Performer Jared Grimes can credit his notable success to “tunnel vision.”
The Jamaica, Queens native is now starring in Funny Girl — but before he made it big on Broadway, he spent up to eight hours a day tap dancing on Manhattan’s subway platforms.
“To snag a New Yorker who doesn’t have time for you… to get him to get up and watch you… and better yet, to get him to toss a buck or two… it takes a lot.” said Grimes, 38.
Grimes began dancing underground at the age of 16 alongside tap dancer DeWitt Fleming Jr. and renowned bucket drummer William Johnson. The trio would start at the 42nd Street station, then move to the 34th and end on the 14th.
He said the key to their success was reaching the rush-hour crowd, just as a crowded train was departing.
“We could make close to $1,000 in just a few hours,” said Grimes, who also danced above ground in Times Square.
Usually there was no music – just the sound of bucket drums and tap shoes banging on a wooden board that lay on the floor.
Though Grimes faced “disrespectful” hecklers who tried to step on his board while he danced, there were also viewers who compared him to his idols Sammy Davis Jr. and Fred Astaire.
“And I was just on a subway in Michael Jordan basketball shorts, Nike socks, a t-shirt or a tank top,” he said. “Those are the moments I remember most down there.”
The curtain fell on his dancing Down Under in 2003 — around the same time the city began cracking down on street performers, limiting the time they could be in one venue and forcing them to get permits.
“There was a monthly payment or something on it,” Grimes said. “Once you did well, they gave you a little flag to hang up while you perform. It was so ridiculous.”
Even then he knew that the city’s measures had been misguided. “I used to say, ‘You should protect people from real dangers, not us artists.'”
With crime on the subways rising, he believes more preventative measures need to be taken.
“It’s sad that subway safety is even a thing. There should be more security down there,” Grimes said.
Grimes, who now lives on the Upper West Side, started out as a commercial hip-hop dancer and got his big break in 2005 when he landed a gig as a backup dancer for Mariah Carey’s tour. Now he is considered a quadruple threat – he works as a dancer, actor, singer and choreographer.
But he doesn’t rule out an encore on the subway one day.
“Would I do it today? I mean, I would do it every day that I live, I would do it Give Subway a chance to teach me something new…” he said. “The show must go on … everywhere.”