My life and the world of dance have been enriched through the presence of a very special man, Gregory Hines. He was an incredible tap dancer, actor, mentor, humanitarian, and charismatic performer on stage, in film, and in television.
It was 1998 and I had just moved to Los Angeles. I met an employee at a casting company who suggested I work as an extra during my free days. Since I didn’t have a job and had nothing but “free days,” I figured, why not? The hours were flexible and I had hopes of meeting some Hollywood celebrities.My first experience resulted in me being kicked off the set because I refused to spend my time sitting around waiting for our scenes to be shot. I was caught twice in areas where I did not belong and as a result, was escorted off the lot.
The casting agent contacted me about a week later and, because she knew I was a tap dancer, offered me one last opportunity to work as an extra. It was on the set of NBC’s sitcom, The Gregory Hines Show.
She warned me to exercise caution and pleaded with me to ‘behave.’
I carried my tap shoes with me.
When Gregory Hines walked into the room and greeted all the extras I considered saying to him, “Do you remember me? We danced together a few years back. I was with my sisters?”
Then I thought, I don’t want to ask a question to which the response could be, “No! I don’t remember you, or your sisters, or your tap trio called, Three Sisters Tappin’.”
I decided to leave it at hello. I know he saw my tap shoes.
I introduced myself to random people by announcing, “I’m a tap dancer. Do you know if there are plans to include a tap dance sequence on upcoming episodes?” I am usually not that forward, but I was on a mission.
Each person I spoke with referred me to the director or to Gregory.
When I finally made my way over to the director, he told me that there were plans to include tap dancing as part of upcoming scenes, but that Gregory had the final say.
As I sat waiting with the other extras, I could see Gregory walking back and forth from his (outdoor) trailer onto the set during lighting and wardrobe changes.
Mostly I thought about how I’d feel if I let the day pass and I did nothing. I was scared, nervous, on the verge of a meltdown, and concerned about breaking the rules.
I quickly realized that the worst that could happen is I’d never work as an extra again.
The downside risk was low and the upside potential was high.
Post lunch we had only a few hours before shooting our final scene. The opportunity was at hand and I knew I’d have to do something bold.
I was literally shaking as I walked down that long, dark, narrow corridor leading outdoors to Gregory’s trailer.
I stood there in the dark for about five minutes. I had no plans as to what I was going to say or do, but I knew this:
Gregory was going to open the door I was blocking. He’d have to make eye contact with me before passing me to get back on set.
When the door finally flung open I was standing toe to toe with Mr. Hines.
I gathered my composure, smiled, and confidently stated: “I understand there may be a tap-dancing segment on one of your upcoming episodes. Is that right?”
He answered, “Yes.” And as he did he sidestepped his way past me and began walking away from me.
I thought, “OMG, he’s getting away.” Without thinking I counted myself in and said, “Gregory, check it out!”
I began tap dancing. He was as shocked as I was.
He stopped walking away and came to a standstill. He watched, smiled, snapped his fingers, bopped his head, and appeared to enjoy my impromptu performance (audition).
All I could think was, “What a fool I must look like dancing in green Doc Martens.”
Immediately upon stopping I said, “So, Gregory, what do I need to do to get in on this gig?”
He turned and began walking away from me and towards the set.
He threw up his hands, looked back at me, and shouted, “YOU JUST DID!”
He gave me the ‘ol thumbs-up gesture as he made his way on set.
A week later we were in rehearsals and all was right with the world.
As you watch these wonderful dance scenes you’ll notice that I’m always, yes always, standing next to Gregory.
No one gave us places, no one instructed us which window to dance in so I continually made my way downstage, center.
Fear is the great immobilizer, my friend. DRAWBACK or CRAMP-ROLL away from it. Flap ball change towards opportunity. Dig?