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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Katherine Dunham: An American Dancer And Choreographer 1909-2006

GIRL6 has more on the life of a cultural giant:

Katherine Dunham, born in Glen Ellyn, Ill., an American dancer and choreographer who is best known for her pioneering choreography based on African American, Caribbean, West African and South American sources. As a young dancer and student at the University of Chicago, she became interested in anthropology and eventually pursued studies in both dance and anthropology. She received a Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship to study the dance forms of the Caribbean, spending time in Jamaica and Haiti. Ms. Dunham’s fieldwork helped develop a now recognized sub discipline of anthropology and also led to Ms. Dunham’s own understanding—both intellectual and kinesthetic—of the African roots of black dance in the West Indies. From that beginning, she began to develop for herself the first African American “serious” dance technique.
( Dunham circa 1946 "Bal Negre" )
Upon her return to the United States, Ms. Dunham went to New York to perform and choreograph the new type of American Black dance that she was creating. Her work was well received, and in 1947 she created the Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts Inc. She continued to refine her technique and to expand her choreography, transmitting that body of knowledge to succeeding generations of dance students.

Dunham's New York studio attracted illustrious students like Marlon Brando and James Dean who came to learn the "Dunham Technique," which Dunham herself explained as "more than just dance or bodily executions. It is about movement, forms, love, hate, death, life, all human emotions."

In 1964 Ms. Dunham became an artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University and then professor and director of the Performing Arts Training Center there. She continued to teach the Dunham technique to young dancers and she opened the Dunham Museum in East St. Louis, Illinois, where she brought an awareness of Haitian and African art to area residents. (more on Dunham...next post)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Katherine is a great role model for all young dancers, myself being one of them. She has inspired me to continue dancing and to help those less fortunate than myself. It's a shame most people don't know who she is.

6:01 PM

Anonymous Henry Gandolph said...

Thank you for your comment. Katherine Dunham was an innovator, a choreographer, an archaeologist, an activist and humanitarian.

You are right. Dunham is a great role model for all young dancers.

We hope you will join us in correcting the shame of most people not knowing who she is.

6:02 AM


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