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Artists We Love: Gregory Hines

In Honor of National Tap Dance Day, May 25

The talent embodied by one of the Artists We Love – actor and tap dancer extraordinaire Gregory Hines – literally started at the tips of his toes and the bottom of his heels.

Born in New York City on Valentine’s Day 1946 to Alma and Maurice Robert Hines, the latter being a longtime dancer, musician and actor, Gregory’s skills as an entertainer in multiple genres was seemingly part of his DNA.

Almost every bio, and unfortunately obituary, written for Hines, who died in 2003 at age 57 of liver cancer, began with his tap-dancing prowess, crediting him with its revitalization in the 20th century. His skills were well-honed since he’d began dancing at 2-years-old.

Tall, lithe with solemn eyes, lids at half-mast, Hines’ career spanned stage, television and movies but at his core he knew he was a “dancer.”

“I just love to tap-dance,” he told Cigar Aficionado magazine. “I’ve been tapping for 44 years, and for me, it’s the easiest way I can express myself as an artist. I don’t mean it isn’t challenging. It’s just that when I have my tap shoes on, I feel very self-confident. I feel like I can speak from my heart. It’s a way I’ve always been able to get in touch with many different emotions. I put my shoes on and I start to dance, and it’s clear to me what I’m feeling.”

He was an avid improviser of tap steps and rhythms, similar to a drummer doing an extended solo. Hines recast the image of a tap dancer into a serious dance artist while building a new tap style. Tap historian Sally Sommer said Hines “obliterated tempos” and threw “down a cascade of taps like pebbles tossed across the floor. He aligned tap with the latest free-form experiments in jazz and new music and postmodern dance.”

In 2019, Hines was honored with a Black Heritage U.S. postage stamp which featured him smiling on one knee with one foot raised to show the taps on the bottom of his shoe.

Regarded by many dancers as “the precious link between the Golden Age of jazz, tap, and the dance innovations of today,” Hines remains relevant and revered. Here are a few reasons why:

Gregory and Maurice Hines.

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