Jared Grimes Returns to His Tap Roots With The Tap Dance Kid

January 31, 2022

“Even when I’m far away from tap,” says Astaire Award–winning hoofer Jared Grimes, “I’m never really far.” While his resumé runs the gamut from MTV to Cirque du Soleil to Mariah Carey, Grimes is returning to his roots with The Tap Dance Kid. He’s choreographed the Encores! revival of the 1983 musical, set to open Feb. 2 at New York City Center, about a boy who dreams of becoming a tap star. Grimes himself has certainly done just that: He made his Broadway debut in 2013 in After Midnight and will return this spring to play Eddie Ryan in the revival of Funny Girl.

Were you familiar with The Tap Dance Kid?

I never saw the original, but Hinton Battle’s solo in “Fabulous Feet” is one of the things I had on VHS as a kid. What I loved about Hinton was that he was unapologetically amazing all the time. It always seemed like he was dancing as if there was literally no tomorrow. I love when I see people sweating and giving you every last drop of what they love to do, dancing as if the show is going to close the next day.

What perspective are you bringing to the choreography?

I wanted to honor a classic musical while adding the fresh take of a young African American who loves theater but listens to Kanye West. Our writer, Lydia Diamond, has set the show in the ‘50s, so the movement explores race, gender, style and other social aspects prevalent during that time. The world was evolving, so the audience will see how movement was a release, or how it was opening minds or putting certain sentiments at the forefront. The choreography is less “production number!” and more statement-based. Just like with Hinton, I want the tap dancing to make us feel like there’s no tomorrow.

Jared Grimes grins as he balances in a deep crouch, arms outstretched for balance. He's on a wooden tap board onstage, wearing tap shoes and a white tank top, brow glistening with sweat. Musicians wielding a sax and bass guitar are blurry behind him.
Photo by Matthew Brush, Courtesy Grimes

Other projects you’ve worked on lately haven’t involved tap at all, such as acting in the TV show “Manifest” or A Soldier’s Play on Broadway. What’s that like?  

Even if I’m not approaching my character as a tap dancer, rhythmically, tap allows me to capture the pace that a character operates at, or to help with the timing of my fellow actors. I love working on projects that have nothing to do with tap. Sadly, whenever you’re passionate about one thing, people think that’s the only thing you can do. Tap is so niche, as soon as people hear you’re a tap dancer, they say, “We just have to find a tap project for him.” Even just saying that makes my stomach crawl. As a kid, I studied so many great performers, and for a lot of them, the only way they could get in the door in Hollywood was tap dancing. They were extremely versatile, but they were pigeonholed as tap dancers. They opened the door for me so that I could have options.

What options are you still hoping for?

I’ve been gunning for the opportunity to play Sammy Davis Jr. since I was 3 years old. I’d be honored to tell his story in a way where I wouldn’t have to compromise anything that he was about. When I was a kid, he and Fred Astaire were my idols.

What about playing Fred Astaire?

I’ve actually been stopped by random people on the street who say, “I don’t want to be insulting, but does anybody ever tell you that you look a little bit like Fred Astaire?” I don’t think that’s an insult at all! I think I’m the only person who could look like Rajon Rondo, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire and Nipsey Russell at the same time. I should write some type of cool film where I get stuck in Fred Astaire’s body—something like Pleasantville. That would be crazy! Somebody would pick that up.