A life of katherine dunham a african dancer

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A life of katherine dunham a african dancer

A life of katherine dunham a african dancer

Dancer, choreographer, and educator. Known as the "Matriarch of Black Dance," Katherine Dunham, in the s, founded the first major black modern dance company in the United States. Her troupe's work, which showcased the rhythms Dunham learned while studying with natives in the Caribbean, helped establish black dance as an art form in its own right.

Dunham's unique blend of Afro-Caribbean, ballet, and modern dance captivated audiences around the world. Over the course of her lifetime, Dunham performed and choreographed productions for Broadway and Hollywood films, as well as for dance revues that toured the world.

Her father, a tailor and dry cleaner, was black, while her mother was French Canadian. When Dunham was three, her mother died. She began dancing early on and also had a passion for writing. At 12, Dunham published a poem in a magazine edited by W. She moved to Chicago in to study ballet with Ludmilla Speranzeva and eventually enrolled at the University of Chicago.

She became interested in anthropology and won a fellowship to study in the Caribbean in While there, Dunham examined the dance rhythms particular to Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti. She learned to perform voodoo rituals, the rumba, and other primitive rhythms she later integrated into modern dance forms.

Dunham earned a doctorate in anthropology, but her love for dancing prevailed. Founded in the s, her Chicago-based dance company, Ballet Negre sometimes called the Negro Dance Group was the first self-supporting black modern-dance troupe.

Over the years, the troupe visited more than 50 countries on six continents. The group toured extensively after World War II, showing off its unique style of foot-stamping, hip-and-shoulder shaking, and primitive African dancing. Dunham liked to joke about how her dances were received around the world.

During the s, Dunham appeared in many Broadway shows, playing Georgia Brown in Cabin in the Skywhich she also helped choreograph. During the s, she opened a New York dance school, the Dunham School of Dance and Theater, which remained open for a decade.

Dunham is credited with teaching her students the technique of isolationism, a form of dance that emphasizes the isolation of individual body parts. Some of her techniques are still taught in modern-dance schools across the United States and influenced many contemporary choreographers, including Alvin Ailey.

Dunham's Broadway work eventually led her to Hollywood, where she danced in and choreographed movies, including 's Carnival of Rhythm's Star-Spangled Rhythmand 's Stormy Weather. Pratt helped manage Dunham's career and did design work for the troupe.

In the s, Dunham traveled the world with her dance troupe, spending time in London and other European cities. InDunham was called upon to choreograph a production at the Metropolitan Opera, directing dances for Giuseppe Verdi's Aida.

It was the first time in 30 years that an African American had been given the honor of choreographing at the famed New York opera. Louis, setting up a dance program for disadvantaged youth with the hopes she could use art to keep youngsters from violence and gangs.

According to the New York TimesDunham said her goal was "to make the individual aware of himself and his environment, to create a desire to be alive. Dunham also wrote several books, many published under the pseudonym Kaye Dunn.

Over the course of her lifetime, Dunham used her position to fight against social injustices, particularly racial segregation.

Once, while performing at a theater in Louisville, Kentucky, Dunham discovered blacks could only sit in the upper balcony.

Fuming, she delayed the show's start and during the performance, showed her bottom to the audience—complete with a sign that read "whites only. Dunham was attached to Haiti, where she had studied as a young anthropologist, focusing her college thesis on Haitian dance. Dunham felt a kinship with the Haitian people and took their plight on as her own.

Inshe established a medical clinic there. Inat the age of 82, Dunham went on a day hunger strike to protest the treatment of Haitian boat refugees, who were fleeing their country but were turned back.

By the late s, Dunham was widowed and was living in near destitution near the St.

Katherine Dunham - Wikipedia

Her friends moved her to New York to help provide care for her. By this time, Dunham was nearly bed-ridden with severe arthritis. She died on May 21,in an assisted-living facility in New York City.

She is survived by her daughter.

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