Legendary dance artist and activist Katherine Dunham describes the historical moment in 1944 when her dance company was asked to perform for a segregated audience in a Lexington, Kentucky theatre. The Katherine Dunham Dance Company was the first black modern-dance company in North America, performing internationally for over 30 years. Ms. Dunham's legacy continues today through the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities in East St. Louis, Illinois, the Katherine Dunham Collection at the Library of Congress, and the generations of dancers, scholars, and theater artists who have been profoundly influenced by her work.
EXCERPT from PillowTalk: The Legacy of Katherine Dunham recorded June 26, 2002. Included in the excerpt but not speaking: Reginald Yates and Julie Robinson Belafonte.
PillowTalks feature world-renowned choreographers, dancers, authors, filmmakers, historians, and critics in live hour-long moderated discussions of the cultural forces shaping the field of dance. Curated by Jacob's Pillow Director of Preservation Norton Owen and moderated by Jacob's Pillow Scholars-in-Residence, PillowTalks use dance as a prism to explore the world at large.
(June 22, 1909 – May 21, 2006) An anthropologist, author, educator, song writer, dancer, choreographer and activist. Dunham worked as an anthropologist studying ethnographic dance in the Caribbean, predominantly Haiti, where she even became a mambo (priestess) in the Vaudon (Voodoo) religion. Her entrenched studies not only spearheaded a new idea of "dance anthropology" in academia but also launched Dunham into her future as a political activist in the States as well as the Caribbean. Her life and studies abroad profoundly shaped her career as a choreographer. Her dance company, Katherine Dunham Dance Company, introduced authentic African moment to the concert stage connecting her dancers with their African heritage as well as codifying a new dance technique, known as the Dunham Technique, which trains the body to express the unique principles of the African-Caribbean diaspora. She founded the Dunham School for Arts and Research in 1946, wrote many books, appeared in various hollywood films, and performed on Broadway. Her life transformed modern dance, expanded the anthropological field of research, broke down immense walls of racism in the United States as well as abroad and paved the road for a new generation of professional black dancers.