Tapilosophy: Gregory Hines to Jane
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Gregory on Respect
Gregory Hines, born Feb. 14, 1946, would have turned 70 this year. This set of emails has as its theme “respect.” His last email, of the dozens of emails we exchanged, had as its subject line, “Respect is so worth fighting for.”
Gregory died August 9, 2003. Soon after, in the autumn, I gave a talk in Lexington, Mass. about Gregory. A good friend of mine came up at the end and suggested one reason Gregory was so used to using words like “The Challenge” and “Champ” was because he grew up at the tail end of an era of show business when those words would be commonly known and used only by the hoofers of yesteryear. Some are still trying to preserve that part of the tap tradition.
This friend had recently read a book called “Violence” and a lot of it was about African American men in the prison system, way before it became a prescient issue. RESPECT, she told me, one of the basic elements of living, was always chipping away at the men of color in prison. Everything in the prison system was about respect, which was more important even than one’s physical being. They would die to get RESPECT.
This dis-enfranchised group was dis-respected in society. And, as we know from current events, with the Black Lives Matter movement, it should be no surprise “The Challenge” at its “red hot core” as Hines called it, about being the best, competing. winning, and being respected for that, hence “The Champ”. Having a way to use your talent as in a cutting session on the streets, some of the beginnings of tap dancing as we know it, laid the groundwork for getting respect from one’s peers.
Even though he was paralyzed by a stroke from his waist down, John Bubbles was honored at “By Word of Foot” festival in 1980, with a key to the city; Honi Coles called him, “winner and still champ.” John Bubbles had influenced an entire next generation of dancers (such as Honi Coles) coming up in the 1930s.
His protege, Chuck Green, told me Bubbles put tap in the jazz bracket by dropping his heels, adding a lot of syncopation to the art. Bubbles was KING, not just winner and still champ. I met a man this past summer who is writing a book on Bubbles. Finally! He has access to all Bubbles archives; Bubbles apparently kept everything. This will be great information and stories for all of us as so little is really know about John "Bubbles" Sublet.
So, here are some emails, that, with the great help of Valerie Baloga, are being published on the Hines email project website. Feel free to pass on to people you know will be interested: your own mailing lists! Together, in honor of his 70th birthday we selected a few having to do with “respect.”
I see this episode with DR, as just another incidence where you’ve had to do what's necessary to maintain the respect you've earned over the years Jane. The trick is to do that while continuing to move forward… No… the fact that you're maintaining your hard earned respect, while still getting your piece in the magazine, with a strong semblance of your voice still intact… Well… That baby, is outlasting ‘em and kicking ass.
Bravo for dealing with the aggravation and standing tall Janey Wayney.
This one, after I’d gotten an article published in Dance Magazine, which he called “D.R.” (a.k.a. Dance Rag.) That magazine really pissed Hines off. It rarely, if at all, had any articles on tap dancing (it does have more now, along with Dance Teacher) and it never had African Americans on its covers, according to Hines. He was obsessed with Dance Magazine and used every public venue at his disposal to criticize, to diss the publication.
(Embarrassingly, besides being a friend and mentor Hines also was a kind of “father figure”. I hope I was kidding him when I beseeched, but alas, I don’t think I was.)
TG: (Tap Goddess abbreviated)
Some folks hate “Champs” ‘cause they want to be one so bad… maybe you might wanna take a bit of inventory here…
Yeah tg… Give him a break… ‘cause his tap path might just lead him to a stage one night, with Savion, tap shoed and standing there waiting for him… He'll then get a lesson in respect from the champ and he'll come scurrying back to you for some healing… If he ain’t interested in that possibility… well that's okay too… old Savion might just come on his stage one night… lookin’ for him… Champs will do shit like that…!!
You do like to mess with people Jane… but I've always liked that about you… Hangin’ with you keeps the blood moving nicely…
My mother’s gone… but I still feel her fire… She was a sho’ ‘nuf undisputed Champion…!!
Subject:What do you know about boxing and boxers…??
Date:3 January 2000
Of course boxing and tapping have lots in common… not the least of which is that strange need to kick somebody's ass for all to see… to prove something… and anytime you've got that kind of a situation… the stage is set for someone to kick, over a period of time, everybody's ass… thus making that person “The Champ”… having a champion only makes for more interest from the public… I feel Savion is our current “Champ” ‘cause he's bringing all kinds of well-deserved public attention to our precious art form… and his doing that mostly with his prodigious skills… “Champions” intimidate and inspire… Hey… Didn't Honi always say that after he saw Bubbles, he “woodshedded” for a year to bring his speed and clarity up… he took the best kind of inspiration into the “shed” with him and came out looking to “cut” somebody up on the first dance floor he could find… a “champ” also inspires up-and-coming tappers… or whatever…
I once met a theater critic in Philly who, without a hint of shame, confided in me that he'd been a sports reporter for years when one night his editor told him that the theater critic was ill and wouldn't be back on the job, so he (the sports reporter) was now the theater critic, and handed him a ticket to cover the opening night of a musical that was opening that very night… I was 32 at the time and the urge to grab the fellow by the collar and slap him around was so strong I excused myself and walked away from him on the spot.
Hines’ last email to me (not last to be published in his tapilosophy):
Subject:Respect is so worth fighting for.
It's $700.00 and I can't think of another thing to talk about. We’re at the most crucial moment of respect Jane. There can be no bending back on your part. You must stand up completely to weak attempts to take back the respect you’ve forced her to give you.
I've been at these crossroads many times Jane, and I know that the most important, most powerful move for you now is to be able to say, “…all along I’d been hoping it wouldn't come to this, but frankly both Gregory and I were never able to rule out the possibility of you trying to turn this around in your typical fashion… I'm not coming… I have absolutely no respect for you and your tactics… I'll call Gregory and tell him it's off… that in the end, once again, you checked your integrity at the door and you couldn't help but be yourself… Once again crying about how confused you were about what was or was not agreed upon…”
Call me when you read this Jane. I'll be home tonight.
I love you,
Note: Particular names have been omitted to protect the non-innocent. The emails are not and never have been written as “kiss and tell”…
Thanks to Valerie Baloga for help with transcription.« Older Gregory Emails Posts