Diane Walker and Jason Samuels Smith have two major things in common. First, they’re a couple of the best tap dancers around. Second, they were trained at Paul and Arlene Kennedy’s Universal Dance Designs in L.A. Now, a new class of tap prodigies is going through the school. They’re the inspiration for the documentary The Wonder Kids, which was screened in both L.A. and NYC in the fall. Narrated by Dick Van Dyke and Savion Glover (a former Kennedy student), the film spotlights all the generations that learned to tap there.
To find out more, DS spoke with studio owner and UDD teacher Arlene Kennedy, plus tappers Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Joseph Wiggan. —Lauren Levinson
DS: Who are the Wonder Kids? Arlene Kennedy: Tap students with special gifts, specifically younger kids [featured in the movie] who could do more complex things than the previous generation. It’s any child who has passion and goes after it. I saw it in Savion at age 11 when he watched a master tap class with a mesmerized stare.
DS: What did you learn from the Kennedys? Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards: They taught us to focus on the rhythm, while styling our upper bodies. What’s coming out of there is not to be messed with!
DS: What memories do you have of the late Paul Kennedy? Joseph Wiggan: He expected professionalism in every class and wanted genuine expression. He comically beat it out of us by carrying a cane and tossing shoes at us to get us to focus!