1 May 2004
Fiercely focused and female
Dance Magazine, May, 2004 by Marda Kirn
A few years ago, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards made tap history when she became the first female performer in Savion Glover's Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk on Broadway. It was no big deal, it seems. She shrugs off the accolades modestly and says, "Let's just say I'm a tap dancer, who happens to be a woman, who loves what she does."
Lynn Dally, founder and artistic director of the Jazz Tap Ensemble, believes otherwise. "Dormeshia is one of the most gifted tap dancers of our time." Dally remembers first seeing her perform at 8. "I was impressed by her quiet determination and fierce focus, coupled with a love of dancing."
She began training at age 3 with Paul and Arlene Kennedy in Los Angeles and later went on to perform in Route at the Tip Tap Festival, under the aegis of Dianne Walker. At 12 she made her Broadway debut in Black and Blue with Glover. A graduate of the L.A. County Performing Arts High School, Sumbry-Edwards canto up first through the ranks of JTE's Caravan Project, and is now a member of JTE's company, touring with them as a soloist throughout the U.S. and Southeast Asia.
Whether she's performing with relaxed, casual elegance or slammin' down the sound, Sumbry-Edwards brings a standout phrasing and rhythmic richness to her dancing.
"Dormeshia has huge talents coupled with a deep background of training and professional performance experience far beyond that of her peers," says Dally. Sumbry-Edwards' background includes training not only with the tap masters of Black and Blue, but the live or filmed influences of Honi Coles, the Nicholas Brothers, Eddie Brown, and Baby Laurence also.
For her own dancing, Sumbry-Edwards, now 28, delights in Gregory Hines' word "improvography" currently being used by Glover and others to embrace both the highly structured compositional nature and the improvisatory freedom of certain kinds of jazz/rhythm tap. "It's the coolest! It's not just improvisation. You improv on the stuff you know already, which makes it new."
She's concerned that younger dancers coming up often go for big, complicated rhythms before they have the basics down. She also advocates for a greater understanding of shading and dynamics. "There is a tendency to attack, attack, attack, from beginning to end," she says. "Where's the up? Where's the down? Where's the surprise attack?"
To her students she says, "It's like you're going to Italy." Then she repeats, "Italy-Italy-Italy-Italy" faster and faster so it sounds like a river of taps. "Italy's nice. But there's Paris and there's Jamaica. It's good to see what else is out there."
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