Every Little Thing Ephraim Sykes Does to Pull Off Ain't Too Proud's Electric Vocals and Dance Moves
Ephraim Sykes has repeatedly proven that he's a standout dancer in Broadway shows like Hamilton, Motown and Newsies. But, boy, can he also sing.
As David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, he does both with such vigor that we had to know how he pulls off this famous Temptations frontman. "It requires everything," says Sykes, who was nominated today for outstanding male dancer in a Broadway show by the Chita Rivera Awards.
Sykes broke down his routine from pre- to post-show—and how he wound up learning what he calls "the key to life" along the way.
During the Day:
"I try to stay as still and quiet as possible to truly conserve my energy. I take a lot of voice lessons in the day and do things for my body, like acupuncture and massage therapy once a week."
Two Hours Before Curtain:
"I eat really healthy, substantial meals to make sure that I have enough fuel to get through the show: something like steak and potatoes and vegetables, or chicken and vegetables and rice. I have a very fast metabolism, so I eat things like red meat and heavy proteins like chicken that can stick to my body. If I eat too light, something like fish, I'll feel depleted by the time I get to the second act."
Once He Gets to the Theater:
"I get a good vocal warm-up in, as well as a body warm-up. I just do enough to get my body loose and warm."
"I focus on being smart about gauging my energy and how I can use the show itself, especially the first act, to continue to warm up and ramp up into the big, high climatic moment."
Sykes (front) and the cast dancing Sergio Trujillo's energetic choreography for Ain't Too ProudMatthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
"A physical therapist comes to my dressing room and does therapy on my throat all the way down to my diaphragm. Literally every show, just because my first act is so strenuous. It's the almost-screaming and dancing and harsh singing that make my diaphragm and throat almost want to clench up. They literally peel me apart—my throat, my jaw, even my diaphragm—to help me breath again. I'm finding out that if my breathing is clutch, the better I'm able to breath, the easier I can get through this monstrous show."
"I have a lot of protein snacks, like almonds and trail mixes, and fruit like bananas. Of course I have coconut water and a big canteen of Throat Coat tea with me."
The Sneaky Thing He Does During the Show:
"Any time I get a break and I'm facing upstage, I'm stretching my tongue out of my mouth really far and doing things to relieve tongue tension."
Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
Whenever He Has a Moment Offstage:
"I've learned throughout this show that the key to life [laughs], as cliché as it sounds, is breath. When I'm doing something this hard, anytime I'm offstage I'm taking big, deep breaths in different positions that my voice teachers taught me that help reboot my adrenal glands. I'm hanging over, grabbing my feet or touching my toes and taking full breaths to get the air into my back, deep down into my lower abdominal spaces and releasing my neck tension.
"I was primarily a dancer before this show, and dancers are taught to breathe very high up and shallow and singers need the air to be down low and deep. I have to bridge the gap: How do I keep my core tight so I can do all my spins and splits but be able to sustain my notes and have the power behind my voice?"
Immediately After Curtain Call:
"I have a 10-minute cool-down process: a vocal warm-down and a breathing cool-down so I don't sound like James Brown when I'm talking. And my muscles respond to what my mind and breath are doing. If I leave the stage and go straight to talking to friends or family, my voice and body don't recuperate the way that they should because they're still at a heightened place. The cool-down is just as essential to my show as my warm-up."
Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
"I'll eat a smaller portion of the same sort of protein, starch and vegetables that I had pre-show, and hydration is key—coconut water is my best friend.
"I've been taking a hot Epsom salt bath pretty much every night to relax my muscles. A lot of times, I'm sitting in my bathtub, stuffing my face and watching 'Game of Thrones.' "
On His Day Off:
"My days off are full of nothing if I can manage it. I have a standing acupuncture appointment to recuperate, and a fat dog that I take to the park so we can both have peace of mind. From there, I'm just chilling out. I watch TV and let my mind go blank for a little bit, so I can be prepared for the next week."
- Ain't Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations ›
- Review: An All-Star Team in the Temptations Musical 'Ain't Too Proud' ›
- 'Ain't Too Proud' on Broadway review: Entertaining to the max - The ... ›
- With Motown in his Blood, Hamilton Alum Ephraim Sykes Continues ... ›
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.