Dunham, Katherine

Dunham, Katherine

(dŭn`əm), 1909?–2006, American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, b. Chicago. She studied anthropology at the Univ. of Chicago, where she received a B.A. and Ph.D. and began her research into dances of the Caribbean. In addition to teaching anthropology, from the late 1930s until the 1960s, she directed her own dance company, which toured the United States and worldwide. Her choreography combines Caribbean and African movements and rhythms with those of modern dancemodern dance,
serious theatrical dance forms that are distinct from both ballet and the show dancing of the musical comedy or variety stage. The Beginnings of Modern Dance

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. In 1965, she accepted a position as adviser to the cultural ministry of Senegal. In 1967, she became director of the Performing Arts Training Center at the East St. Louis branch of Southern Illinois Univ., where she worked with inner-city youth groups.

Through her dance technique, which stressed the isolation of individual parts of the body, as well as her choreography, teaching, and appearances in different media, Dunham brought African and Caribbean dance to the attention of the public and exerted tremendous influence on the evolution of modern dance. She choreographed a number of dance revues including Bal Nègre (1946), Caribbean Rhapsody (1948), and Bamboche (1962). Dunham made her Broadway debut in the musical Cabin in the Sky (1940), choreographed and danced in several Hollywood musicals including Stormy Weather (1943), and also choreographed Aida (1963) at New York's Metropolitan Opera and The Magic of Katherine Dunham (1987) for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Among her books are Journey to Accompong (1946), Island Possessed (1969), and Dances of Haiti (1984).


See her memoir, A Touch of Innocence (1959); biography by R. Beckford (1979); V. A. Clark and S. E. Johnson, ed., Kaiso!: Writings by and about Katherine Dunham (2006).

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Dunham, Katherine

(1912–  ) modern dancer, choreographer; born in Chicago, Ill. A University of Chicago graduate who went on to earn a doctorate in anthropology, she started her first school in Chicago (1931), later becoming dance director for the Works Progress Administration's Chicago theater project. A flamboyant performer, she is best known for her choreography in musicals like Cabin in the Sky (1940) and motion pictures, notably Stormy Weather (1943). She studied dance forms in the Caribbean, especially Haiti, where she lived for several years; she toured with her company during the 1940s, 1950s, and into the 1960s. In 1967 she founded a performing arts center for inner-city youths in East St. Louis, Ill. She went on a hunger strike in 1992 to protest the American deportation of Haitian refugees.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.