Tyrone Proctor, 66, a West Oak Lane truck driver’s son with “no rhythm” who grew up to become one of the original Soul Train dancers and popularized “waacking,” a Los Angeles dance style that blossomed from gay clubs into a worldwide sensation, died Friday, June 5, of a heart attack.
Mr. Proctor was living in Harlem and in recent years had taught dance in New York, South America, Europe, and Asia, said his sister, Debra Burnett.
Fueled by an “I’ll show them” spirit born of a childhood inability to move his hips to music, Mr. Proctor elevated his dancing skill set from “stiff with no rhythm to the level of ‘Oh my gosh,'” Burnett said.
Burnett’s husband, Archie, a transit worker and a dance teacher himself, concurred. “Tyrone’s will led him to discover his talent,” he said.
Mr. Proctor graduated from Olney High School in 1972, where he choreographed the drama department’s presentation of Hello, Dolly. He started an African dance group in the school and was voted best dancer his senior year.
At Olney, Mr. Proctor’s nose was broken by a student who insulted him with a gay slur, Archie Burnett recalled.
Afterward, Archie Burnett said, “Tyrone left his out life in the club. If you met him, you’d think he was the straightest person around. But in dancing, he let it out. Much of his life, he had to code-switch.”
A teenage fixture at the venerable Wagner’s Ballroom, a long-shuttered club at Broad Street and Olney Avenue, Mr. Proctor made the place “his stomping grounds,” said Debra Burnett. “You wanted to be included in the joy he brought. He always had a big crowd around him when he danced. I remember seeing him one night and asking, ‘This is my brother?’”
After graduating from high school, Mr. Proctor set a beeline for Los Angeles. He hid in a friend’s car trunk to sneak onto the lot of Soul Train, the iconic music-and-dance TV show that ran from 1971 to 2006, highlighting African American music and culture.
Right away, Mr. Proctor impressed Don Cornelius, the show’s host, producer, and creator, Debra Burnett said. Cornelius, who nicknamed Mr. Proctor “the Bone” because of his slender build, brought the young dancer on a national tour with him.
It was on Soul Train that Mr. Proctor introduced America to waacking, a dancing style that had evolved in the gay black and Latino underground club scene, according to Out magazine.
In his book about Soul Train, titled The Hippest Trip in America, author Nelson George described the dance: “Waacking isolated body parts … to move through space like summer fans in church ladies’ hands, with great speed and an exaggerated femininity, elbow bent and arms twirling.”
In waacking, arms are rotated and thrust into the air, often moved above the head and shoulders, said Archie Burnett, who has taught the dance. “Waacking came out of early 1970s West Coast disco-LGBT clubs,” he said. “You moved your arms as though you were hitting and striking — or whacking things. There’s also posing, with emotions inspired by old Hollywood movies.” It was a California cousin of voguing, an East Coast form of club dancing, he said.
Performing with partner Sharon Hill in 1975, Mr. Proctor won the dance competition on American Bandstand, the music TV show that had moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1964.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Proctor performed in the Outrageous Waack Dancers, a group that included Grammy winning singer-songwriter Jody Watley.
By the early 1980s, Mr. Proctor had moved to New York. He performed in Breed of Motion, a dance group, and did choreography for the Isley Brothers and New Kids on the Block. For his work with the latter group, Mr. Proctor was nominated for best choreographer at the MTV Awards in 1989.
Mr. Proctor went on to teach dance throughout the world. “Along with that,” Archie Burnett said, “Tyrone also taught tolerance and acceptance. He would teach kids that gay culture is very important, that in the dance is their pain, suffering and struggle.”
Reacting to Mr. Proctor’s death, Jeffrey Daniel, a dancer, singer, and songwriter as well as a founder of the R&B group Shalamar, wrote on Facebook: “My Brother in Dance, Love and Life has passed away … [He was] the Main Pioneer of Waacking … May His soul continue to dance eternally in our hearts and memories."
Archie Burnett said that, over the years, the young man who had hidden important parts of himself grew into a more assured manhood, underscored by a saying he developed over time: “I’m just living my life. Allow it.”