When I spoke to the choreographer, producer, director & actor Darrin DeWitt Henson, I felt as if I was on a beach, watching the gentle waves lapping against the shore. The qualities that characterize Darrin are patience, kindness, intrigue, and ambition. His celebrity journey is among the things that are fascinating about him. I believe miracles are real, but if you do not, I am confident you will after reading this interview. This BET star of The Family Business and Soul Food tells his story in such a creative and simplistic way that it makes it easier for the viewer to understand the challenges he faced to get where he is now.
It is even more fascinating to note that even in his youth, when he was unable to benefit from many of the advantages others with more extraordinary economic advancement had, he was motivated to utilize whatever resources he had available to him, such as the drive, determination, wit and the desire to learn that ultimately led him to become one of the most talented and sought-after choreographers and actors of our generation. I had the pleasure of interviewing a perfect gentleman, Darrin Henson. We had a great discussion about his miraculous life. The following is what he shared with me.
Good morning! Good morning.
Is this Darrin Dewitt Henson from the Bronx. It is.
How are you doing today? Fantastic! Beautiful!
I love that! I love your optimism! What else is there? We woke up this morning, right?
Yes, and praise God for that, right? Yeah, give thanks to The Most High.
Yes, there you go! So, Darrin, I’m super excited about interviewing you today. Being respectful of your time, I'm going to try to keep this as short as possible. Because you have such a rich and extensive career, so I'm going to do my best to touch on as many of your amazing achievements as I possibly can. No problem, take your time. I'm full of information and I'm free right now to have a conversation. We can make it happen.
My sincere gratitude goes out to you. Having you speak with me today about your creative journey serves as a valuable source of information and inspiration to our independent community. Please accept my thanks and my appreciation for taking an interest in me and recognizing my value to the magazine. As part of the work I hope to do, it is my intention to act as a catalyst by facilitating the dissemination of this information to the general public by encouraging action.
There is no doubt in my mind that it will. Once again, thank you very much. Would you mind telling me a bit about Darrin's daily routine? Each morning upon waking up, the first thing that I do is express my gratitude for rising. Following that, I stretch and then drink a glass of water to flush my system. After I have completed these things, I usually check the outcome list that I wrote out the night before. I then work through the list one by one.
My goal is to have all the boxes checked by the end of the day.
Adopting this practice is a reliable way to ensure that you remain focused on the goal of the task at hand. This will increase the likelihood of completing these tasks successfully. Yes. My outcome list is drafted the night before I begin my daily planning, and I then execute my plan for the following day.
Awesome! Speaking of preparation, let’s discuss your health and nutrition choices. Customarily, is your first fruit a healthier approach to breakfast, or are you more of a traditional American breakfast enthusiast? In my day-to-day life, I am a vegetarian. However, for the next 30 days, I will be consuming only fruits.
That's an amazing level of discipline! Please elaborate. In general, when I am on an all-fruit diet for 30 days, if it is not a fruit, it does not enter my system.
Awesome, what are some of your delicious fruit choices? Mangoes, pineapples, strawberries, apples, bananas, papayas, and melons. Anything you can imagine being labeled as a fruit, I'm likely to consume within the next 30 days.
Tell me, Darrin. What positive effects does the human body experience from that type of fast? How can it lead to improved health? Food discipline of this type is helpful for the cleansing of the body. By allowing the stomach to relax the digestive system can enjoy the benefits of more easily digestible foods like leafy greens such as kale.
That's very impressive and extremely insightful. Thanks for sharing. My health concerns led me to adopt a vegan lifestyle about six years ago. An improved diet has completely changed my life. I am no longer tired after a full night's sleep. This is a wonderful thing for me. I do want to caution you, be careful with soy.
Since regular soy consumption is not suitable for my system, I aim to eliminate it entirely from my diet. Thanks for pointing that out. You’re welcome.
You know Darrin, the thing I find encouraging is that more and more African Americans are adopting a healthier way of eating. In cultural terms, many tasty foods are part of our traditional upbringing, but they are not healthy. The lack of knowledge about our food resources and the inability to make appropriate dietary choices has resulted in our people dying from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases that arise from a poor diet and unhealthy eating habits.
Trending on YouTube videos now are videos with African American vegan and vegetarian cooking shows. These videos teach you not only how to prepare delicious, wholesome meals but also how to live a healthy vegan and vegetarian lifestyle. To me, it is important that when you decide to completely alter your diet, you replace what you have removed with healthy dietary supplements. This will ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Correct.
Darrin, let's reflect on your formative years. How was life in The Bronx, New York? It was creative, amazing, and colorful. Growing up in The Bronx afforded me the opportunity to be just aware. Additionally, by being a part of such a creatively rich environment, I was able to take full advantage of the five elements of true hip hop which included rapping, DJing, graffiti, dancing, and clothing. I think true hip hop is defined by those basic elements, and if it does not include them, it isn't true hip hop. Hip hop as we knew it back then was different from what it's turned out to be in the present day.
This is true. I'm sure you have many great memories of growing up in that environment. Yes, it has become an outstanding space in my mind. Growing up, I remember finding cardboard boxes to spin on so that I could practice my moves and going to Zulu anniversary jams with Afrika Bambaataa Zulu nation.
From a creative and personal perspective, what was your experience of middle school as a young man? When I was in middle school, it was all about hooking electric grids to light posts, shooting water out of water pumps, "JVC Biphonic Radios" on the block, learning how to have a girlfriend, and doing all things that today we might consider wasteful, but back then in the Bronx, that was our form of entertainment.
In the backyard, we played stickball and basketball. At that time, you were able to enjoy your neighborhood without having to run inside the house dodging bullets because someone had been shot. During that period, music contributed to the creation of an environment conducive to the development of mental creativity.
Historically, New York has been noted for its wealth of arts and creativity. For example, there is Broadway, prestigious and innovative film and performing arts schools, as well as dance companies, including Alvin Ailey among others. In your youth, did you ever wish to be a part of these communities, or have you ever attended any of these creative houses? Yes, my classroom was PBS. When I was a child, I was not privy to formal dance lessons, nor did I have the opportunity to participate in Broadway shows. Although I was not exposed to the culture of artistic creativity through my parents' influence, I became acquainted with it through public television, PBS.
The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) provided me with the opportunity to watch plays, ballets, and productions starring Danny Kaye. When it came to my education in the arts, it was the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) that excited my interest in the arts.
Watching films such as Fame, Westside Story, and specials produced by James Brown, or the Jacksons were also strong influences. Even though I did not have face-to-face or hands-on interaction, I was able to develop an interest in the arts through the impact of PBS and television.
My childhood was also filled with those kinds of shows, such as Soul Train and other programs of a similar nature. Their influence on my interest in dance and music was similar to yours. Yes, Soul Train and American Bandstand. Comedy shows like The Flip Wilson Show. In fact, I used to watch The Commodores and The Four Tops on television. Because my mother listened to countless albums at home, I grew up immersed in music from an early age. Music was in my blood.
Which singers did you frequently listen to? The Ojay's, The Commodores, The Four Tops, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, Teddy Pendergrass. So, I grew up with records as my only source of music.
I want to discuss dance in terms of improving your abilities, perfecting your craft, and discovering God's purpose for you in your life. Do you recall a time when you felt the need to learn various dance styles, such as tap, jazz, lyrical, modern, and so forth? Did you only pursue hip hop at that time? In response to your question, I would like to give honor and respect to a man by the name of Frank Hatchet. He was one of the owners and teachers at a huge dance school in New York called, “Broadway Dance Centre” where they taught ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and interpretive dance. Frank taught a jazz class by the name of VOP. Even though I did not have the funds to attend his classes, I used to watch the teachings while peering in through the window.
So, one day he asked me if I wanted to take a dance class. During our conversation, he further asked me if I had the money to afford it, and I replied, "no". Then he says, “if you want to take dance, show up at my class on time.”
Wow! What a blessing! He must have seen something amazing within you! I’m loving this artistic journey that you're taking me on. It's great to see how a person can come from literally nothing, and God can bless him to become great. What's equally fascinating is that God can use people to see that vision and compel them to become the bridge that you can walk across straight into your God-ordained destiny. God is so good! You didn’t have to pay a dime! He let me take the class for free. So, I learned the basics of jazz from Frank Hatchett. The Jazz dance teachings I learned were able to be incorporated into what I do in such a way that I believe I have become a better choreographer as a result of them.
Choreographers who are well-versed in multiple dance forms are among the greatest of them. If you want to improve your dance abilities, then you must focus on acquiring advanced knowledge far beyond street dance styles. If you remain within your comfort zone, your growth will be inhibited.
I personally feel like Gregory Hines was one of the greatest tap dancers and talents of our generation. What type of influence did Gregory Hines have on you? Oh, let me tell you something, I was a lover and am a lover of Gregory Hines! I have a story.
OK, do tell. One of my fondest memories was when I was 21 years old. I was acting and dancing in a Broadway show called “Stand Up Tragedy”, and Gregory Hines was in attendance seated in the front row. After my performance, he was the first person to stand up and clap for me. He stood up! Gregory Hines! That's my fondest memory of being in “Stand Up Tragedy.” So yes, I am a huge lover of Gregory Hines. Although I would not consider myself an expert tapper, I can fake the funk very well. (laughs)
Do you think that tapping will come back? I don't think it ever went anywhere; I just think that the world changed. Based on my perception of the arts, I find that it is changing, but not in a positive way.
Yes. So, it hasn't gone anywhere. Even today, there are still individuals who are tapping and expressing themselves with dance in an extraordinary way. To say that tapping no longer exists would be to say that Savion Glover isn't somewhere tapping. It's just not being televised. Right?
Absolutely. See, we can't think that something doesn't exist just because we don't see it. It's like the old adage about when the tree falls in the forest. Did it fall if we didn’t hear it or see it?” Well, the answer to that is, if we want to look at it from our consciousness, then no, it didn't because we didn't see or hear it, but did it? Yes.
Does it have a place in the world? Of course, it does. Many people are engaged in a wide range of creative endeavors around the globe. Although it might not be televised or shown, it does not mean it isn't happening.
The reality is that we tend to only focus on what we're interested in because the people in control of the camera eye do not focus on what interests us. We used to say that art imitates life and life imitates art, but if it's not being televised or shown, then due diligence is not being done. I think this is a disservice that's happening right now.
You made many valid points in that statement. Darrin, at what point did dance evolve into a professional career that included choreography as well as dance? It wasn't until the age of 15 that I became a professional. My reason for saying that is because that was the first time I was paid for my work. That's what it means to be professional, to get paid for what you do.
Now, here's another bridge story. While at DeWitt Clinton High School, a woman named Sandra Skodnick who was the head of the theatre workshop took an interest in me. So, one day during our conversation, she mentioned to me that she had a relationship with "Castleton State College" in Vermont and she went on to say that they were looking for dancers for a Jam they were holding for school on the weekends. One of her former students named Eric who attended Castleton State College and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School asked if she knew of any street dancers.
She said yes. So, she asked me to get 2 dancers, I did, and I brought them to Castleton State College. While in Castleton, Vermont, we met the DJ. who at that time oversaw the event.
At that time, not only was he in his graduating year of Castleton State College but he was also the DJ of the school. The world became familiar with him a few years later when he became my first manager at the age of 15.
Where was your first tour? The first time I toured anywhere was in Vermont. We toured Castleton, Bennington, Binghamton, and all over Vermont. During that weekend, we performed with a gentleman named Scott Sterling, who later became known as DJ Scott La Rock from Boogie Down Productions.
Wow! That’s awesome! Yes, now DJ Scott La Rock put a group together and we called it “B-Boys in Action.” Before Scott La Rock met KRS-one, who was also a part of B-Boys in Action and before the song “The South Bronx,” we all toured in Vermont together.
How cool is that! Now that’s true Hip Hop history! Yes, that’s a story for the masses.
Absolutely! Tell me more! On the back of the Criminal Minds album, you'll see it says special thanks to BIA and BIA stands for "B-Boys in Action.” Sadly, Scott died as a result of street violence many years ago.
As a young teenager, losing my first mentor, my first manager, as well as a friend was an extremely difficult experience. During my time with him, I learned a great deal about the industry and about show business, and he taught me that business is a compound word.
That’s devastating to lose someone that has been so influential in your life. I'm so sorry for your loss. There is no doubt that the music industry is full of talented artists and their greatness. The interesting thing is that we seldom notice the many people who contribute to the success of these artists behind the scenes. These days, building a sustainable career as an artist requires more than natural talent. Their talent is complemented by their image, dance, poise, and stage presence. From publicists to media to stylists and choreographers, many of them would not be where they are today without those who have rallied behind them. This has helped them become what they are today. The list is endless. The making of a superstar requires the support of a professional team. You're one of the creative geniuses behind many of those successful artists. Can you tell me some of the people you have worked with in terms of choreography? Yes, Michael Jackson, Prince Donna Summer, Vanessa Williams SWV, Lisa Lisa, C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd. A few years ago, I choreographed Stokley Williams of Mint Condition’s “Level” video. I’ve also choreographed Britney Spears, J.Lo, Enrique Iglesias, Jagged Edge, Christina Aguilera, George Michael, Deborah Cox, Blackstreet, and NSYNC.