The journey from theme-park performer to resident artist in Washington, D.C. has not been without stumbling blocks for a Texas State alumnus, but it has been rewarding.
Professional dancer Matthew Cumbie didn’t originally want to dance. During high school, he was involved in soccer and choir. His interest in dance sparked when he started working at the Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston.
“At first I auditioned for a singing position at what was AstroWorld,” Cumbie said. “The guy I worked for really encouraged me to try out for the dancing part, and I really enjoyed it.”
While attending Texas Lutheran College, Cumbie got involved with a dance studio in Seguin. After studying communication, Cumbie would go to the studio to teach or strengthen his own dancing abilities.
Cumbie joined Texas State to study dance, with some prompting from his instructor, after earning a bachelor’s in communication studies from Texas Lutheran.
“This was the first time I was introduced to modern dance and improv,” Cumbie said. “It really allowed me to explore how my body worked anatomically. The program there was key in helping me develop the skills I have with me.”
Cumbie said the professors created rules that set the bar for himself, which he used as stepping stones.
Kaysie Seitz Brown, dance lecturer, said during his first modern course with her, Cumbie showed a natural ability to pick up movement and didn’t struggle like other students.
“Matt is full of sensation. He seemed to understand how to move authentically and what he could do with choreography. Plus, he always took an advantage to learn and grow,” Brown said. “We had this routine where he would come to my office, sit on the floor, and just ask questions about dancing or anything.”
After graduating, Cumbie spent the summer in New York at a professional training program. At the end of that session, he came back to Texas and soon enrolled in the dancing program at Texas Woman’s University to get his master’s.
During his excursions and graduate courses, Cumbie stayed in touch with his San Marcos mentors. LeAnne Smith, director of the dance division, said Cumbie came to her when there was confusion about the concert on which he was working.
“Graduate school is difficult in any field. At that point he became very frustrated,” Smith said. “We did a lot of talking, and I helped him reexamine and approach the (faculty) about his disappointment. I was just being a springboard and reflected my perception of the situation. I was just there for him.”
Cumbie went on to graduate with his master’s in dancing and traveled back up to New York. After a short stay there, he was hired by a dance company in Washington, D.C. as a resident artist.
The Dance Exchange is a modern dance and theater company that offers classes and creates professional performances.
“Everything in the Dance Exchange is anatomically based,” Cumbie said. “We really work on how the bones and muscles work with the floor. Many of the lessons I gained at Texas State trickle into what I’m doing here.”
At the Dance Exchange, he rehearses and helps to develop ideas within the company. He coordinates workshops and teaches improvisation classes to all levels of dancing.
“We work with a lot of different dance companies and are open to teaching all ages,” Cumbie said. “I love improv because it creates a space open to everyone but pushes them as well.”
Cumbie said the journey to the Dance Exchange was consistently filled with lessons from his mentors at Texas State.
“Getting here hasn’t been without hardships, but I’m definitely fortunate to be here,” Cumbie said. “The atmosphere cultivated by the faculty was essential, just having the space, and them being open to me creating and exploring new ideas changed everything.”