Wednesday 17 April 2024


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.

Katherine Dunham, circa 1940s..” Photo: Corbis.

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