Choreographer Jamal Edwards to debut original piece in Hilton Head Dance Theatre's 'Terpsichore'

eshaw@islandpacket.comApril 2, 2014 

Jamal Edwards is photographed at Hilton Head Dance Theatre's rehearsal space on March 26. In addition to performing in the company's upcoming Terpsichore show, he is choreographing two of its dances.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

  • IF YOU GO

    WHAT: Hilton Head Dance Theatre's "Terpsichore"

    WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 4-5

    WHERE: Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island

    COST: $30 for adults and $20 for students 15 and younger

    DETAILS: www.hiltonheaddance.com, 843-842-2787

Ballerinas with tidy buns and white tights jeteed across Hilton Head Dance Theatre's studio while instructor and choreographer Jamal Edwards watched intently.

Then, on his cue, Edwards glided onstage and joined his students.

He stood out, not only because of his black tights, but because he was older and larger than any of the girls twirling next to him; a sole ballerino in a room full of ballerinas.

He doesn't look like a typical dancer -- yet he is light on his feet and flexible, and possesses a grace and stability evident after just one arabesque.

He's easy to smile and easy to laugh, but the girls know that when he watches them dance, he takes it seriously.

"We treat our shows very professionally," Edwards said.

The 26-year-old Dance Theatre alum is putting special emphasis on the theater's latest show -- "Terpsichore" -- because it marks his debut as a choreographer.

"Terpsichore," which takes its name from the Greek muse of dance, is an annual spring show that features classical and contemporary styles. This year's program will include guest artists from Columbia City Ballet, who will dance in Edwards' original piece, titled "For Me, For Them, For Us" at 7:30 p.m. April 4 and 5.

"I call it my baby," he said of the jazz en pointe piece set to Gershwin's "Summertime."

After starting dance at the late age of 13, Edwards was a soloist in various Dance Theatre productions. He pursued his passion at the University of Alabama, where he learned how to maneuver human bodies into shapes and patterns.

"After I graduated, I bit the New York City bug," Edwards said. He lived in the Big Apple for a year, taking classes and trying to "make it," but decided he needed to come home to Hilton Head and regroup.

"I would love to get back there," he said. "I am still interested in pursuing a career, but I've come to realize that everyone's path in dance is different."

For the past two years, Edwards has taught classes at Hilton Head Dance Theatre, and now maintains a full schedule teaching ballet, tap and jazz classes for third-graders up to high school seniors.

"Jamal can do a little bit of everything," said artistic director John Carlyle. "He can do it all."

Edwards' choreography fits well into the show, Carlyle added, because it allows the dancers to experiment with different styles.

The Gershwin piece, done in the style of legendary choreographer George Balanchine, is fast and athletic. Jamal's second piece, "Safety Dance," is a quirky and upbeat hip-hop number.

"I love all styles, Edwards said, adding that he believes ballet is the best foundation for any dancer.

"Classical ballet sets you up the way no other dance style does. It's easier to take a classically trained dancer and teach them a different style than it is to take, say a contemporary dancer and teach him or her ballet."

Edwards also said he believes the ability of a dancer is more important than his or her body type.

"That's a challenge of mine personally so I can relate to it, but I don't let it stop me," he said. "If you work with what you've got and you are entertaining, I think people will look at that more than your body."

At Hilton Head Dance Theatre, all body types are welcome. What matters is that the dancers come willing to work hard. For "Terpsichore," they certainly have, Edwards said.

"You put so much work into it, and the reward is seeing it performed."

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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