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Co-founder of Jamaican dance company, African heritage promoter dies

KINGSTON, Jamaica--Eddy Thomas, co-founder of a prominent Jamaican dance company that sought to promote African heritage in a country emerging from under British rule, has died, the group announced Friday. He was 82.

A statement from the National Dance Theatre Company, or NDTC, said Thomas died at his home Thursday in Montego Bay, Jamaica. A cause of death was not provided.

Barry Moncrieffe, a former dancer who is now the NDTC's artistic director, said he didn't know the cause of death either and noted that Thomas had become reclusive over the years.

Thomas and Rex Nettleford, a scholar and choreographer, formed the NDTC in 1962, just before Jamaica gained independence from Britain later that year. The idea was to create a dance group that reflected the African heritage of Jamaica's black majority through the use of African Caribbean folk traditions and modern dance. It was the country's first major dance company.

Along the way, the dance company challenged gender roles. In an interview with the Jamaican Observer in 1997, Nettleford said the company was unusual because Jamaican society was largely opposed to men dancing.

Thomas had already established a reputation for himself as a dancer while a member of the prestigious Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in the United States.

Moncrieffe had lost touch with Thomas but remembered him for his “multi-dimensional talent.”

“The NDTC would not exist today, nor would it be the culturally significant institution that it has become over five decades, had it not been for the vision and work of our co-founder Eddy Thomas,” he said.

Thomas is survived by his sister Marjorie Thomas-Burton, nieces and nephews.

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