Ephraim Sykes in Ain't Too Proud as David Ruffin, one of The Temptations' lead singers. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

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."

Act I:

"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

Intermission:

"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."

Backstage Snacking:

"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

Post-Show:

"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."

Latest Posts


Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

MJ The Musical Casts Its Michael

MJ The Musical has found its Michael Jackson: Ephraim Sykes.

If there's anyone who's up to the task, it's easily Sykes. The Tony-nominated triple threat has proved his mettle time and again in six Broadway shows. No stranger to the soul and pop genres, he was in the casts of Memphis and Motown The Musical, and is currently starring as David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

Dance Magazine Award Honoree: Sara Mearns

Sara Mearns is a force. There is a monumentality to her dancing that was apparent even as a young corps member of 19, cast in her first Swan Lake with New York City Ballet. She threw herself into the role heart and soul, stretching each shape to the limit, trusting the music to carry her to a deep place (and her partner to save her should she go too far). In the 13 years since, her dancing has gained in power and focus, while never losing that edge of risk.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest