Dance Technique Dress

A performance of the Dunham Technique involves the merging of polyrhythmic dance styles in continual motion. Katherine Dunham was the first to combine the individualistic dance movements of Caribbean and African cultures with European-style ballet. She further fused anthropological research into the realm of dance artistry by uniquely including social and cultural rituals into public performances.

Katherine Dunham and her young dancers, 1935. Through her anthropological studies Miss Dunham searched for the roots of black dance, and she found them in many different places. She weaved those roots into a new dance form and ultimately created the first black dance company. Dunham founded more than 60 schools to teach the Dunham Technique, and she spread the roots of American dance throughout the world. One of many labels given to Katherine Dunham is the Black Matriarch of Modern Dance. Although the title is meant to honor Miss Dunham, she has expressed public discontent with limiting the significance of her work to only black dance. In 2003, during a tribute in New York to Miss Dunham, she addressed the audience with the following statement:

A Life in Profile
Anthropologist
Dancer
Dunham Dance Technique
Film Career
Global Activist
Legacy
Collections and Conservation
 

“There is one thing I would like to say; I am so tired of being considered a leader of black dance. I am just a person who happens to be what in this country is called ‘black.’ I will insist on being called, one, a person, and two, a human being.”

At that time she was 94 years old and still trying to teach that we must stop segmenting our society. Although with the Dunham Technique she beautifully incorporated Caribbean, African, and American cultural movements into one style on stage, she recognized that decades later we continue to separate the cultures when the music stops.

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Dunham performer Ural Wilson in African headdress and garb, n.d. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection. Dunham performer Ural Wilson in African headdress and garb, n.d.
Large troupe of dancers performing Treemonisha, 1972. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection. Large troupe of dancers performing Treemonisha, 1972.
Dunham dancers Linda McKinley and Darryl Braddix dancing on train tracks in East St. Louis, Illinois, 1970. Former dancer Braddix became manager of Dunham’s property in East St. Louis. In 1967, Braddix was arrested by the East St. Louis police and charged with participating in a racially motivated property crime. Miss Dunham and her former personal manager, Jeanelle Stovall, went to the police station with Braddix when he was arrested. The East St. Louis police detained Miss Dunham for more than three hours, alleging that she refused to leave the booking office after being instructed to do so. In an interview following her arrest, Miss Dunham informed the New York Times that the police physically restrained her after she inquired into the charges against Braddix. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection. Dunham dancers Linda McKinley and Darryl Braddix dancing on train tracks in East St. Louis, Illinois, 1970.
Katherine Dunham in dance studio with Johnny Mathis, 1963–1964. Photograph by Dick Frisell. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection.
Katherine Dunham in Dance Studio with Johnny Mathis, 1963-1964.
Katherine Dunham performing in Italian–American film production of Mambo. The film was produced in 1954 and released in the United States in 1955. It includes a rare look at Dunham dancers learning the Dunham Technique. Paramount Pictures. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection. Katherine Dunham performing in Italian–American film production of Mambo
Katherine Dunham dancers, including Eartha Kitt, 1945. Missouri Historical Society Photographs & Prints Collection.
Katherine Dunham dancers, including Eartha Kitt, 1945.

Katherine Dunham performing in Acaraje, ca. 1940. Photograph by A. Castro. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection.

Katherine Dunham performing in Acaraje, ca. 1940.
Katherine Dunham choreographed Fantasie Nègre in 1936. This theatrical performance was composed by Florence B. Price, the first African American female to compose a symphony. The score was performed by an American orchestra. Photograph by Dorian Basabe. Courtesy of the Morris Library, Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
Katherine Dunham choreographed Fantasie NËgre in 1936.
Katherine Dunham and her young dancers, 1935. Courtesy of the Morris Library, Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Katherine Dunham and her young dancers, 1935.
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