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Katherine Dunham - A Living Legacy
by Bob Moore, SLFP
An entire week will be spent to honored Dunham on her birthday, beginning with a traditional village baptismal ceremony of the village. Her legacy as a dancer, poet, painter, choreographer and activist spans many decades.
She was born in Chicago, of a French-Canadian mother and an American father who traced his ancestry back to slave ships from Madagascar. While attending the Chicago University, she supplemented her income by holding ballet dance classes. An ethnological lecture inspired her to seek her cultural heritage through the African dances of the Caribbean islands. With the aid of a Rosenwald fellowship for research, she spent a year studying in the islands and wrote a book, The Dances of Haiti, on her experiences.
Dunham founded the Dunham Company in the 1930s and began working with gifted students using the 'Dunham Technique'. Her company worked in numerous Hollywood productions including "Star Spangled Rhythm", "Stormy Weather" and "Carnival of Rhythm". She created the role of Georgia Brown for the Broadway production of "Cabin in the Sky".
Her artist achievements touched more than the theatrical world. It is notable that Brazil passed a national law against discrimination in places of public accommodation as an attempt to atone for a racial slight to Dunham at a hotel in Rio. Today, the Dunham Technique is still taught by former members of the company. The technique has inspired numerous theatrical dancing productions in television and the movies. And her vision continues to live on in young people who are learning about their heritage through the arts.
Autographed copies of Katherine Dunham's memoir, "A Touch of Innocence", will also be available for $25 during the birthday celebration.
Information for this article gathered from "Katherine Dunham, Her Dancers, Singers, Musicians" by Richard Buckle and from the program "Katherine Dunham in "Bamboche!".
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