Anyone who watched Soul Train in its early days could not take their eyes off one of the program’s most dynamic dance couples, Wanda Fuller and Eddie Cole. Their routines were always in sync, always tight and, in short, they knew just how to get down! Wanda was born with a special innate gift for dance and she was blessed with many opportunities to showcase her talents and work with such entertainers as James Brown, Tom Jones and Diana Ross. Wanda’s effervescent dancing, along with her bright smile and enthusiasm, were always a joy to watch every week on Soul Train. Here is her story.
SoulTrain.com: Who or what influenced you as a child to want to go into the entertainment business?
Wanda Fuller Robinson: When I was a child, I hung out a lot with my father. He was a saxophonist and performed with many entertainers such as Louis Jordan, the Platters and James Brown. When he would go to the rehearsals for the shows with those artists, I would go attend them with him. This was before I started school.
SoulTrain.com: Would you say dancing was a gift you were born with? After all, you are one of Soul Train’s all-time greatest dancers.
Wanda: Thank you! Well, I always wanted to dance. I loved to dance. I think it is a gift from God because when I would go to dance classes, I could just do the dance steps instantly. Of course there were certain techniques I had to practice but I could basically pick them up.
SoulTrain.com: How did you become a dancer on Soul Train?
Wanda: I went to high school with Connie Blackino (another popular Soul Train regular) and she introduced me to Eddie Cole. We all went to the same high school. Eddie and I would dance together a lot. We happened to go to an audition for Soul Train dancers at Dinker Park. The dance coordinator from the show, Pam Brown, was there and she picked us to come to the show.
SoulTrain.com: What do you remember about your first day on the set of Soul Train?
Wanda: I remember all of the bright lights and was shocked at how the small the set was! I also recall they had cheap tape laid out on the floor to resemble train tracks. Don Cornelius was bigger in person and his voice was even deeper.
SoulTrain.com: Who were your buddies on Soul Train?
Wanda: Connie Blackino and Diana Price. We grew up together and our families knew each other.
SoulTrain.com: You and Eddie were hands down one of the best dance couples in the history of Soul Train. You two were always in sync with one another. The two of you must have practiced a lot.
Wanda: We didn’t, actually. Eddie and I would just look at each other and we knew what we were going to do. Every step he did, I did and we did the steps wilder! We just clicked and fed off of each other and were having so much fun.
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever get caught by Pam Brown chewing gum?
Wanda: Yes! Everyone did! I remember taking my gum and giving it to her.
SoulTrain.com: Who were your favorite artists that you enjoyed seeing perform on Soul Train?
Wanda: I have so many favorites, but the top one is The Jackson 5. I was shaking when they were in the studio. We were just as excited to see The Jackson 5 as they were excited to see us. They were very approachable. They asked how we did certain steps. I remember Michael was eyeing Connie. He was trying to talk to her! As a performer, I could feel Michael’s energy. I cried as I watched him perform. I was sitting in the audience with some of the other dancers just screaming and excited to see the group perform. I also enjoyed when James Brown and Barry White came to the show. They performed live. The music those artists did just moved you. You could hear every instrument. That is what is missing in music now. Things were changing in the music business even back then. I didn’t like disco. I always loved live music.
SoulTrain.com: Because of the Soul Train Gang’s popularity, several of the dancers had opportunities to work with certain recording artists and attend special events that they gave. What are your memories of those times?
Wanda: There are so many memories! Me and some of the dancers performed with James Brown. Also, several of us dancers attended a big party given at the mansion of Berry Gordy’s sister after the wedding reception of Jermaine Jackson and Hazel Gordy. We also attended a party at Barry White’s home and had a great time. We had so much fun during those times. The stars treated us so nice.
SoulTrain.com: One special memory had to be when you, Eddie, Joe Chism and Damita Jo Freeman performed at the NAACP Image Awards.
Wanda: Yes! It was really a nice experience. I remember being so nervous when I met Sidney Poitier. Damita laughed at me so hard because I was literally trembling!
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever experience any jealousy from any of the other dancers?
Wanda: Not that I recall. If I did, it didn’t faze me.
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever dance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand or the show he created to rival Soul Train called Soul Unlimited? If so, what do you recall about being on either show and was Don Cornelius mad about his dancers dancing on those programs?
Wanda: Yes, I danced on those shows and yes, Don was mad. Here he was doing his show and another show came on to compete with his. We just wanted to get more exposure but Don gave us an ultimatum. He told us, “If you go there, you stay there!” So we stayed with Don because Soul Train was our beginning.
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever experience any funny or embarrassing moments on Soul Train?
Wanda: I remember one time Eddie and I demonstrated a dance step on this platform in the middle of the dance floor. As we were dancing, the platform slowly began to come apart! The segment had to be taped over again and that platform had to be put back together.
SoulTrain.com: You and Eddie did the Scramble Board about three times. You two must have ran out of space at home for your Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen products!
Wanda: One time, we missed the Scramble Board solution but I still got my 8-track player, my Afro Sheen and Essence magazine subscription. Back then, you really had to guess and figure out what the name on the Scramble Board was. The answer wasn’t given to you like it was years later.
SoulTrain.com: In 1974, you and some of the other Soul Train dancers had the opportunity to work with Diana Ross during her Las Vegas shows. What was that experience like for you?
Wanda: It was a really great experience. Damita and I choreographed a lot of the routines but what happened was that Diana wanted a certain look for the background dancers, two guys and two girls, so she chose Joe Chism, Eddie, Pat and Damita. I was disappointed about that but I was fortunate to still be involved with the show doing choreography. Diana even recognized me for doing the choreography. Aside from performing, Pat and I held Diana’s babies, we went shopping with Diana and she made sure we had everything we needed. She treated us so good. I don’t know how people could say bad things about her.
SoulTrain.com: Later that year, you all performed with Aretha Franklin as well.
Wanda: Yes. I choreographed that show as well and performed on it this time. Aretha’s children wanted to know the Soul Train Gang. Her son Clarence called each of us personally and asked us to audition and perform as part of her act. We also went to Aretha’s home and she had a beautiful apartment. We had so much fun. Again, I just don’t understand how people could say bad things about her or Diana. They spoiled us.
SoulTrain.com: You became a part of the Something Special dance troupe, comprised of several of the Soul Train dancers and due to scheduling and traveling the troupe couldn’t attend certain tapings of Soul Train and eventually left the show and became famous around the world. What are some of your greatest memories being a part of Something Special?
Wanda: My fondest memories were traveling and going to all of the different countries and learning their customs. We were like family. We even argued like sisters and brothers! To this day, the love among us is still there.
SoulTrain.com: Didn’t Something Special release an album or a 45?
Wanda: Yes, we did quite a few songs and they were quite popular in Japan and Europe.
SoulTrain.com: Did you do anything else professionally after Something Special disbanded?
Wanda: John Daniels, the owner of Maverick’s Flat, and his wife had a group called Love Machine and they were looking for background singers and dancers. Pat auditioned but they were looking for a taller girl, so she told me about the audition so I auditioned and won. Eddie and Pat then went on tour in Austria as a singing duet called Essence. Love Machine toured the same places that Something Special went to. I was with Love Machine for four years. John Daniels was a good businessman. I remember while we were on the road, auditions were being held for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. I was so upset that I missed it. After touring with Love Machine, I settled down and had a family.
SoulTrain.com: What are you doing currently?
Wanda: I’m a teacher’s assistant with special education. I’ve been in the position for 14 years. It’s the most rewarding thing and it’s the best job ever. I love that job! It is wonderful knowing that you are helping the children and making a difference in their lives.
SoulTrain.com: What would you like to say in memory of Don Cornelius?
Wanda: Don gave the dancers a lot of opportunities. He gave me a life-changing opportunity. He was very serious about our image back then. He made sure everything we did was clean and respectful. He was concerned how we portrayed ourselves. He was a father to us. He always made sure we everything we needed. He was a father image away from our homes. He made sure everyone respected us.
SoulTrain.com: What word of wisdom do you want to share with the readers of SoulTrain.com?
Wanda: Let your mistakes be lessons and move on and realize that a lot of times you don’t get a second chance. So just take that chance and go forth and take God with you.
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. He is featured in the Soul Train documentary Show Me Your Soul and is also featured in the book Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train which is available on Amazon and in bookstores.