Katherine dunham

Katherine Dunham . She was a pioneer of the African American ballet. Dancer, choreographer and dance teacher. He studied anthropology at the University of Chicago . He later founded a school of black dance that represented Negro Rhapsody (1931) for the Chicago Beaux Arts Ball. Currently the American company Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble is one of the few that has maintained the legacy of this great woman. He was interested early, in the early 1940s, in the art of Cuban empirical percussionists and their involvement in choreographic work.


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  • 1 Biographical synthesis
    • 1 Professional career
    • 2 Artistic career
    • 3 Death
  • 2 Distinctions
  • 3 Sources

Biographical synthesis

He was born on June 22, 1910 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois , United States . At an early age she was influenced by choreographers and dance theorists such as Rudolf von Laban and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, studied anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she was a student of Ludmila Speranzeva and Mark Turbyfill, and received a doctorate in Caribbean primitive dances. .


The lectures, theories, and works of North American anthropologists Robert Redfield and Melville Herskovits were extraordinarily influential in unlocking the importance of the legacy of the African diaspora in understanding African-American culture . As a result of all his studies, in 1936 he obtained his degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Artistic career

He founded the black dance school that Black Rhapsody (1931) performed for the Chicago Beaux Arts Ball. As a dancer she made her debut at the Ravinia Park Festival with the choreography of Ruth Page La Guiablesse (1933), working until 1936 for the Chicago Opera Ballet.

In 1935 she won the Julius Rosenwald Foundation scholarship to further her studies of traditional indigenous dances in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad. Due to the experimental work in which he already combined dance and anthropology in the study of the African, he traveled to Cuba for the first time in 1936 and had his first meeting with Don Fernando Ortiz , thanks to the mediation of his teacher Melville Herskovits. Ortiz introduced Katherine Dunham to the mysteries of anthropological perception of Cuban religiosity, as well as introduced various artists and musicians who were also practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions and rites.

In 1938 he returned to Chicago in order to take over the direction of the Negro Unit of the Federal Theater Project, where he created his first work: L’Ag’ya (1938). He choreographed the musical Pins and Needles (1939) during the time he was in charge of the dance direction of the New York Labor Stage Project.

In 1940 he formed the first dance company in the United States where all its members were African American. For this company Dunham choreographed several magazines, based on his anthropological research that he carried out in the Caribbean .

He performed the choreography for the musical Cabin in the Sky (1940) and worked on the films Star Spangled Rhythm (1941), Carnival of Rhythm (1942), Stormy Weather (1943), Casbah (1948), Pardon my Sarong (1952), Botta e Risposta (1952) and Green Mansions (1959). He appeared with his company and that of Carmen Amaya in the film Música en la Noche (1957). In 1942 he performed in the films Pardon my sarong (1942) and, above all, Tropical review, until reaching the most commercial Carib song (1945) and Carnaval of rhythm. Her great religious-theatrical work was Shangó (1945) in which she was portrayed by Platt Lynes.

Between 1940 and 1960, the Katherine Dunham dance company traveled to more than sixty countries on six continents, always with a subliminal and powerful motto of the fight for equality and not forgetting. His style, close to Creole traditions and voices, sang to the tradition of the Mississippi River basin.


He died on May 21, 2006, in New York, United States at the age of 96 due to various ailments from leukemia , and lung cancer.


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