In 1930, Katherine Dunham formed Ballet Negre, which was one
of just a few ballet companies available to black students at
the time. Shortly thereafter, struggling with a lack of financial
support, the company disbanded. In 1933, she opened her first
dance school in Chicago (the Negro Dance Group) for young black
dancers. In 1934, she revived Ballet Negre with
performers from her dance school. In 1939, she became the dance
director of the New York Labor Stage, and six years later she
opened the Dunham School of Dance in New York.
Miss Dunham was an international personality. She used bodies
in motion to create ties among peoples of the African diaspora.
During a tour in the late 1940s, one critic called Dunham an “ambassador
with hips.” Miss Dunham said about her dance company: “Without
Europe, we couldn’t have survived” (Aschenbrenner,
conversation with the author, 1978). The Dunham Company toured
to enthusiastic reviews from the 1930s through the 1950s, including
venues in Mexico, London, Paris, South America, Australia, New
Zealand, and Asia and throughout the United States.