When Jimmy Hoskins recounts his life adventures, you can’t help but think, “This guy needs to write a book.” He’s got the kind of backstory that reads like a script.
Hoskins, a staff choreographer for the Asolo Repertory Theatre and an adjunct faculty member for the Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, grew up in St. Louis, where he studied tap dancing as a child and spent countless hours at the movie theater.
“I’d walk two miles home from the theater practicing my dance moves,” says Hoskins, 76. “I fantasized a lot. Being so in love with the movies, you’d have thought I’d move out to Hollywood and stay forever, but what I loved about movies were the big-screen musicals.”
Hoskins attended Drury University, in Springfield, Mo., where he majored in art and continued to study jazz, tap and ballet. He would later use these skills to become a ballroom dance instructor at a studio in St. Louis.
While working as an instructor, Hoskins partnered with Reina Queen of the Mambo, one of the hottest dancers in St. Louis. The two developed a Latin dance act that toured hotels and nightclubs throughout the city.
The endeavor led to one of Hoskins’ most fortuitous opportunities to date — joining the all-male cast of Mae West’s bawdy “Muscle Men” revue.
After nailing an audition to be a swing dancer with the stage show, Hoskins headed to California to perform with West, whom he remembers as “very businesslike and very witty.”
When the tour was over, he hitchhiked home and joined the Army. He was only 19 years old.
Not surprisingly, Hoskins spent most his time in the military dancing.
Less than a year into his tour, Hoskins landed a spot performing on the “Fifth Army Soldier Show,” a variety program filmed in Chicago that was used for recruitment purposes.
The gig led to a third-place victory in the 1956 All-Army Talent Contest, which led to performances in Quantico, Va., before President Dwight Eisenhower, an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and a seven-month stint entertaining troops all over the world.
Hoskins was 22 years old when he got out of the Army. At the suggestion of a friend, he moved to Paris, where he worked as a nude dancer at a club called La Nouvelle Eve.
“I was painted gold with a little gold cup covering my essentials,” he says. “I had a wonderful time until I dropped my partner and they fired me.”
Hoskins could go on for days, bouncing from story to story, city to city, job to job. From his days working as a choreographer in New York City to his time teaching period movement and dance at Pennsylvania State University, Hoskins’ resume as an entertainer is so colorful and varied, he recently penned a memoir — “Our Hearts Were Cacky and Gay,” which is currently being optioned by several publishing houses.
“I’ve been fortunate to dip my hand in many parts of this art,” he says of theater. “I never thought about being anything else. Maybe an architect … or, God forbid, a minister!”
Hoskins has worked on more than 400 shows, many of which have been performed at the Asolo Rep, where for more than 25 years he’s worked as a choreographer and theater professor. Last season’s “Galileo” marked his 75th Asolo Rep production.
To honor his silver anniversary, the company announced earlier this month that it had established the Jimmy Hoskins Visiting Artist Chair for Stage Movement and Dance.
Hoskins pulls a square of paper out of his pocket describing the tribute.
“It’s an honor,” he says humbly. “You know, sometimes choreographers’ noses get bent out of shape when we’re not mentioned in a review or something, but that’s just ego. The show should be so seamless you shouldn’t be able to tell where the director and choreographer leave off. It’s like Shakespeare said,
‘The play’s the thing.’”
DID YOU KNOW?
+Jimmy Hoskins choreographed this season’s “The Wanderers” at Florida Studio Theatre.
+Hoskins has seen “Singin’ in the Rain” 32 times. He took a job as an usher in a movie theater so he wouldn’t have to keep paying to see the film.
+Hoskins has choreographed four Designing Women Boutique fashion shows, including this year’s runway show at Michael’s On East.
+Hoskins draws all the cartoon artwork in the lobby at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre.
+Hoskins 2005 book, “The Dances of Shakespeare,” is a how-to guide to dances dating back to Shakespeare’s era.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]