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Blondell Cummings
Occupation: dancer, choreographer, arts advocate
Born in Effingham, South Carolina, but raised in Harlem as the oldest of three girls, Cummings began dance study in the New York public schools. She attended New York University's School of Education, did graduate work in film and photography at Lehman College, and continued serious dance study at the schools of Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Alvin Ailey. Cummings founded the Video Exchange to document danceworks, and at the same time began dancing with the companies of Richard Bull, Kai Takei, the New York Chamber Dance Company, the New Jersey Repertory Company, and Rod Rodgers. In 1969 she joined Meredith Monk/The House, where critics identified her virtuostic abilities to project character through gestures and sounds, most notably as the Dictator in Monk's QUARRY (1976). In 1978 Cummings formed the Cycle Arts Foundation, a discussion/performance workshop focused on familial issues including menopause, the bonding and sharing rituals of lifestyle, and art-making. This effort underscored Cummings' commitment to relate the arts to everyday life, and to "create a new ritual of empowerment to uplift the family."

Cummings also created several experimental dances that featured her remarkably concentrated solo abilities, including "The Ladies and Me" (1979), a "visual diary" set to the music of Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mary Lou Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and others; "Chicken Soup" (1981), a portrait of lifetime domesticity; and "For J.B." (1990), dedicated to Josephine Baker. Among her arresting multimedia collaborations are THE ART OF WAR/NINE SITUATIONS (1984), a meditation on connections between military strategy and daily life, created with Jessica Hagedorn; and OMADELE AND GIUSEPPE (1991), a contemplation of interracial living, created with Tom Thayer. Cummings' workshop/performance practice often invited audience participation, confirming her belief that "choreography is always the act of sharing."

-- Thomas F. DeFrantz

Dixon, Brenda. "Blondell Cummings: The Ladies and Me." TDR 24, no. 4 (1980): 3744.
Small, Linda. "Blondell Cummings." VILLAGE VOICE, March 10, 1980, p. 35.

Source Citation: "Blondell Cummings." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.