Freelance Arts Previewer - My Favorite Article
In the 90s I was a stringer for the San Antonio Express-News. My interview with Gregory Hines was my favorite. Photo credit: playbill.com
Tapping into Life's Rhythms - Gregory Hines to open Carver
Center season Friday
By Lesley Salas Special to the Express-News October 1, 1995 Publication: San Antonio
Gregory Hines let forth with a lilting laugh when asked how he became a tap dancer. "My mother got me and my brother into tap dance lessons when I was 3. Like all parents, she wanted us to do
something to round out our experience," Hines said.
"I can't say that I made the decision to be a dancer, but I did choose to stay with it." San
Antonians will be glad he did. The award-winning performer appears Friday at Trinity
University's Laurie Auditorium. Hines' presentation, sponsored in part by NationsBank, opens
the Carver Community Cultural Center's 1995-96 season. His current show features six
musicians, two backup singers and a custom-made floor with built-in microphones, "so I can
tap subtly and be heard," he said.
By the time young Hines reached his fifth birthday, healready had gone professional. Under the tutelage of Harvey LeTang, he and his brother Maurice were transformed into "The Hines Kids." They grew up elbow-to-elbow with the elder statesmen of tap at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. These experiences prepared Hines for his unique style of "improvography," improvised choreography.
"Whenever I'm on stage, I'm improvising, but I have a huge vocabulary of steps to call on," he said. This is the legacy he inherited from watching the likes of Teddy Hale, Honi Coles and Sammy Davis Jr. Even
though Hines the film actor is hobnobbing these days with such stars as Whitney Houston, he
said, "My roots are on live stage. That's where I began. There's nothing that can compare to that
energy that passes back and forth between me and the audience. That's the fun of all of it."
Hines looks back fondly on his early years in the limelight. "We worked, but not all the time. I
had a great job for a kid. I didn't have to sacrifice my childhood," he said. "I even went to school with child artists. "Harold Nicholas, Savion Glover, Jimmy Slyde and Bunny Briggs are definitely my heroes. I'm still studying with some of these guys," he added. "Whenever I run into them, they show me their latest stuff and ask me for a new step of mine. Trading off steps - that's how tap dance has survived, how it's been taught."
Hines draws his material from the world around him. "Take the sounds of the city," he said. "There are rhythms all over. As a musician, as a percussionist, I hear them. Have you ever been on a train? "For some people it may be just noise, but the rhythms are what I'm most sensitive to." One project closest to Hines' heart was a feature film that showcased this uniquely American art form. Working on the 1989 film "Tap" with so many of his mentors was "a dream come true," he said. "It's the most enjoyable work experience I've ever had."
"For me, tap dancing is the easiest way to express myself. I've done a lot of things, but in my heart of hearts . . ." His voice trailed off. "You know, whenever I go to Europe and they give you that card you have to fill out, I always list my occupation as `tap dancer.' "
A glance at Hines' resume confirms that he can do it all. Hines was born to be on Broadway. Working as a solo artist for the first time, he landed a role in "Eubie," earning him a Tony nomination. The next showcase for his impeccable timing, vocal ability and ease on stage was "Sophisticated Ladies." More recently, in "Jelly's Last Jam," Hines tackled a physically and dramatically challenging role. His authentic portrayal of Jelly Roll Morton won him the Tony Award for best actor in a musical in 1992.
Hines is no stranger to the small screen, either. He has been involved in a number of independent and made-for-TV movies, including as a director. His PBS special "Gregory Hines: Tap Dance in America" won an Emmy in 1989. His self-titled album, recorded with Luther Vandross, is on Epic. His list of movie credits is growing. His comedy work includes pairing with Billy Crystal in "Running Scared" and Danny DeVito in "Renaissance Man." Although he has done straight drama in such films as "A Rage in Harlem," many of his roles have worked in a healthy dose of dancing, including "White Nights" with Mikhail Baryshnikov and "The Cotton Club."
His fans await his next release, "Waiting to Exhale," with co-stars Houston, Angela Bassett and Alfre Woodard. Why has he branched out into so many areas of show business? His answer was direct: "I like employment. I was always encouraged to be versatile. As an African-American artist in our culture, I increase my opportunities that way," Hines said. On this tour, Hines returns to his first love. "For me, tap dancing is the easiest way to express myself. I've done a lot of things, but in my heart of hearts . . ." His voice trailed off. "You know, whenever I go to Europe and they give you that card you have to fill out, I always list my occupation as `tap dancer.' "
Copyright 1995 San Antonio Express-News