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Darrin DeWitt Henson, one of the actors on the popular Showtime series Soul Food, has earned legions of fans among viewers. Although fans of the hit series may not realize it, they were already familiar with Henson's dance moves before they knew him as a television star. In addition to acting, Henson has also choreographed a number of dance routines for some of music's hottest performers.
Henson was raised in the Bronx, New York, along with his four brothers. His father was a professional horse trainer and his mother was a homemaker. He remembers having a love for dance from the age of five. He began perfecting his dance skills in his back yard, with stints in between the television and a mirror. Henson's first paying job as a dancer came when he was ten. "We were at a birthday party and listening to James Brown and I remember getting in the middle of the dance floor," he explained in an interview with Dance Magazine. "I started popping and this old man gave me five dollars and that was it. I knew what I wanted to do," he continued.
Henson grew up in the place many people call the home of break-dancing. Never formally trained for dance, his first sources for moves were the break-dancers in his community. He also added material from the dance steps he saw in popular music videos. "I'd come home from school and go into my backyard ... I'd have the boom box blasting, and my friends and I would get into it and see what we could come up with," Henson told People Weekly.
Henson began dancing semiprofessionally in high school with a New York group. Soon after his 1988 high school graduation, he left that group to join a break-dancing troupe for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. With a new decade rolling in, Henson found new ways to flex his dancing style and began working in videos, which helped create a style of his own. He was featured in the Salt-N-Pepa "Whatta Man" video and began working with the likes of video vanguards such as Michael Jackson, who unknowingly provided Henson with some of his first moves. "I studied dance by watching Michael Jackson videos," he told Dance magazine. "I would put a mirror in front of the television and practice. Everything happened in my bedroom."
But Henson became restless with dancing behind others. "As a dancer I got frustrated working with a lot of choreographers," he said in Dance. "I didn't like their steps. I didn't think they were good enough. I got frustrated into being a choreographer." He began his career as choreographer working with diverse stars ranging from Deborah Cox and Dru Hill to Prince. By the late 1990s he had founded Dance and Entertainment Workshop, his own dance company, where he took the mentoring that he was receiving from fellow dancers and artists a step further. This was also the time that his clients like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, N'Sync, and Jennifer Lopez began knocking at his door.
Henson provided Aguilera with her moves for the "Genie in a Bottle" music video. He also lent his dancing skills to Spears in "You Drive Me Crazy," and eventually landed not only N'Sync's most memorable video "Bye, Bye, Bye," but he was hired to choreograph their 1998, 1999, and 2000 world tours. To combat spreading himself too thin, he personally trained instructors from his dance company to be able to take on the role of teaching the steps and participating in the videos and shows he produced. "I'm basically mentoring a lot of people," he told Dance. "I want to see the product get better ... and there's jobs that I have no time to do, because I'm so busy."
Henson felt less challenged by his role as choreographer, so he began putting time into his acting career. He had landed small roles in shows like ABC's NYPD Blue but still wanted something more. He finally won a role on Showtime's TV series Soul Food in 2000. The series had been adapted from the immensely popular film Soul Food and has proven to be just as successful. It has also given Henson a stronger presence in the spotlight, allowing people to put a face to his name. When he won the 2000 MTV Video Award for Best Choreographer of the Year with the "Bye, Bye, Bye" choreography for N'Sync, many viewers were surprised to see the actor on stage with the band. Henson's dual role shows that "[b]rothers are not only in front of the camera, but also behind the camera and we are helping to develop the artists that we see today," he explained in an interview with Jet.
Henson the actor has been so successful in his stint in front of the camera that his series was renewed for a second season and he was gearing up for his feature film debut in Jack of All Trades. Spreading his acting wings hasn't limited his love for dance. Henson was scheduled to choreograph the Spice Girls in concert and launched Darrin's Dance Grooves, a seminar series that he takes to different cities to teach children to dance. He also put together an exercise video for those average viewers wanting to try their luck with his dancing techniques. In the video, viewers could learn the steps that made both Henson and N'Sync famous, while getting in shape.
Henson's advice to the youngsters in his classes is to practice, practice, practice. "Get in front of that mirror and do it 'til you got it," he advised in Dance. "Pick your favorite video and practice the dance steps." For Henson, choreographer to fellow stars, the method is proven, tried and true.