HAPPY BIRTHDAY GREGORY HINES
ESSAY BY: Anthony Morigerato
On a freezing cold February night in 1995, I eagerly got ready to go to Proctor’s Theater in downtown Schenectady, NY. My mom, my tap teacher, and my friends from dance all caravanned to the theater together and despite the chill in the air the sense of excitement was palpable! Gregory Hines was playing Proctor’s Theater to a sold out crowd that night. He sang, he danced, he told jokes, he honored a legend of tap dancing, and on display that night was the spirit of one of tap dance’s greatest ambassadors. For my own personal experience, I sat directly across the aisle from Peg Leg Bates, I got the opportunity to go on stage and dance with Mr. Hines, and after the show in the freezing cold outside the stage door Mr. Hines stayed, spoke to, and signed tap shoes for every person who was there for almost 2 hours. It was this night, as an almost 10 year old kid I knew I had to be a tap dancer, and that no matter what it took, I would give everything I had to being the best I could be. It is this night I keep in mind when I go into a room to teach students or go on stage to perform. It is such a blessing to know with certainty what you want to be in life and what your calling is to be. Gregory Hines and that cold February night will always be etched into the ether of my life because this moment represents the awakening of a dream and the genesis of a journey of a young boy. A journey that now that I have found Operation: Tap is only truly beginning to unfold.
I think as tap dancers we must always remember the kind of ambassador Gregory Hines was not only for tap dancing and the advocacy of tap dancers but also for the spirit of generosity with how he carried himself as a human being. I hope that this week has reminded us all that not only was Gregory Hines an extraordinary artist but he embodied the spirit and soul of a dance that connected tap dancing across the generations with exceptional kindness and warmth. He is our example of what it is to use your talent, time, and facility to inspire and influence others. He is our example of what it is to express yourself as an artist. He is our example of what it means to be giving as a performer and as an educator and that this giving is more than just the steps you teach and perform but also the example of your words and actions. He is our example of how one should conduct one's life in tap.
I have trouble remembering vividly the picture of moments happening in my life. However, the piercing cold of that February night over 20 years ago, the image of Mr. Hines standing in that cold, and the possession of a signed beige Capezio tap shoe with his name on it serve as a reminder to me of how much tap dancing, the people who tap danced before me, the people who tap dance now, and the people who will tap dance have given to me. In service of why I started Operation: Tap, I wish Gregory Hines and his memory a Happy Birthday. As we continue forward on our journey in rhythm together, let us all try in our own way to be an ambassador that would make him proud.
With Love, Respect, and Admiration