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Susan Leigh Foster

Senegalese dancer and choreographer was born in Benin the daughter of a Senegalese colonial civil servant and the granddaughter of a Yoruba priestess When she was ten years old her family moved to Dakar Senegal From an early age Acogny showed exceptional talent for and love of dancing After pursuing a degree in physical education she went to France in the early 1960s where she studied ballet and modern dance Upon returning to Senegal she began teaching dance classes in the courtyard of her home and in the lycée where she was hired to be in charge of physical education In these classes she began to develop a codification of what she calls African dance Establishing an inventory of positions and steps as well as a spatial stability to each position s appearance she developed a dance technique based on an aesthetic of groundedness a sense of dynamism moving up ...

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Paulette Brockington

was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her family moved to Boston early in her childhood. They wanted her to be a minister, but her heart was fixed on being on the stage. She made it to New York as soon as she was old enough to strike out on her own. By 1955 she’d gotten a grant from the State of New York to teach square dancing to young people. She decided that was not such a great idea for a 127th Street venue in Harlem. She got to work teaching jazz dance instead.

From the turn of the twentieth century through most of the 1940s if you wanted to “make it” it usually had to be on the stage in front of an audience.

Louise Parks started working at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem a mecca for swing dancers as a hat check girl She was lucky enough to ...

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Leyla Keough

Katherine Dunham helped shape modern dance as both a dancer and a choreographer, a designer of dance pieces. Trained in anthropology, the study of cultures, she researched the African roots of Afro-Caribbean dances and incorporated African-based dance moves, traditions, and meanings into modern American dance.

Dunham was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Fanny June Taylor, who was French Canadian and Native American, and Albert Dunham. She attended school in Chicago and began to dance at a young age. After a short time at Joliet Junior College, she attended the University of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. degree in cultural anthropology. To help finance her education, she worked as a librarian and taught dance. Dunham eventually opened a dance school and established a black dance troupe later called the Chicago Negro School of Ballet.

Dunham obtained a Guggenheim Award from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation for travel to ...

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Rebecca M. Bodenheimer

was born in Havana on 5 August 1900. Her full family background is unknown, but she was born to parents Nicolás and Francisca in Pueblo Nuevo, a largely black neighborhood of Havana. She was raised in a housing complex named El Africa, surrounded not only by the heavy presence of Afro-Cuban religion, but by negros de nación (African-born blacks who had been brought to Cuba as slaves; Cuba imported slaves up until the 1860s and did not formally abolish the practice until 1886). It was due to her upbringing, immersed in African-derived music, dance, and religion, that Fresneda would eventually serve as a principal informant to folklorists and scholars, including preeminent anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, seeking to document and preserve these cultural practices.

Before the 1959 Cuban Revolution there were very few professional Afro Cuban folkloric musicians and dancers and Fresneda worked in various service occupations for many ...

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Sibyl Collins Wilson

dancer, choreographer, and university professor, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Sally Yancey and Joshua Milton. He was their only child. After Arthur's mother and father separated, Sally Yancey raised him with the help of her mother, Emma Yancey, and then moved to Washington, D.C., where she married her second husband, Patrick Hall. Arthur eventually took Hall's surname and joined the family in D.C. In 1950, Hall made his dancing debut in The Ordering of Moses, a production sponsored by the National Negro Opera Company.

The following year, 1951, Hall and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he continued studying and performing as a dancer at the Judimar School, which had been founded in 1948 by Marion Cuyjet Hall studied modern dance at the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Malvina Tase Some of his mentors and instructors included Cuyjet a ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Judith Jamison started dancing at the age of six at the Judimar School of Dance. At seventeen, she left to study psychology at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. After three semesters, she returned to Philadelphia to continue her dance training at the Philadelphia Dance Company (now University of Arts).

After a 1964 appearance with Agnes de Mille's dance troupe in New York, Jamison joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT) in 1965. Because of this company's financial difficulties, she danced with the Harkness Ballet for the 1966 season. But in 1967 she returned to AAADT to become its premier dancer. With this company she toured the world, dancing in Cry (1971), her signature dance, which Ailey choreographed to honor the strength and dignity of African American women. For her performances, she won an award from Dance Magazine in 1972 ...

Article

Bandleader who for a brief period early in the Second World War was one of the best known in Britain and definitely the best‐known black one. Born in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana), he learnt the violin but his father discouraged his early interest in dancing. He attended the leading secondary school, Queen's College, and was sent to England for further education. Johnson soon abandoned the study of law for a career as a dancer, studying with the American Clarence ‘Buddy’ Bradley, who had a dance school in London. His professional career took off and in 1934–5 he toured the West Indies and the United States. At this stage, still primarily a dancer, he was encouraged by the popularity of jazz bands to form one with Leslie Thompson, a much superior musician from Jamaica. Though popular, the band fell apart in 1937 and Johnson formed his own band ...

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Tarice Sims Gray

dancer, choreographer, educator, and social worker, was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to a racially mixed father, Hank Witt, who had been a buffalo soldier, and mother, Pearlie (Pryor) Witt, a black woman. Before settling in Cheyenne the family lived in Missouri, where Marjorie's older brother was born. It is not known what brought them to Cheyenne. Hank was a fair-skinned biracial man with a deep love for his dark-skinned wife. Marjorie Hayes Witt their first daughter and the second oldest of five children took after her mother and was the only one of her siblings to have Pearlie s mocha coloring Early on Marjorie learned that this legacy would be a burden Her mother found that her own complexion was a handicap and went so far as to bathe her dark skinned daughter in buttermilk in the belief it would lighten her Marjorie ...

Article

Jay Straker

Guinean choreographer and statesman, was born in the Maninka (Malinké) town of Siguiri in northeastern French Guinea (today’s Republic of Guinea) in 1921. His father was an educated merchant. His mother was of the Diabaté jeli (or griot, praise singer) lineage. Acquainted with reputable local artists from an early age, including a griot that performed at the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, Keita quickly excelled in both music and French schooling, learning the banjo and gaining entry into colonial Guinea’s most prestigious school—the École Primaire Supérieure located in the capital city of Conakry. While earning high academic marks in Conakry (1937–1940), Keita also led a band whose songs incorporated diverse global influences. This youthful demonstration of leadership and comprehensive artistic vision foretold of Keita’s eventual career as one of Africa’s greatest, most influential choreographers.

Like many of the brightest young men who came of age in French West Africa over ...

Article

Shivani Sivagurunathan

The first African‐American dancer to perform in Britain. Lane was born on Rhode Island and began performing at a young age, mainly at the dance halls and saloons in the Five Points neighbourhood in Manhattan. Lane first danced in Britain in 1848, where he performed in various minstrel shows in London's Vauxhall Gardens and later in Liverpool. Also known as ‘Master Juba’, he impressed his audiences with his moves, which were unusual to British crowds. His style was phenomenal owing to his flexibility, and contemporary accounts of Lane's performances describe his movements as unique. Various American and British writers commented on his style and labelled him as the greatest dancer ever known. Charles Dickens wrote about him in his American Notes (1842 describing him as a lively young negro who is the wit of the assembly and the greatest dancer known He never leaves off making queer ...

Article

Paulette Brockington

was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Rosella Moore and Alton Lee. She started performing at the tender age of four showing off her singing and dancing talents through high school. By the time she was nine she was performing with a big band in popular clubs around town. At twelve she was performing at The Top Hat, the first Black-owned nightclub in Georgia. She headed for New York City with her mother in tow when she graduated from high school.

On 18 August 1940 Lee auditioned for the Apollo Theater She sang danced flipped and did the splits Without an agent she couldn t be booked as a soloist Advised to get work in a chorus line she went to an open call of three hundred girls for Harlem s West End Theater Once cast she got to work with choreographers Charlie Davis and Leonard Reed creator of the ...

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Amber Karlins

was born Jennie Bell Ligon on the South Side of Chicago to Hector and Harriet Ligon. Her name was later changed from Ligon to LeGon as a result of a typo in a gossip column. LeGon started dancing at six years old while spending time with other neighborhood children who liked to perform on street corners, playing kazoos and harmonicas and washtub drums.

Seven years later LeGon began her performance career when she took a job as a chorus girl at thirteen years old. Because she had a very straight figure, none of the girl’s clothes fit her, so she suggested they allow her to wear pants. Doing so allowed her to develop a style that was similar to the one held by boys during that period, which featured acrobatic moves, flying splits, and mule kicks.

In 1931 LeGon began touring with a vaudeville dance troupe, and in 1935 ...

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Inge Mariëtte Ruigrok

Angolan dancer, choreographer, and pioneer of African contemporary dance, was born on 2 November 1962 in the Angolan capital of Luanda. She grew up in an artistic-intellectual milieu. Angola’s most famous writers, actors, and revolutionaries were friends of her parents or, like the sculptor José Rodriques, direct relatives, and often visited the family house.

In 1970, when she was eight years old, Marques started to take classical ballet lessons at the Dance Academy of Luanda. Following independence from Portugal in 1975, however, the school’s dance teachers, who were primarily Portuguese, left the country, leaving the school without staff, and thus forced to close. A few years later, Marques was asked to assume leadership of the dance school, because she had completed the first level of dance teacher training in 1978 She thus became the director of the only dance training facility left in the country even though ...

Article

Eric Gardner

also known as “Millie-Christine,” entertainers, were conjoined twins born to an enslaved couple named Jacob and Monemia, who were owned by Jabez McKay, a Columbus County, North Carolina, blacksmith. The twins quickly became a local sensation in the wake of the success of the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker (conjoined twins made famous by showman and entrepreneur P. T. Barnum) and the growth of the national circus movement. Before the McKoy twins were a year old, McKay and his partner John C. Pervis arranged for them to be exhibited throughout the area; soon after, their career was taken over by a manager named Brower, and they were sold to North Carolina businessman Joseph Pearson Smith. By this point, though, Brower, who was in possession of the young girls, had been swindled and the girls were stolen away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, in 1854 ...

Article

Karen Campos McCormack

was born in Harlem New York the second daughter of Alma Barker who came to New York when she was fifteen from Barbados and Norman Miller also a native of Barbados Miller s father passed away from pneumonia before her birth and she and her elder sister Dot were brought up by her mother and aunts under difficult circumstances Her mother s spirit and resilience proved to be a mainstay throughout Miller s life She grew up in Harlem at a time when it had become a beacon of freedom for African Americans despite the widespread poverty and the music and dance of the era exercised a powerful attraction on her from an early age She lived behind the famous Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue the first integrated ballroom in Harlem and an emblem for the community which would play a central role in her early career and the development ...

Article

Paul Schauert

Ghanaian choreographer, dancer, artist, and educator, was born on 13 November 1915 into a royal family of the Akan in central Ghana. His father, Nana Mawere Opoku, was the Okyeame (linguist) of the Asantehene (head chief of the Asante). His mother, Yaa Bemponmaalias Abena Kobina, was a renowned storyteller and the sister of the Asantehene’s chief linguist, Akyeamehene Kwasi Numah. Albert Mawere Opoku was thus in line to become an Okyeame himself and was the heir of the Gyasehene royal house. In addition to the special training in traditional lore and etiquette he acquired from his association with the royal house of the Asante, Opoku received his primary and secondary education at the Kumasi Government School (1921–1930).

After graduation, in 1931, he entered Achimota College (located near Accra, Ghana), where he studied for three years. Following a brief hiatus, he enrolled in 1939 in the Art ...

Article

C. S'thembile West

dance pioneer, anthropologist, and choreographer, was born in Trinidad, the daughter of Edward Primus and Emily Jackson, and migrated with her family to New York City when she was two years old. She majored in biology and premedicine at Hunter College of the City University of New York and graduated in1940. Seeking support for graduate studies, she solicited help from the National Youth Administration (NYA). Under the auspices of the NYA she was enrolled in a dance group, subsequently auditioned for the New Dance Group in New York, and earned a scholarship with that institution.

During Primus's tenure at the New Dance Group, she began to do research on African culture. She visited museums and consulted books, articles, and pictures for months to produce on 14 February 1943 her first significant dance work, African Ceremonial which she had asked continental Africans to judge ...

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Germaine Ingram

dancer and educator, was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of fourteen children of David Robinson, a construction worker, and Katherine Griffin, a homemaker. Robinson's South Philadelphia neighborhood pulsed with percussive street dancing, an example of vernacular culture that became the springboard for his distinguished career. When he was seven years old, his mother took a break from preparing supper to teach him his first tap step, which he practiced on the wooden floorboards of the family's kitchen. He expanded his repertoire by watching and imitating rhythm dancers who entertained themselves and challenged each other on street corners along Philadelphia's South Street corridor, where, according to Robinson, tap dancing was a common pastime for men, women, and children.

By his early teens Robinson was a street dancer himself busking dancing for money in Philadelphia s downtown He and two or three other youngsters became what was ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

tap dancer, was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but spent most of his youth in Los Angeles. The ten children in the Sims family made extra cash by “street tapping.” Street tappers danced on plywood or cardboard on street corners and took pride in creating unique tap combination steps; the more difficult the step, the better the audience reaction. The best dancers kept the choice corner stages where the tips were best, and Sims learned to protect his sidewalk dance stage by performing extremely complicated steps and challenging other tappers to repeat the step sequence.

Sims began boxing as a child and made money in the sport until the second time he broke his hand. After a tap dancing tour of South America, Sims left Los Angeles for New York in 1947 where his image became familiar to visitors at the Apollo Theater in Harlem His performances won ...

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Melinda Bond Shreve

performer, entrepreneur, and cultural leader, was born in east St. Louis, Illinois, to Fred L. and Lila B. Teer. Teer has been recognized for her exceptional talent as a dancer and actress, and most notably for founding the National Black Theatre, located in Harlem, New York, on historic 125th Street.

Teer was born into a family that was well known as both educators and community leaders. Her parents provided a nurturing home environment for her and her older sister Fredrica and they both went on to excel.

Teer graduated from Lincoln High School at age fifteen. She studied at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, Connecticut College, and the University of Wisconsin. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Dance Education in 1957 from the University of Illinois at age nineteen.After graduating Teer studied dance with Mary Wigman in Berlin and ...