On Tap

Maurice Hines toasts his late brother Gregory and other stars who helped him move through a life in the limelight

Maurice Hines: Tappin' Thru Life

Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life

(Photo by Tony Powell)

MW: And yet you’re saying that choreographer hasn’t been hired to do much since?

HINES: Well, Garth Fagan, he has his own dance company. But I haven’t seen any other Broadway show he’s doing. And he certainly should have been offered one. When you make that kind of money, obviously you’re good at it. But I don’t see his name in any other shows.

MW: And reality TV shows like Dancing With The Stars, do you feel like that is good or bad for the dance community?

HINES: I don’t look at reality TV. I’m not interested in reality TV. I like So You Think You Can Dance, I enjoy that. And I have great respect for people who want to try to dance and try to get better. But I’m only interested when it’s really great. And some of them are good. But I don’t like reality shows. The reality shows you’re talking about [competition shows], that’s different. Reality shows, that’s looking at somebody else’s life. I have a life! I’m living my life. Why would I want to watch somebody live their life? It’s boring. I have mine. [Laughs.] Sit up and watch some housewives beat each other up? Ew. It’s horrible.

MW: And it just creates this realm of talentless fake celebrities.

HINES: Oh, exactly! Apropos of that – I’ll never forget it – I was at the Lincoln Theatre, and we had closed, and I was still there. And a show was coming in. They had all these wonderful artists who had been around and found a niche for themselves, really great singers. I think Chanté Moore was in it. Really wonderful singers. Who was the star of it? This woman Mimi, or Neci, or somebody from The Real Housewives of Atlanta. [Editor’s Note: NeNe Leakes.] Do you know her? She was billed over all these people who had been working all their lives! She was first billed! I said, ”Ugh! Well, no, I’m not going for that.” All she was on, she was on the Atlanta housewives show. That’s all she did, and she got billed over these wonderful artists who had been working all their lives to get better. That doesn’t say that much about them, but it says a lot about us as a society, what we want to buy. I’m not going for it. I don’t go for it, I’m sorry.

MW: Even some of my friends I consider smart and discerning, that’s what they like to watch and talk about.

HINES: That’s what they watch! Oh no, I get it. I just don’t play the game. You can play the game if you want, but if you ask me, ”Did you see that?” I’ll say no. So what are we going to talk about? ‘Cause I didn’t see it. [Laughs.] ‘

MW: You talked about how you don’t do niche marketing, but that sort of calculation does seem particularly pronounced today.

HINES: Yes, I agree with that. They have these marketing tools, these marketing firms. Niche building. What? What are you talking about? That’s why I love Queen Latifah, because she did a jazz album. I have great respect for her. She started in the rap world, and then all of a sudden she’s doing Chicago. Even though it was a movie it was still a Broadway show. And then she did a jazz album. She did a great version of a song by Pheobe Snow, ”Poetry Man.” She did wonderful. I have to give it to her. Go, Queen Latifah! She was, ”Don’t limit me.” That’s what she was saying. ”Just because you think you know what I do….” That’s the kind of performer that I like.

MW: But she has declined to come out publicly.

HINES: Well, she’s doing it on her terms. But that’s her personal business. Again, her personal business!

MW: Well, gay people struggle. I mean, you didn’t. But a lot of gay people do struggle. And seeing a famous, openly gay person might help a young girl struggling to accept her own sexuality.

HINES: Yes, they do struggle. I joined a group when I was in L.A. specifically to be on the phones and talk to gay youth, with whatever problems. I’ve done that. And I get it. But it’s still her personal business. She chooses when she does that. And that’s every person’s right. And if she chose not to, it’s still her right. That’s my opinion on that.

MW: I neglected to ask if you have other siblings.

HINES: No. It was just Gregory and I. So it’s very lonely for me. That’s why this show is wonderful ’cause I bring him onstage with me, I dance with him as if he’s next to me. And I talk a lot about my mother and father, and my mother and father are gone too. So I feel lonely without them. We started as a family team, and for me to be without them is lonely. I can’t help it. But this is a good way for me to keep them with me. That’s what I love.

MW: And you’re also performing the show with two pairs of tap brothers, John and Leo Manzari and Max and Sam Heimowitz. That must remind you of all the time you spent working with Gregory, and help with the loneliness.

HINES: Oh, of course! Oh, it definitely does. It’s less lonely when we’re all onstage together. Oh, it’s just heaven, it’s just heaven. I can feel my brother there. And because they’re brothers too, they get it.

MW: The last thing I want to ask you I’m asking last, because I don’t know how you’ll answer it. You talked about how you don’t really like to talk about age, but at least according to Wikipedia, it suggests you’re turning 70 this year.

HINES: Yeah, I don’t really discuss it. I never discuss my age. Wikipedia has it. Fine. It is what it is. But it’s not something that I discuss. I find all of that boring.

MW: But when you have your birthday, do you go out and celebrate?

HINES: No, I don’t. I don’t celebrate. I’m a loner, basically. Especially now that my immediate family is gone. I would celebrate with them of course — my brother and my mother and father. But, no, I don’t really celebrate it. I do celebrate with my daughter. We may go to dinner. But other than that, no.

MW: Even milestones, like reaching 70, you don’t really celebrate those either?

HINES: Yeah, but they’re mine. They’re personal things! [Laughs.] I know it’s hard for you. But they’re mine! It’s my personal business, my personal life. [Laughs.] I’ll give you an example. When my brother passed away, I did an article with The New York Times. They called me up. And [the reporter] was young. And he actually said, ”How come we didn’t know that your brother had cancer?” And I said, ”Because it was none of your business. It was a family matter.” He said, ”You know, you’re right. We’re so used to now knowing everybody’s business.”

Why would my brother say, ”Oh, look everybody, I have cancer.” Wouldn’t that be silly?

MW: Not silly. I mean, the idea is that if people come out about having cancer, it might encourage others to get screenings more often. Or just help others living with cancer to see that they’re not alone.

HINES: But, again, that’s a personal choice. So that’s what I was telling him. So if Gregory had chosen to do that, I would have respected that too. But he chose to [be private]. If he wanted to, he would have! But clearly he said, ”This is my personal business. And this is for my family.” My grandmother used to say that’s called being ”grown.” That’s from the old-timers. Like being ”grown up.” Making personal choices, that’s being grown. Not being told what to do by other people. When you’re really grown, then you make choices for yourself. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, then you make choices. And that’s not to be discussed if you choose not to discuss it.

MW: So people who see you on your birthday, as Wikipedia lists it — Dec. 13 — I guess they shouldn’t come up to you and say ‘Happy Birthday’ or acknowledge it.

HINES: Sure they should! They can do anything they want. That’s their personal business, if they choose to do that. That’s not for me to tell them don’t you do that. No. Again, it’s all about personal business. And I’ll be just as gracious as I always am and say, ”Thank you so much!”

Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life opens Friday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m., and runs to Dec. 29 at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW. ‘Tickets are $50 to $99. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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