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Ballet Dancer, Family Reunited

April 15, 1998 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dale Bell’s job as a corporate executive has taken him around the world, but there was always a sadder side to his travels. In New York and Paris, Bell would peer at homeless men, hoping to find his older brother Arthur.

On Wednesday, four decades after they had last seen each other, the brothers tearfully fell into each others’ arms at the Queens nursing home where 71-year-old Arthur Bell was taken last month. Paramedics had found him disoriented and half-frozen on a Brooklyn street.

``You look like Dad,″ Arthur Bell told his brother.


``And you look like mother,″ Dale responded.

Arthur had fled his family’s strict religious home in a small town near Tampa, Fla., 57 years ago and went on to become a pioneering black ballet dancer on some of the world’s premier stages. Then came the hard times; he was homeless, and alone.

Arthur landed in a Brooklyn hospital in March, several months after disappearing from a Manhattan men’s shelter. He was visited in the hospital by Maria Mackin, a social worker who happened to have once been a ballet photographer. Mackin was riveted by his tales of New York and Paris, Margot Fonteyn and George Balanchine. She checked the records and found his stories proved true.

Then on Easter Sunday, a minister in Florida spotted an Associated Press story about him and asked one of Arthur’s five sisters whether she had seen it.

Initially, Arthur was uncertain about seeing them again.

``I was afraid my sisters might be like my mother, who was too strict with me,″ he said during the reunion with his 51-year-old brother on Wednesday. ``I want people to accept me as I am or not at all.″

But after affectionate phone conversations with the whole family this week, Arthur changed his mind.

``I’m proud of him and of my family,″ Arthur said Wednesday as his tears were tenderly wiped away by Dale. ``Now I know I’m all right.″

Dale, who said his sisters and Arthur will meet soon, brought a framed photograph of their late mother, placing it on a nightstand next to his brother’s bed.

``I still can’t believe it,″ he told Arthur. ``You know, I never stopped looking for you. I looked on the streets, even in Paris, and I’ve thought it might be you.″

Dale, an IBM project manager who lives with his wife in suburban New Rochelle, first spoke to his brother by telephone on Tuesday.

``The first thing he said was, `Dale!′ And I said, `Hello, my brother. The prodigal son has come home. That’s what your mother would have said to you,‴ Dale said.

``It’s like a dream _ this is about God,″ he added.

The siblings’ preacher father and their mother reviled dancing _ the thing Arthur, the eldest son, loved best of all.

``Daddy was a Pentecostal minister, extra-fundamentalist,″ Dale Bell said. ``There was no worldly music at home, not even the blues, only spirituals. And we couldn’t dance. If you did the Charleston, it had to be secretly.″

``But there was a lot of love,″ he said.

Arthur, however, burned to be a dancer. In 1941, he fled to New York. He moved to Paris in the early ’50s, dancing with the Ballets de la Tour Eiffel while studying with Olga Preobrajenskaya, the retired Russian ballerina.

In 1950, Sir Frederick Ashton, the British choreographer, chose him as a guest soloist in the New York City Ballet’s world premiere of ``Illuminations.″

Dale had seen his brother for the first _ and last _ time in 1955, when he was about 9 and Arthur visited when their father was ill.

``He was tall and upright, he had a certain air about him,″ Dale said of his brother.

Arthur left after a week, eventually settling in New York again and giving up dancing as he approached 40.

Their father died in the late 1950s, their mother in the 1980s. Another brother died last year.

In repeated attempts to find Arthur, Dale Bell sifted through documents and called social agencies. ``For years, the search was always on.″

``We were going in circles; we had no Social Security number. We tried everything, but it was a dead end,″ he said. ``But we felt he was still alive.″

``On the streets of Paris, which I visited several times, I looked into people’s faces,″ Dale said. And he glanced at anyone who matched his memory of Arthur: ``tall and thin, with dark skin and my mother’s features.″

A few years ago in midtown Manhattan, he noticed a man lying on a steam grate, trying to keep warm. ``There was a look in this man’s eyes that could have been my brother’s. I just stared at him. I think I frightened him,″ he says. ``But it was somebody’s else’s brother.″