For the first time in 43 years, Dale Bell met with his brother Arthur this week. He had last seen him in 1955, when Arthur was a tall and lean man, elegant in a black turtleneck. Now the old man before him stood shakily with a walker. But it didn't matter.
"The prodigal son has come home," Dale Bell said of the emotional meeting.The reunion marked another remarkable chapter in the unlikely life of Arthur Bell, who until last month was another anonymous homeless person on the streets of New York. But after paramedics delivered Bell to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, a hospital social worker discovered that he had been one of the first black ballet dancers in New York City. A flurry of news articles caught the attention of Bell's long-lost family in Florida and led to the reunion.
"It's a mind blower," said Arthur Bell, 71. "I'm not alone anymore. He's smart, and he's my brother. There's no doubt about that."
Dale Bell, 51, and his wife, Henri Mae, spent about two hours Wednesday in a private meeting with Arthur at Oceanview Nursing Home in Far Rockaway, Queens, before appearing at a news conference. Unlike his five sisters, who live in the Tampa area, Dale Bell lives in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he works as a computer analyst. The two brothers (two other brothers are dead) last saw each other when Dale was 9 and Arthur had returned to Tampa to visit their ailing father.
"You look like mother!" Dale Bell exclaimed when he first saw his brother Wednesday.
"You look like father!" Arthur Bell answered.
In reacquainting himself with his brother, Dale Bell said he did not ask how Arthur had gone from dancing in New York and Paris during the 1940s and '50s to becoming homeless in 1998. Physicians at Kings County Hospital had diagnosed dementia as an explanation for Arthur Bell's memory loss. Though he can recall precise details of his different ballet performances, Arthur Bell says his recent memories are very vague.
Dale Bell said his brother left Florida for New York before turning 20 because their parents - the father a Pentecostal minister; the mother a missionary - did not approve of dancing as a career. "Dancing for a living, unless you were doing it for God, it wasn't something you would do," Dale Bell said. "But he felt strongly about it enough that he left."
Dale Bell said he had loosely kept tabs on his brother through an aunt who lived in Brooklyn. But when she died in 1974, contact was severed. When Dale Bell moved to New York in 1975, he said he often stared into the faces of strangers and homeless people, looking for a glint of recognition. He called the Social Security Administration but turned up nothing.
Now, Dale Bell said that he and his wife were planning to take Arthur on a vacation to Paris once his health improves.
Oceanview officials described Arthur Bell's health as good, but said that he still needs more rest before he will be able to walk without assistance. Meanwhile, Dale Bell said he was planning a reunion with their five sisters. "If there was ever any doubt in his mind that his family loved him, it will only take a day or so to change that," Dale Bell said.
Describing himself as "apprehensive" before Wednesday's reunion, Arthur Bell chuckled wryly at the thought of meeting his five sisters. "The test will come when I meet the girls because I know they are going to all start talking at the same time," he said. "I'll do the best I can."