Death of Thora Dumbell, cornerstone of dance education in Trinidad and Tobago Global Voices Français

Thora Dumbell, Trinidadian dancer, choreographer and educator. Photo by Susan de Gannes, used with permission.

On the morning of November 4, Trinidadian dance pioneer Thora Dumbell – “Auntie Thora” as she was affectionately known – died at her home at the age of 98, leaving the local arts community destitute. More than an elegant dancer, choreographeror beloved teacher, Dumbell was a North Star, home to thousands of graduates of the Thora Dumbell School of Dance, her “daughters”, as she called them, and as they too, referred to themselves.

Born Thora Thomas on January 12, 1924, Dumbell embarked on her career as a dancer, even if it was rather a vocation, at the tender age of three. She performed at a charity event at Government House in Port of Spain, which was the residence of the governor, Trinidad and Tobago being a British colony at the time. Her talent was so evident that she subsequently appeared in two films: a British film at the age of eight, and at 11, the adaptation of the Warner Brothers musical “New Faces of 1936.”

She was a fascinating dancer; graceful and light. Watching her dance was like following an angel as she flew from cloud to cloud, except Dumbell had a bit of sass, usually factoring in something fun or unexpected into the choreography, and always performing. with a big smile on his face. Dancing was instinctive for her and she devoted much of her life to her first love.

His other love was his family – her husband Sydney, and their three children. Motherhood came naturally to her, not just within her own family, but extending to the wider community of young people whom she would teach to dance when she opened his school in 1950. The school, which eventually took up residence in Chinese Association Building on the outskirts of the capital, continued to thrive until the 1990s, finally closing its doors at the turn of the century.

The Thora Dumbell School of Dance held annual shows, often in partnership with friends and creative collaborators like Carnival designer wayne berkeleywith whom she producedBroadway in concert” at Queen’s HallTrinidad’s first national concert hall and today one of the region’s major artistic centers.

Dumbell actually performed at the grand opening of Queen’s Hall in June 1959. Explaining what the presence of such a facility meant to her and what it could mean to the nation, she said:

We had waited so long for a theater for the arts that we all knew it would be something we would remember. May [Johnstone] had this dream that it would be a theater for all, and we saw it happen […] and for those who have had the privilege of being here, I think it’s something we would want to cherish for the rest of our lives.

Dumbell’s dance troupes, who mastered a variety of dance styles from ballet and tap to modern, jazz and folk, and which included students of varying ages, were constantly called upon to perform at carnival shows, diplomatic functions, charitable events, Christmas contest and other major celebrations, including the UNESCO-marking Trinidad and Tobago show International Year of the Child. In collaboration with others dance pioneer Beryl McBurnieDumbell helped organize a rally of 6,000 children at Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain in honor of Queen Elizabeth IIThe 1966 visit to Trinidad. She coordinated similar events for a 1968 visit by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and, as a devout Catholic, for Pope John Paul II in 1985.

Dumbell’s unique combination of love and understanding for children, her knowledge of dance and movement, and her boundless creativity have made her a sought-after judge for the country’s annual pageant. Red Cross Children’s Carnival competition. She was also in high demand as a judge for Easter bonnet parades, and the childlike joy on her face when she saw a particularly innovative design or a contestant with a natural stage presence was as much a joy to witness as the competitions themselves. .

She walked quietly support charities and doing her best to improve people’s lives, and in 1978 she was awarded the Humming Bird Medal (gold), a national pricefor his work in community service.

Once news of his death went public, social media users used various channels to share their memories. Angelo Bissessarsingh’s Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago Facebook page called Dumbell “one of our cultural icons” and an “incredible, beautiful soul”. Old students remembered her as “full of grace and poise”, “humble as ever” and “a legend.” Another former student felt that Dumbell’s passing was “the end of an era”:

The woman who inspired so many, including me, and nurtured the seeds of a lifelong love of dance. Our Living Legacy.
Rest in peace, “aunt” Thora. ❤️🙏🏽
Many generations have lost a cherished icon.

Dancer and choreographer Son Du added:

Honored to have taught at her school for a brief period. What a pioneer.

The Little Carib Theatre, founded by Beryl McBurnie, tribute paid to “Dumbell’s legacy of commitment to dance education”, while the Bentley Potter School of Dance said:

We have lost a truly incredible icon in the dance world. Thora has had such a positive impact on so many people and her legacy will live on in all of our hearts.

The last word, however, belonged to Margaret Samuel, one of his “daughters”, whose mother Grace also taught alongside Dumbell:

The Thora Dumbell School of Dance was part of our lives. The thousands of “girls” who have passed through the Chinese association, who have taken part in numerous shows, who have learned tap dancing, ballet, modern music and jazz, but above all, have benefited from his wisdom, his talent and his incredible joie de vivre. […]

To […] the whole family we say ‘Thank you for sharing your precious mom with us.’ I know it must not have been easy, as many felt she belonged to them. […]

Thank you, Aunt Thora for reminding us what love, kindness and kindness really are. You loved your Lord and you truly lived your religion, not only sharing your talent with the world, but sharing and spreading yourself when you were sometimes overwhelmed by the requests and calls of others. shoulder. 💃
Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.
So happy mom brought you into my life. You changed him forever.