Our editor, Kevin Bourne, recently had the opportunity to sit down with former backup dancer to the stars turned politician, Gregory Hines NDP candidate in the Greater Toronto Area, to talk about being a professional dancer, the entertainment industry and his new path as a politician.
Kevin: So we’re here with Greg Hines (not with the world famous Gregory Hines), but this is another Greg Hines who is also a dancer. So we’re talking today because he’s not just a dancer, he’s now a political candidate for the NDP party in the Markham-Stouffville riding. Just for full disclosure, he is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for many years and he’s now making his step into the political arena, so we’re kind of getting to pick his brain a little about the entertainment industry, about politics and also looking to give you inspiration about how to get into those fields yourself.
First question: How did you get into the whole dancing thing? Where did that start for you?
Gregory: I started when I was younger, when I was about 10, 11, 12 years old. I loved hip-hop. I got into hip-hop a little late, but Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson…those are the kind of guys who got me into dancing. I wasn’t the best at dancing; I was just really good. But when I went to school I was the nerd or the class clown. I thought that the only thing that could get me out of that arena for a minute was dancing. How I actually started dancing professionally was I met a friend of mine who I was going to school with. Everyone knows him as Luther Brown. He was one of the judges on So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Back in school we would always learn some little dance moves here and there because I used to love dance; because it was the only time I could feel like I was somebody. So I went into dance 100%, but my passion at that time was acting. I was trying to use dance as a platform, though I loved it, to one day get into acting and comedy, but it didn’t work out that way.
K: So who are some of the people you’ve danced for?
G: Jully Black, Glen Lewis, Sean Desman, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Dru Hill, Mase, Missy Elliot, Eve and Gwen Stefani just to name a few. Maestro for sure was one of my favourite tours as well. Our first big gig was Horse and Carriage; that was Camron and Mase. It was the first video that we ever got to do and Luther had to go all the way down to New York. I’m telling you Luther taught us the whole routine on the bus. We were sitting on the bus and then we would stop, we’d get off and start learning the routine, so by the time we got to New York we knew the routine. You know, dancing is a kind of thing where you just have to believe that you’re able. It’s not faking it, but you have to just believe that you’re already a professional. After that it just spiraled.
K: And then so from there you went on to start a dance company or dance school of your own.
G: Before I even started the school, 9/11 happened. I think after that I changed my whole view on what I wanted to do. I was going to propose to my wife when 9/11 happened so that didn’t work out. But as I came back home, my wife and I both decided, because she was also a dancer as well on Do Dat, we were just going to leave it, start something new, start something fresh. I didn’t want to do dance in the beginning, but 2004 is when we actually started doing our own classes and that’s when DOAHL was born.
K: And what does DOAHL stand for?
G: Well it stands for Dance On A Higher Level. Our whole focus was really trying to push dancers to get to the level of where we were and that was for those who wanted to get there. Some people didn’t know that they had the ability. Some people know that they have the ability and we just wanted to nurture that for our students. We wanted them to be already professionals without even having to do a music video yet.
K: Ok. So from there, one day Kevin is on Facebook and he receives a notification to like Greg’s Facebook page and what do I see but Greg is now a candidate for the New Democratic Party. So how did that switch from dance to politics happen?
G: While teaching and doing community events in Scarborough I came into contact with an incumbent MP. We had a conversation about politics and I let her know that I was always interested in politics, but I thought a lot later in my life. As she started to talk about what politics was really like I was intrigued. So I had to go through the process of understanding the NDP and seeking nomination as a candidate; it was another part of the process. You can always be a candidate, but if the riding association in your riding doesn’t nominate you then it doesn’t work. So they all nominated me and I won my riding so I became the candidate. For me, failure is not trying. Failure is not starting at all. So if something is in front of me and I’m able to attack it then that is success for me. Success always comes by doing it first. Just doing it; not by sitting back and saying I wish I could do it, but actually taking the chance, doing it and putting 100% into it.
K: And what are some of the issues that are important to you as you get into this new phase in your career? What are some of those pressing issues that you’d like to address if you get elected in?
G: One is affordable daycare. If we’re elected our party will create one million child care spots and will cap daycare fees at no more than $15 a day. I have four kids so I’m telling you daycare is really expensive for me. I feel that in this country, we talk a good game about women being equal to men. A lot of times when you look at how people, or businesses, or corporations treat women they really don’t give them that much options. I’m only saying that because my wife went through so much with our fourth child. Women, including my wife, should be able to choose whether they want to go and focus on a career or whether they want to stay home and be a mother to their child. They have that option, but it’s too expensive. That’s why a lot of women just choose to stay home. Then there’s only one income. So a woman ends up sacrificing her goals or her aspirations for family. Our parents did it. Our mothers did it. They sacrificed everything for our upbringing and then when they were ready to do their thing it was much later in their lives. I’m also passionate about the economy- helping young people train for good paying jobs, kickstarting manufacturing and cutting taxes for small businesses. The NDP is also concerned about health care. We want to hire and train more family physicians and nurses, and reduce wait times for home care and long term care. Repealing Bill C-51, which goes against the rights and freedoms of Canadians, is also a big issue for me. This is why I’m running; to help the voiceless and middle class families.
K: You’re making me want to run now. So you and I met at the church we were going to in Toronto; we were volunteering together. How has serving others or community service helped you to get to where you are today?
G: There’s a Scripture in the Bible that says the greatest among you should be the servant. I think that people are too high on titles. Some people think that because they’re a doctor, lawyer, or manager, that they don’t have to serve the people “below them”. The whole reason why people are elected is because the people who they’re supposed to be serving are the people that matter. So how has all this helped me? Well, working in church, volunteering, being a part of a community church has always helped to ground me and find purpose in everything that I do. Working with Community Living and working with people with intellectual disabilities and serving them where they’re at helps me to be grounded and feel like I’m doing something; like I’m giving back. It always feels better seeing people smile. At Community Living I’m cooking, cleaning, and being a caregiver to the people we support. Some people may find it to be hard work, but somebody has to do it. And sometimes it’s the person that loves the most that gets the most reassurance in life. I think that if more people would serve they would see much more rewards. It’s not about the money, but serving. That is where you get the most reward. You feel the most purpose. You feel the most fulfilled in life.
K: Okay, and last question. So, what tips do you have for the up and coming person wanting to get into entertainment? And also, what tips would you have for someone wanting to get into politics? So, start with entertainment.
G: With entertainment it’s very easy and hard. So the easy part is knowing what lane you’re in. Find out what it is that you are good at and focus on those points. I knew I was a good dancer. And I knew I wasn’t a strong actor yet. Dancing was a lane I was good at so I tried to use that lane to open up other avenues and other doors. So you have to know your lane and stay in it and strengthen it as best you can. If that means dance lessons or singing lessons, strengthen that lane. If it’s writing, write. If it’s producing music, produce. Right now we’re in a generation where it’s a lot easier. You have so many different social media that can allow you to become an artist tomorrow. You don’t even need a label. You just need YouTube, a vocal coach or whatever it is that you’re doing and just get started.
K: And for someone who wants to get into politics. What advice or tips would you have for them?
G: For politics, just be you. Honestly, when I was just starting this whole campaign, I was trying so hard to be a politician. People in my riding were saying, “No, no. We like you the way you are.” I’m a little bit of a comedian sometimes. I make a joke here and there. But within the first two weeks I was trying to be a candidate. And then, I just said, you know, I have to just be me. I want people to see me as a candidate, not the fluff that goes on, but really and truly get to know me. And I think if you’re going to run for politics, know what it is that you want to do. Why do you want to do it? Are you doing it for self-gratification or do you actually really want to help other people? Because if you really want to help other people then you’re in the right lane again. It takes a while to know what you want to do and why. And then you have to also be good at debates.
As caregivers, as people who are working in the community or churches or volunteering, you have to deal with people on a regular basis and that prepares you for politics. So, if you’re going into politics, one thing that I would say is you can have the law degree, this degree, that degree, but if you have no people skills, and you’re not willing to serve the people that you’re around then you’re probably not going to be a great candidate. You have to love people and love the lane and everything that comes with it. Some people don’t like pain. But some of the pains, the growing pains, are to refine you and make you even better. So for anyone that wants to go into politics, I would say the same thing; just know who you are. Stay true to yourself and serve as many people as possible with purpose.
K: And for people listening. How can they donate to your campaign?
G: It’s very easy. On my Facebook page there’s a link they can click. Once they click the link on my Gregory Hines NDP candidate website you can see it will say Markham-Stouffvile NDP Riding Association and you can just fill out the information there and it goes directly to my riding. For those who want to send us a cheque they can definitely do that. You can write a cheque to the Markham-Stouffville Federal NDP and, again, it’ll go directly to my riding association.
K: Awesome. Hopefully, I’ll see you in Ottawa sometime later this year.
G: Yeah, I’m hoping so too.
G: Yes. I know that in me people will see a person with integrity who has a heart to serve the people I represent.
K: That’s good. And then maybe you can hire me. Thanks for your time, Greg. I wish you all the best.