From Broadway Stardom to Housing Insecurity — and Back
Former HOPE Atlanta client Ted takes the stage for his second act
The year is 1992. The broadway musical Jelly’s Last Jam, starring Gregory Hines, is a critical darling. The production has earned many prestigious awards and nominations, including Tony awards. Among the nominees is Ted L. Levy, a dancer and choreographer who has since been celebrated as one of America’s premier tap dance artists.
Thirty years later, at 62, Ted would captivate and inspire a new audience. When he took the stage at HOPE Atlanta’s 2022 Heroes for HOPE gala, it was to share his own comeback story.
Raised in Chicago, Ted first started tap dancing at age 14. After serving four years in the Navy, Ted quickly found success and notoriety onstage. Five years after discharge, he made his Broadway debut in the musical Black and Blue.
“As a tap dancer, I have had the privilege of working with legends,” he said. “I became Gregory Hine’s choreographer on Broadway — one of the best tap dancers of all time. I helped him earn his Tony Award on Broadway.”
The Tony for Jelly’s Last Jam was just the beginning. Over the next few decades, Ted would direct, choreograph, and star in many high-profile projects. When his production, Ted Levy and Friends, debuted in the early ’90s, the New York Times declared it “the rebirth of tap dancing as an art form.”
Ted’s numerous other credits include the musical Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, the film Bojangles, Spike Lee’s Malcom X, and the Broadway production Thou Shalt Not, where he starred alongside Susan Stroman and Harry Connick Jr. His many critical accolades include Tony, Emmy, and NAACP Image Award nominations.
But things eventually took a turn for the worse for Ted, who had struggled with mental health issues since serving in the Navy. For ten years, he lived in precarious housing situations where the possibility of homelessness was all too real.
“At one point in time, when I left my father’s house, I had two days where I just didn’t know where I was going to be,” he said. “I know that feeling, and at 61 years old, it scared me. It was almost paralyzingly frightening.”
In 2020, when the COVID pandemic arrived, the entertainment industry took a massive hit. While Ted struggled to find a way forward, he got more bad news: the relatives he was staying with asked him to move out, and he had nowhere else to go.
Ted turned to the VA for resources, and after unsuccessfully contacting several other agencies for help, he found HOPE Atlanta.
“The difference was night and day,” he said. “There were times when I felt like not getting up because I knew tomorrow would be like yesterday. That all changed the minute I heard Kathura’s voice. From the time I spoke to her, I felt providence. I felt protected, like God was protecting me.”
Kathura Maugnhs, Ted’s case manager, provided the emotional support and 1–1 assistance he needed to navigate the rental market amid the COVID-19 economic crisis and waning housing affordability.
“She was honest with me, straight to the point, and caring,” he said. “We almost had counseling sessions. She would say, ‘Mr. Levy, we are going to be alright.’ She would be right there with me. Now, let’s do this.”
Kathura and Stephine Pope, a HOPE Atlanta housing specialist, teamed up to help Ted find an apartment and secure the funds needed to pay rent while he got back on his feet. To expand Ted’s housing options and help him meet other living expenses, HOPE Atlanta also provided long-term rental assistance and case management support.
Today, Ted is not only stably housed in his own apartment. He is dancing again. He has even set up a tap dance board in his bedroom.
“From the time I got into this apartment, I’ve been trying to reset,” he said. “I was so excited to perform for HOPE Atlanta. I hadn’t performed in over two years.”
Free from the stressors of housing insecurity, Ted once again has mental and physical space to create and focus on his own production company, Swing Forward Productions. He has several exciting new projects in the works.
“I want to write my story called, ‘My Grey Sole,’ which is the metaphor for my tap shoes,” he said. “When you buy them, the soles are brand new. The more you dance, the grayer the sole gets. They return to light, the more you work.”
Between writing and pitching new productions and getting back into tap-dancing shape, Ted is keeping busy. But he still takes time each month to call and chat with his former case manager.
He also hopes to spend time this year giving back.
“I want to volunteer and help HOPE Atlanta out,” he said. “See how I can help and get hands-on.”
His advice to people facing similar circumstances?
“Listen to the guidance of the people that you connect with. Participate in the solutions and the possibilities they present to you. Remember that you are staring in the face of kindness.”
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