Gregory Hines

Gregory Hines in White Nights

Gregory Oliver Hines (1946–2003) spent his boyhood days at Harlem’s Apollo Theater with his brother Maurice, watching tap dancers like Chuck Green, Charles “Honi” Coles, Teddy Hale, The Nicholas Brothers and Howard “Sandman” Sims. Between performances, the hoofers would gather in the dimly lit, costume-cluttered basement to jam on the worn-in rehearsal floor. It was here, trading steps with tap legends, that Hines fell in love with the artform and learned how to develop his own rhythms. “They really loved him, because he could think on his feet and didn’t have any fear,” says Hines’ brother Maurice.

A true triple threat, Gregory Hines ultimately became one of tap’s most recognized performers and preservers of the art. He appeared in major motion pictures, on television and on Broadway, and for more than half a century, he carried on the tap lineage, eventually sharing it with a new generation of tappers. And in October 2009, Dance Affiliates launched a 10-week national tour of Thank You Gregory, A Tribute to the Legends of Tap to honor the man who bridged the generations and transformed rhythm tap into a respected dance style.

Born on February 14, 1946, in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Hines began his formal tap training at age 3 with Henry LeTang. Two years later, he and 8-year-old Maurice were performing professionally as “The Hines Kids.” They toured the world, dancing in nightclubs, theaters and on TV shows, including three dozen appearances on “The Tonight Show.” In 1954, the brothers made their Broadway debut in The Girl in Pink Tights and in 1964, their father, Maurice Hines Sr., joined the touring act (renamed “Hines, Hines & Dad”) as a drummer.

But unfortunately, the Hines brothers caught the tail end of an era. While their fame was slowly rising, tap’s popularity declined. Big bands fell out of fashion and jazz nightclubs shuttered. And Broadway, encouraged by the success of West Side Story, turned to ballet and jazz as storytelling forms. The hoofers who had mentored young Gregory had a difficult time finding work. Even Hines found himself pulling away from tap. In the early 1970s, after months of soul-searching, Hines left his family act, his first wife and their 2-year-old daughter, Daria, and fled to Venice Beach, California, where he formed the jazz-rock ensemble Severance and adopted the hippie lifestyle.

Five years later, Hines returned to his passion. He moved back to New York and soon landed a role alongside Maurice in the musical revue Eubie! (1978), which was being choreographed by LeTang. This performance earned the natural rhythm-maker his first Tony nomination, which was followed by two more for his work in Comin’ Uptown (1979) and Sophisticated Ladies (1981). Ten years later, Hines finally took home a Tony Award for his lead role in Jelly’s Last Jam (1992).

As Hines’ career blossomed, he continued to make tap more visible while pushing the genre’s boundaries. He broke away from the polished, foursquare tempos of the 1930s to captivate audiences with hard, roughed-up, low-to-the-ground, free-flowing, funky rhythms—movements expanded by his protégé Savion Glover and generations to come. “He felt tap should be as modern and new as Twyla Tharp. Top hats and tails were out, tight Armani T-shirts were in,” says close friend and tap historian Jane Goldberg.

In the 1985 film White Nights, Hines tapped to contemporary music and went toe-to-toe with ballet virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov. “This film put both artforms on equal footing. It said, ‘This tap dancer and tap dance are at the same level as Mikhail in ballet,’” says Tony Waag, the artistic director of the American Tap Dance Foundation. Hines also starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s Harlem jazz club crime-drama The Cotton Club and 1989’s Tap, a movie that experimented with rock music and brought together a teenage Glover and legends like Sandman Sims, Jimmy Slyde and Bunny Briggs. “He made tap cool to young people in terms of using contemporary music and innovating how we use our feet,” says hoofer Jason Samuels Smith. “He was the motivating force behind our whole generation’s movement.”

Having witnessed the older generations struggle through tap’s dormancy, Hines made tireless efforts to ensure tap’s vitality in the 21st century. When Congress was considering legislation to create National Tap Dance Day, Hines showed up in Washington, DC, to speak to the Congressional Black Caucus. This day has been celebrated on May 25 since 1989. In 2001, Hines helped Waag launch Tap City, a New York tap festival, and just a week before he died, Hines was supposed to participate in the inaugural Los Angeles Tap Festival. “It was so humbling for me to hear how eager he was to be a part of it,” says Samuels Smith, the festival’s co-creator.

On August 9, 2003, Hines passed away at age 57, after a 13-month battle with liver cancer. While his passing was a great loss, he left a timeless legacy through his generous support of the tap community. Hines used to say he was “just a tap dancer,” says Maurice. “I told him, ‘You’re not just a tap dancer, you’re the tap dancer.’” DT

Katie Rolnick is an editor for Dance Spirit magazine. She holds an MA in journalism from New York University.

Photo of Gregory Hines by Anthony Crickmay, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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