It has officially been two weeks into black history month and as a white student I remember my predominantly white school honoring black history month with one announcement on February 1st- growing up I realize that this is a privilege and throughout this past year I have begun to research, support, and advocate for the social injustices that I have heard so much about growing up. I would like to carry the work and awareness I have built for myself into 2021. I plan to spotlight various black artists throughout this month, I am not trying to be a white savior. I would only like to use this platform as an opportunity to recognize artists that I feel have shaped dance for generations to come.
Katherine Dunham was a dancer and choreographer, she is known for her technique- The Dunham technique. She has been called the “matriarch and queen mother of black dance.”A Chicago native (just like me), she was the first African American women to attend the University of Chicago and earn a bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees all in anthropology. After graduation she founded the Negro Dance Group, they performed at countless Chicago Theatres and danced with the Chicago Opera Company. Two years after founding her company she was invited to partake in a fellowship in the Caribbean, studying all aspects of dance and the motivations behind the artform.
Katherine Dunham revolutionized American dance in the 1930’s. She went to the roots of black dance and rituals. transforming them into artistic choreography. She was a pioneer by using folk and ethnic dance in choreography performed on mainstream stages. Dunham showed the world that African American heritage is beautiful and deserves to be given a platform. Katherine has been credited for bringing these Caribbean and African influences to a western-dominated dance world.
She returned to the United States with new information on new methods of movement and expression. She then created the Dunham Technique that transformed the world of dance. I am currently enrolled in Dunham technique. As a dancer I pride myself in the ability to transform into any setting I am placed in, however, on my first day of Dunham Technique I realized how out of my league I was. It took my body a few weeks to understand how the technique feels on my body, and I am still getting used to it. I have attached a short class clip of what the Dunham technique looks like, as well as, Dunham dancing in the infamous Ballet Creole.