24 Jul 2011
Don't tell Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards that tap dancing is merely the stuff of nostalgia. She's been at it since she was 3 years old, and there's little ground she hasn't covered — from hip-hop to bebop, from the legendary tap and blues revue "Black and Blue" to the satirical Spike Lee flick, "Bamboozled" — without leaving her footprint on it. As if making all those dazzling moves weren't challenge enough, she's done some of that dancing in high heels.
But even setting all that aside, here's a little factoid: She taught tap to Michael Jackson.
With recent successes on the New York stage, including a tribute to Jackson for the Danspace Project and a gig as one of "Charlie's Angels" (Parker, that is) at the Kitchen, Sumbry-Edwards, 35, is poised to be the biggest breakout tap star since Savion Glover, who had a Broadway hit with the 1990s show, "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk."
Dance Magazine, which largely focuses on ballet and modern dance, ran a cover story on Sumbry-Edwards in its May issue. In a recent interview from her home in New Jersey, the tapper said she hadn't expected to be on the cover but appreciated the honor.
"Anytime a thing like that happens, it just humbles me that much more," she said. "So I just say, 'Thank you,' and go back to the studio and work out some more."
The fleet-footed dancer has long enjoyed a St. Louis following, thanks to her appearances in "All That Tap," which returns to the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on July 30.
It's the 20th time for the annual concert, and for the event it brings to a high-stepping close: the St. Louis Tap Festival. As in past years, "All That Tap" promises to showcase the glories of tap. In addition to Sumbry-Edwards and her husband, Omar Edwards, headliners include Bill Irwin, Harold Cromer, Arthur Duncan and festival founder Robert L. Reed. Cloris Leachman, an Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress and "Dancing with the Stars" veteran, will be host of the concert featuring live music by the Carolbeth True Trio.
Sumbry-Edwards couldn't have a more impressive background. As a young tapper in "Black and Blue," which opened on Broadway in 1989 and became a long-running hit, she not only got her first big break but also the opportunity to watch, and learn from, some of the biggest legends in tap. Among them were Bunny Briggs, Ralph Brown, Lon Chaney and Jimmy Slyde.
"I was about 12 years old, and it was an amazing experience," she said. "Being onstage, and doing something that I loved to do, and having the audience respond the way that it did. It all clicked." She also remembers getting plenty of good advice from Slyde.
"He would come off the stage and want to share some information with you — see you doing something and say, 'What was that?' or 'Maybe try it like this.' Had it not been for that sort of attention, I probably would not be where I am right now." The revue also featured tap prodigy Glover, who would later bring Sumbry-Edwards into the hip-hop-influenced "Noise/Funk."
"It was a completely male show," she said. "His idea first was for me to be looking like a lady onstage. But we ended up revamping everything so that I looked like one of the guys — no dresses, no heels, nothing like that." Things changed, however, when the show went on tour: "I looked like a girl or a lady, depending on what the role called for. And there were some moments when I did wear heels."
Sumbry-Edwards switched between heels and flats in "Charlie's Angels," a 2009 show in which she shared the stage with tappers Chloé Arnold and Michelle Dorrance. Created by tap dancer-choreographer Jason Samuels Smith, the show was a tribute to saxophonist and jazz icon Charlie Parker.
It involved taking on Parker's bop rhythms "lick for lick, with our feet — and I thought that would be crazy and a lot of fun," Sumbry-Edwards said.
In March, she and Dorrance shared a double bill at St. Mark's Church in the East Village — as choreographers as well as dancers. Presented by Danspace Project, the program featured Dorrance's "Remembering Jimmy," in honor of Slyde, and Sumbry-Edwards' "Blood on the Dance Floor." Set to Michael Jackson songs, the piece is inspired by the pop star and by Sumbry-Edwards' mentor, Paul Kennedy (from whom she took over Jackson's tap instruction).
The program was a win-win, introducing some modern dance fans to tap, and some tap fans to a modern-dance venue.
"It was a pretty big deal," Sumbry-Edwards said. "We had three shows that were sold out, and they had to add another one."
Just as hip-hop has transcended its American origins to become an international phenomenon, so has tap, Sumbry-Edwards said.
"So many people are doing it, all over the world," she said. "In Russia, in Japan, in Brazil, China, Taiwan. I just found out someone was teaching tap classes in Africa. It's all over the place, and I do see it coming more to the forefront."
Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/article_a4d47841-351b-5288-836d-dc1dd1d2c823.html#ixzz1VCuucU3x