Katherine Dunham

An exceptional innovator and pioneer, Katherine Dunham revolutionized the dance
world. Her blend of cultural anthropology with the artistic genre of dance in the early
1930's, produced groundbreaking forms of movement (known today as the Dunham
technique), and established black dance as an art form in the United States. Katherine
Dunham led the way for future black companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance
Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem. She broke many barriers as a dancer,
choreographer, actress, writer, and anthropologist.
Katherine Dunham was born June 22, 1909 near Chicago, Illinois. Her mother died
shortly after and her father was a traveling salesman. Dunham stayed with her two
cousins who were actresses and lived in an apartment that was used for rehearsal space.
They would take Katherine to shows at local theaters, where she would see black
vaudeville performers who could sing and dance. This is where Dunhams love for the
stage began. Her formal training in dance did not begin until her late teens. She began
taking private lessons in college at the University of Chicago. While at the university she
began to study and research African culture. Dunham became fascinated with the
importance and the survival of African culture and ritual in understanding African
American culture. In 1935, she was awarded a fellowship to do field research in
anthropology and dance. Combining her two interest, she linked the function and form of
Caribbean dance and ritual to their African heritage. Her passion led her to the islands of
Jamaica Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, and Martinique.


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