All the Right Moves
Actually, Henson has two jobs. Last September, when 'N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye" won an MTV Video Music Award for best choreography, Henson accompanied the band onstage. "People who know me from Soul Food started asking, 'Why is Lem with 'N Sync?' " Henson, who had done the choreography, says with a laugh. "Afterward they said, 'Wow! You can do that dance stuff too?' "
Yes he can—so well that he has become one of the music industry's hottest choreographers. In the last five years Henson, 29, has given Christina Aguilera the magical moves she needed for her "Genie in a Bottle" video and put the swivel in Britney Spears's hips for her 1999 concert tour. Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and the Spice Girls have also called on Henson for help with their hoofing. "Darrin's moves are just so energetic," says 'N Sync's Joey Fatone.
Even on Soul Food, which focuses on an African-American family in Chicago, Henson is a body in motion. "He'll come on the set with a tape playing," says his TV wife, Malinda Williams, "or he'll be humming or doing some dance move."
But when the camera rolls, "I get right in the moment," says Henson. Although single and unattached, "I identify a lot with Lem," he says. "He's a fighter. Like him, I don't give up until I get what I want."
And what he has always wanted is to be in show business. The second of five sons of a professional horse trainer and his homemaker wife, Henson grew up in The Bronx, just two doors from childhood pal Lopez, with whom, he says, he's still "very close." As early as age 5, he says, "I remember being at parties, dancing away."
Still, Henson never signed up for formal lessons, preferring to study moves on the street. "I'd come home from school and go into my backyard," he says. "I'd have the boom box blasting, and my friends and I would get into it and see what we could come up with."
Four months after graduating from high school in 1988, Henson landed a job in a break-dancing troupe for Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey circus. By the early '90s he was boogying in videos for the likes of Salt-N-Pepa ("Whatta Man") and performing with Michael Jackson before moving into choreography with a 1998 'N Sync concert special. Turning to acting, Henson's bit roles on NYPD Blue and other shows led to an audition for this spring's sleeper Save the Last Dance. Although he lost out to Sean Patrick Thomas ("It was disappointing because Thomas didn't even do his own dancing"), he landed the part of Lem soon after.
Later this year Henson, who maintains an apartment near Soul Food's Toronto set, will make his movie debut in Jack of All Trades, a teen comedy. But he still finds ways to keep his toes tapping. Last fall Henson launched Darrin's Dance Grooves, through which he conducts one-day seminars for kids in different cities. But his favorite stop is The Bronx. "When I go home, my pals still smack me in the head," he reports. "We still play ball together." Some things, of course, have changed. "I almost got in a couple of car accidents because fans are looking at me and I'm looking at them," he says, "and the whole time my buddies are saying, 'Darrin, watch the road!' "
Constance Drogances in Toronto