Katherine Dunham: Activist, Anthropologist, Dancer

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Katherine Dunham not only significantly contributed to the rise of modern dance, but she was also a pioneer in the field of dance anthropology; and a staunch political and social activist. Dunham was born in Chicago, Illinois and primarily raised in nearby Joliet, Illinois. Dunham first became interested in dance when she was a teenager and trained with Ludmilla Speranzeva, formerly of the Moscow Theatre, Vera Mirova, Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page in Chicago before and during her college education. She even started her own private dance school, Ballet Négre, in 1930, while at the University of Chicago where she first began to cultivate her own technique that would change modern dance. At the University of Chicago, Dunham decided to study anthropology with a focus on African and Caribbean ritual dances. Here, she studied under many of the best anthropologists of the time, and in 1935, she was awarded a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to study dance in any way she wished. So, she decided to use this money to travel to the islands of the West Indies and document the ritual dances of the people. She visited such islands as Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique and Haiti; however, she found a special connection with the people of Haiti and the dances they performed, particularly in their Vodoun rituals. In 1936, Dunham received a bachelor of philosophy from the University of Chicago, and after gathering her research and materials from her work in the Caribbean, she submitted her thesis, Dances of Haiti: Their Social Organization, Classification, Form, and Function,” to the University of Chicago in 1938. Throughout her college career, Dunham continued to dance in various venues. In 1933, she opened the Negro Dance Group, her first dance... ... middle of paper ... ...exiled Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and Jesse Jackson asked her to stop risking her life for the cause. After this, she was awarded Haiti’s highest medal of honor by President Aristide. Katherine Dunham led a rich and full life not only as a dancer, but as someone who studied the people she loved, wrote extensively, and stood for causes that meant so much to her. Her legacy lives on not only in the great anthropological studies she did or the important political and social stances she took, but in the modern dance of today. Modern dance, or dance in general for that matter, wouldn’t be what it is today without her studies and influence. References: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/freetodance/biographies/dunham.html http://kdcah.org/katherine-dunham/ http://kdcah.org/katherine-dunham-biography/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Dunham

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