Recently, Katherine Dunham, the world renowned dancer and choreographer, ended a long hunger strike in support of the Haitian refugees. Dunham, well into her 80’s and in failing health, was asked why she would risk her own life for this cause. She said that she wanted to make the world understand the struggle of some of the bravest people she had ever met.
William F. Gibson, “President George Bush’s Policy On Haitians is Indefensible, Cruel Racism,” The Crisis (June-July 1992)
An anthropologist, choreographer and dancer, as well as a journalist, professor, political activist, film-maker and author, Dunham was the best-known pioneer of black dance in the US, the model scholar/choreographer who used anthropological fieldwork as the foundation for her choreography.
“Katherine Dunham,” The Guardian (May 23, 2006)
Dunham and dancers did Haitian love rituals, Melanesian death rituals, Brazilian sambas, Cuban rumbas, American shimmies. All were characterized by swiveling, wrigglings and pushings which, though hot, were also high-brow.
“Dunham Dances: A scholarly Negro Master of Arts wows Broadway with a sizzling show,” Life (November 8, 1943)
In Martinique she danced the beguine at the Boule Blanche; in Trinidad, the Shango to the beat of the bembo drum; and in Haiti, the secular dances as well as the sacred ones of Vodoun.
“Katherine Dunham,” The Crisis (June 1950)
In a sense, her dancers became repositories of memory.
Zita Allen, “A Tale of Two Pioneers,” PBS.org (2001)