VIDEO: Katherine Dunham at home in Martissant Haiti in 1962
Watch this video... Katherine Dunham, American dancer, choreographer, author, educator, and social activist at home in Martissant Haiti in 1962.
Born in Chicago, and raised in Joliet, Illinois, Katherine Dunham did not begin formal dance training until her late teens. In Chicago she studied with Ludmilla Speranzeva and Mark Turbyfill, and danced her first leading role in Ruth Page's ballet "La Guiablesse" in 1933.
She attended the University of Chicago on scholarship (B.A., Social Anthropology, 1936), where she was inspired by the work of anthropologists Robert Redfield and Melville Herskovits, who stressed the importance of the survival of African culture and ritual in understanding African-American culture.
While in college she taught youngsters' dance classes and gave recitals in a Chicago storefront, calling her student company, founded in 1931, "Ballet Negre."
Awarded a Rosenwald Travel Fellowship in 1936 for her combined expertise in dance and anthropology, she departed after graduation for the West Indies (Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, Martinique) to do field research in anthropology and dance.
Combining her two interests, she linked the function and form of Caribbean dance and ritual to their African progenitors.
The West Indian experience changed forever the focus of Dunham's life. Eventually she would live in Haiti half of the time and became a mambo( a vodou priestess), and caused a profound shift in her career.
This initial fieldwork provided the nucleus for future researches and began a lifelong involvement with the people and dance of Haiti. From this Dunham generated her master's thesis (Northwestern University, 1947) and more fieldwork.
She lectured widely, published numerous articles, and wrote three books about her observations: JOURNEY TO ACCOMPONG (1946), THE DANCES OF HAITI (her master's thesis, published in 1947), and ISLAND POSSESSED (1969), underscoring how African religions and rituals adapted to the New World.
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