we did a couple of quick dance routines right in his office. There was one other black couple and the other contestants were white. Back then, there was no voting by phone–you had to mail in your vote by index cards. So to ensure that Sharon and I would win, we would often make up routines and try out the routines in different clubs like the Total Experience, and go to the club owners and tell them we were in this dance contest and we wanted to take five minutes to do a little show. Most of the club owners knew who we were and that we danced on Soul Train and said sure, go head. Then we would hand out the index cards and the people at the clubs would sign the cards and we would fill out the cards and mail them in. It was good that we did that but we didn’t need to, because a guy who worked for Dick Clark told us that out of all of the seven contestants, there were 100,000 votes and Sharon and I got 60,000 of the votes!
SoulTrain.com: What did it feel like when you and Sharon won the contest?
Tyrone: We were shocked and surprised and we each won brand new cars–the 1974 Mazda RX4 Coupe. But in order to get the cars, we had to pay the taxes and licenses for them which was $334.25. So I told Jeffrey Daniels, whom I call my little baby brother, that I needed to get the money to pay the taxes for it. So he told me, “Why don’t we go to Don Cornelius?” I said, “Don? Are you crazy? Don’s not going to give me any money for this. I danced on another dance show.” So we went to Don and talked to him about it. He pulled out his drawer and took out his checkbook and wrote out a check for $334.25 and gave it to me. I’m assuming the reason he did it was because me and Sharon winning the contest was more or less Soul Train vs. Bandstand. I was ever so grateful to him. That was one of the nicest things Don did for me personally.
SoulTrain.com: You and the dancers were in many issues of Right On! Magazine and you got letters from a lot of fans. The adulation must have been great.
Tyrone: Even though we had all of this fame and had press and media attention, a lot of us tried to do other things in the entertainment industry through SAG and AFTRA but it didn’t work. We danced on Soul Train for years and we never got paid for anything, and when we wanted to join SAG and AFTRA, they were telling us that all we were doing was not good enough. That doesn’t sit very well with me because if you dance on a television show, whether you get paid or not, you are still working in the industry. When you go to SAG and AFTRA with just Soul Train on your resume, that should have been enough to allow you to join.
SoulTrain.com: You were also one of the instructors in the Soul Train dance studio, correct?
Tyrone: Yes. Don Cornelius opened up a dance studio in Los Angeles in 1978 and Jeffrey, Jody, Sherri Green and I would teach the Hustle to classes.
SoulTrain.com: You moved to the East Coast after you left Soul Train, right?
Tyrone: Yes. After I left Soul Train, I moved to New York. Before that, the Outrageous Waack Dancers got a chance to do a gig in Japan. Dick Griffey and Don worked with Jeffrey and Jody Watley so other dancers from Soul Train joined Sharon and me. When I came back to Los Angeles, Sherri, who I was seeing at the time, wanted to go to New York to pursue a modeling career so I left Los Angeles and moved to New York. When I got here, I pursued a modeling career.
SoulTrain.com: Somewhere along the line, you began to choreograph acts in the music industry.
Tyrone: One day in 1987 I was working in a store and I got a call. It was Jody Watley. I was surprised! She told me she was coming out with her next single from her first solo album and she wanted me to work with her on her “Still A Thrill” music video. She flew me out to Paris and I choreographed and danced in the video with her. Jody had just reignited my whole career because at that point, it went uphill for me. I started to do choreography for people like Sweet Sensation, The Isley Brothers, Levert, Keith Sweat, Johnny Kemp, Perfect Gentleman and Taylor Dane. I was also nominated for an MTV Award for choreographing New Kids On the Block. I had met Maurice Starr at that time, who formed New Kids On The Block, and we clicked and we’re friends to this day. I did choreography for all of his acts. Jody opened up all of these other possibilities to me back on that day in 1987.
SoulTrain.com: At the MTV Awards ceremony, weren’t you were reunited with Don Cornelius?
Tyrone: When I got there, I saw him and he said, “Bone! What are you doing here?” I said I am here because New Kids On the Block was nominated and I was working with them. As he was turning around to walk away he said, “Make sure to tell them where you come from.”
SoulTrain.com: In 1997, the first Soul Train Gang reunion was put together by Little Joe and Thelma Davis Martin. You hadn’t seen a lot of the dancers in years. I remember when you got there and you saw Sharon, you had such an outpouring of emotion. I was happy to see that.
Tyrone: It had been years since I had seen a lot of those dancers. The emotional part was seeing Sharon, because she was like my sister. Even now, her kids call me Uncle Ty. And to see Pat Davis, Don Campbell, Eddie Cole, Bernard Thompson, Nieci Payne and Lisa Jones, it was a great experience. Soul Train is my family. I’m a blessed man. I always tell people if I die today don’t feel bad for me because I lived a wonderful and gifted life.
SoulTrain.com: A year later, Little Joe passed away and he was one of your dearest and closest friends. I remember when you called and told me the news and you were very hurt about it. What do you want to say in his memory?
Tyrone: I miss him. That’s all I can say. If it wasn’t for him and his kindness, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Little Joe was the glue and he kept all of the dancers together.
SoulTrain.com: The loss of Don Cornelius was shocking to us all. What do you want to say in Don’s memory?
Tyrone: Don helped a lot of people, without him knowing, explore their dreams. He helped people ignite their talents and possibilities. I don’t think he had an opportunity to realize what he had. He had a plethora of talent on his show. It’s a wonderful experience to watch people’s talents blossom, like Rosie Perez and Darnell Williams. I’m honored to be a part of Soul Train. When Don died, many were more focused about the artists that performed on the show rather than the dancers. That’s why I went to Al Sharpton and I wanted him to know that I am speaking on behalf of the Soul Train dancers and all of us are hurting over Don’s death, too. We decided to put together a memorial for him at Maverick’s Flat. That’s why I am honored that the Smithsonian Institute is putting together an exhibit honoring Don, the show and the dancers in its African American Museum that is being built right now. Don Cornelius was a revolutionary.
SoulTrain.com: Currently, you are teaching waacking classes all around the world. Where can people find out more information about it?
Tyrone: Go to my Facebook page.
SoulTrain.com: What word of wisdom do you want to share with the readers of SoulTrain.com?
Tyrone: What I have learned about dance is this: If you don’t reach back and teach the young people, there will be no history. Dance basically comes from black people; all of these dances come from black people but it’s for everybody. I want to say thank you to all of the people reading this and I love you so much. And as I always say in parting, if you don’t understand the music, you will never understand the dance.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer/performer, Soul Train historian and soul music and movie historian. He is also a former Soul Train dancer.