By Elaine Buchignani from Swing Dance SCT
You may know him as the dancer with the impossibly low Shorty George styling dancing between Al Minns and Leon James in the Tranky Doo clip. Or maybe you’ve noticed him in the background of the jazz dance documentary, The Spirit Moves, dancing in a perpetual deep squat or lunge. Once described as “near‐Cubist — all edges, angles and indentations” by The New York Times, Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel was famous for his bold rhythms and tireless legs.
In his own words, Pepsi learned to dance at a young age “from the street and from the ballrooms”. His passion and talent led him to perform with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, dance on Broadway, teach at Alvin Ailey, and eventually form his own troupe, the Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Theater in 1960.
Pepsi’s long career made him “a walking repository of all kinds of jazz names, places, steps and memories —vital data from a vital period of which there is very little record.” Tragically, there’s not much left of his vast knowledge today. In the late 90s, an apartment fire destroyed many of Pepsi’s personal records. His book, “Authentic Jazz Dance: A Retrospective” is out of print, and he became reclusive towards the end of his life.
We were able to find the abstract of one academic paper titled “The Authentic Jazz Dance Legacy of Pepsi Bethel” by Karen Hubbard, a UNC Charlotte professor and direct mentee of Pepsi himself. We’ve reached out to request a full copy of the paper, and we look forward to updating you all when we hear back. For now, enjoy this compilation of clips featuring Pepsi from The Spirit Moves.