If it were up to Gregory Hines, he would, to borrow a phrase from the 1960s hit by the Gentrys, "just keep on dancin' " -- on stage as well as screen.

"I love to dance," says the entertainer, who is scheduled to appear at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Sunday night in a benefit for Advocates for Children and Youth and the Maryland Friends of Foster Children Foundation. "I love to dance live."

"My roots are on the performing stage," he adds over the telephone. "I try to get as many concerts in as I can. I sing, dance, talk and generally try to distract people for about an hour."

The appearance here of the 44-year-old actor/dancer -- he turns 45 on Valentine's Day -- comes shortly after the release of his latest film, "Eve of Destruction," a science-fiction weapons fantasy.

"If I could, I would do just dance movies," allows Mr. Hines, whose entertainment-oriented film credits include "The Cotton Club"; "White Nights," with Mikhail Baryshnikov; and "Tap," with the late Sammy Davis Jr. "But it's difficult to do dance movies. With the exception of 'Dirty Dancing' and 'Footloose,' most haven't been successful commercially. So film companies are hesitant to develop them."

Even "Tap," the critically acclaimed 1989 film credited with reviving attention in the dance form? The film that added another exclamation point to the career of Mr. Davis, who died the following year?

" 'Tap' was a disappointment at the box office," Mr. Hines concedes. But he quickly adds that the film's lack of commercial success didn't dampen his enthusiasm. "I felt good about the film," he says. "For me, it was like a dream come true. I had wanted to do it for so long. Things I wanted to say, got said.

"I wish I could have done another dance film the following year. But it's a tough thing."

But Mr. Hines, who co-starred with Billy Crystal in the 1986 hit buddy-cop film "Running Scared," also recognizes the personal value of branching out beyond dance.

"I've tried to develop a career for myself as an actor," says the man whose Broadway credits include "Eubie" and "Sophisticated Ladies." "Gene Kelly told me a long time ago that it was important to build up a credible reputation as an actor for the time when your dance career is over."

It was advice followed by Mr. Davis, a celebrated singer and actor as well as a dancer whom Mr. Hines idolized and who died last May while Mr. Hines was filming the forthcoming "A Rage in Harlem."

In an emotional press conference on the set of the movie, Mr. Hines described how Mr. Davis influenced him to become a performer and said his versatility made him a memorable entertainer. "I just couldn't believe the things he did. It was unbelievable," Mr. Hines said.

He describes "A Rage in Harlem" as a "action/comedy" movie about two brothers who don't get along. It features Robin Givens, whose tempestuous marriage to former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson ended in divorce last year.

"I felt for her," he said. "It's unfortunate she's got all this baggage to carry around. She's never had an opportunity to show her wares as an actress."

Mr. Hines displays much of the same sensitivity in making up his schedule of personal appearances.

"I get hit on to do a lot of benefits," he says. "I try to do a lot of things. I usually do ones that involve children." His appearance Sunday will benefit two organizations that provide special services for children at risk and help with expenses not covered by regular foster-care subsidies.

Not surprisingly, one of the projects on the actor's horizon is his planned directorial debut in a film about just such a child -- and about dance. It is the true story about a young L.A. gang member who becomes a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

"I wanted to direct and this was something I responded to," says the New York City native. "We don't get to see a lot of stories about young black people."

Plans are to begin shooting this summer, with an early 1992 release date.

Asked if he is nervous about directing his first film, he answers, "Oh, yeah. Anytime I do anything, I get nervous. When I get nervous, I know this is why I got into the business, this is why I stay in the business."

Gregory Hines

When: Sunday, Feb. 10, 8 p.m.

Where: The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Tickets: $25, $50 and $100.

Call: (301) 547-9200.

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