5 Feb 2005
Dance Magazine, Feb, 2005 by Karen Hildebrand
The first time I saw Dormeshia was the day I got my first pair of tap shoes, says Omar Edwards. It was 1989 and he was 13. Twelve-year-old Dormeshia Sumbry was dancing in the Broadway cast of Black and Blue, and Omar took the train nightly from Queens to hang around the show's tap-dance stars, Jimmy Slyde and Buster Brown. From the night his aunt (Savion Glover's mom) promised him that pair of shoes, his professional and personal passions have been intertwined.
While Sumbry-Edwards distinctly remembers Omar (who says he was "a nerd--this goofy guy with glasses") from backstage at Black and Blue, the experience was not love at first sight. "I found out he had a crush on me, and whenever he was in the building I could have dug a hole to get away," she says, laughing. But she didn't ignore him completely. "I knew he wanted to dance. I could feel it."
The two rhythm tappers, now both 29, make a handsome couple. Aside from shoulder-length dreads, Edwards dresses more like the dapper hoofers he was mentored by--sports jacket and trousers--than his rhythm tap contemporaries who favor the baggy hip hop look. Sumbry-Edwards is more reserved than her husband in manner, but speaks with a refreshing directness. Ask her a question and she gets right to the point, then lets Edwards fill in the details.
The two went separate ways after the original Black and Blue closed, and by the time their paths crossed again, Edwards had not only learned to tap but had won the grand prize on Ed McMahon's Star Search as part of duo called Toe Jamm. Friendship blossomed into love after Sumbry-Edward was invited to join the cast of Glover's Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, which Edwards was dancing in. They were married in 1998.
Today, the couple rarely performs together. Though both are masters of rhythm tap, the form that emphasizes sound over visual style, they insist their work is quite different. "The people who approach him would not think of approaching me, and the other way around," says Sumbry-Edwards, who bagan dancing at age 3 and now tours internationally with a variety of tap artists, including Lynn Dally's Jazz Tap Ensemble and Savion Glover (see DM, May 2004, page 42). The differences were not readily apparent when the two jammed together last summer at the New York City Tap Festival with friend and fellow Bring in 'Da Noise alumnus Jason Samuels Smith. The three traded improvised phrases with an intensity and bravado that appeared entirely equal. But according to Edwards, his wife's skills are more highly developed than his. "I'm proud to say I don't dance with Dormeshia. I think I would hold her back."
He calls her a psychotic technician. "Savion will choreograph something that's pretty hard for your brain, and she'll suck it up like it's nothing. My wife is a dancer to the soul." As for himself, Edwards says, "I want to be a musician with my dancing, a straight-up soloist musician. Currently he hosts the Sunday jam session at Manhattan's Swing 46, where he took over for the late Buster Brown.
The fact that they don't compete for the same jobs makes it easier to share the rearing of their children, Jeremiah, 5, and Eboni, 4. They seem equally at ease with parenting--a spilled water glass is cause for gentle teasing rather than raised voices. They often rely on strong family ties for help--her mother in Indiana, his grandmother in New York.
Mention professional envy to the Edwardses and you'll get genuine surprise in response. They're not strangers to conflict, however. "I used to think that arguing meant she wanted out," says Edwards. "Now I understand that she's really just saying 'clean the toilet,' not asking for a divorce." They've also had to adjust to the hills and valleys of freelance life after the Broadway roles (and regular paychecks) they cut their teeth on.
"I used to panic a lot. I'm not that way anymore. I learned that from my wife. She's a very calm person," Edwards says. Add to the mix a healthy dose of faith, and you begin to understand the couples success formula. "The glue of the whole situation is praying--God," says Edwards. "Everyone's going to go through problems. The problem for people who don't pray is their trouble is going to be bigger. Our future is dependent on our faith."
Karen Hildebrand is DM's education editor.
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