Sunday, 7 July 2013

POISE AND PASSION: Tamara Thomas sets her sights on raising the bar in Afrocentric dance

TAKE A BOW: The dancer, photographed at the School of Dance. Below, with Newman, performing "Critical Love."

For as long as she can remember, Tamara Thomas has had a life-altering affair with dance, a devotion that only grew more intense with time. "My mom put me and my sister in dance classes at a very young age, so that's where it all started," offers the 31-year-old artist, who arrived in Jamaica from the United States in 2009 to take up a teaching post at the Edna Manley College. "But it wasn't until I travelled to Africa and was mesmerized by what I saw and experienced that I decided to dedicate my life to dance." 

Among other things, that meant deferring plans (indefinitely) for law school to join a professional troupe in 2003. In retrospect, Thomas, who now holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Dance says she has no regrets. "Dance has actually brought me so much more than any other discipline could have," she says. "I get to meet people of all shapes, sizes and creeds. If I'd taken another path I don't think I would have had all those opportunities." 

This past weekend at the School of Dance, Thomas staged Overcoming Inertia, a one-woman show featuring six engrossing and well-executed Afrocentric pieces, alongside a multifaceted team of dancer-choreographers, including the likes of Neila Ebanks, the NDTC's Paul Newman and Neisha Yen-Jones. The offerings ranged from the athletic, yoga-inspired "Value Struck-ed" to the involving and crowd-pleasing romance "Critical Love" to the titular work, a dizzying and rhythmic meditation on the benefits of a proactive lifestyle. 
For Thomas, dance is about something bigger than movement in the spotlight. "My desire is to create works that have meaning, so I gravitate towards pieces that speak about love, regeneration, uplift, spirit and the community," says the dancer, whose trajectory has transported her from the African-American Dance Ensemble to Kariamu and Company Traditions to the Kule Mele African Dance Ensemble to the newly founded Tamara Thomas Dance. 

So where does she go from here? "The plan is to continue the momentum," she reveals. "I love teaching African dance, and I want to build a larger consciousness and conduct workshops around the island and create more Africa-centred works. That is the aim."

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