One Pair: Putting their best foot forward

Ian Stalker stumbles upon a pair of Jamaican dancers with a difference

Morris Nelson and Frederick Wallace show off their single pair of boots. Photograph courtesy Roger Kerr

Jamaican quasi-buccaneer Morris Nelson isn’t remarkably quick on his feet. He’s remarkably quick on his foot.

The 43-year-old Nelson lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident in his early 20s. Nevertheless, he and his 38-year-old partner Frederick Wallace – who lost his left leg at 17 and began dancing on one leg in 1991 – now form a pirate-themed dance duo, One Pair.

The duo’s name reflects the fact that they can share a pair of shoes – easy to do, as both wear size 10. Nelson dubs himself Captain Left, while Wallace is known as Captain Right. The two – who dance to reggae and hip hop without using crutches – have been wowing audiences for several years with their astonishingly agile routines, which often last 45 minutes.

“I’m never slow,” says Nelson, a lifelong dance enthusiast who was practising his footwork within six months of losing his leg.

One Pair performs for tourists at Jamaica’s north coast Dolphin Cove and nearby hotels.

Part of the Dolphin Cove resort has a pirate ambience and is on an island that some of history’s most-feared buccaneers once called home. Five years ago, Dolphin Cove was looking for people to take on pirate roles. Nelson and Wallace met after they applied, and their joint dance routines evolved after that. They perform in pirate-style clothing and sport fake dreadlocks, a contemporary Jamaican touch.

These dancing pirates of the Caribbean have performed in Trinidad & Tobago and  Barbados as well as travelling between the Caribbean and England, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling “gentleman of fortune” Long John Silver.

“I am sure he would have been a good dancer, but he was a pirate first,” Wallace says of Long John Silver. “We, on the other hand, are true entertainers first, then pirates – which would make us better dancers than he would have been.”

Sceptical viewers sometimes pat Wallace’s and Morris’ loose-fitting pirate clothing, suspicious that they have somehow concealed their unseen legs. They rarely fall during their shows and when they do, they usually tumble so that viewers think the spills are part of the routine.

“Their dance routines are awesome,” says Dolphin Cove spokesman Roger Kerr, who adds that many Dolphin Cove visitors jump out of their skin when Nelson and Wallace startle them with sudden “arrs” after having blended in with pirate mannequins.

Nelson sees himself and Wallace as role models for those who are physically challenged. “Disabled people often look down. We make the disabled look up. We want to show we are able.”

“We hope that through our everyday lives we are able to inspire people everywhere to give disabled persons a chance,” Wallace adds. “Not pity – just a chance to be the best they can be and to function normally in the world.”