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Curtis Jacobs

was born Geraldine Molly Leotaud on 29 May 1933, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, into a mixed-race, middle-class, single-parent, devoutly Roman Catholic family. Her mother, however, was also a keeper of Shango religion, a legacy of the Yoruba peoples brought to Trinidad during the African slave trade.

She grew up in a hybrid cultural milieu of Christianity and Yoruba religious tradition (called “Ifa” today). She later recalled her early life as a Roman Catholic, with its elaborate ceremonies, and her love of participation in them, when she was allowed to carry the censer. Beginning in her teens, she was an avid student of dance, and met Beryl McBurnie, founder of the Little Carib Theatre, which first opened at Port-of-Spain in 1947. McBurnie, herself a dancer of some repute, was very interested in the traditional dances of the descendants of the formerly enslaved Africans. From 1952 to 1965 Molly ...

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Rebecca Dirksen

also commonly remembered as Lina Mathon-Fussman or, equally, as Lina Fussman-Mathon, was born in Port-au-Prince on 3 January 1903, one of five children of Charles Mathon, a medical doctor, and Cléante N. Marie Anne Carré Mathon. By all accounts captivated by the piano as a toddler, she was formally introduced to the instrument at the age of 4 by Haitian composer Justin Elie. She subsequently studied the classical music repertoire with the best teachers of the era, including completing advanced studies at the Ecole Notre-Dame de Sion in Paris between 1917 and 1921. Blanchet would eventually cofound the Lycée Musical de Port-au-Prince (a music school) and was later named the first director of the Conservatoire National by Haitian president Paul Eugène Magloire.

A tireless promoter of Haitian folkloric music throughout her life, Blanchet is cited as the first artist to mount stylized Vodou-influenced spektak performances on a ...

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Thomas F. DeFrantz

Afro‐Caribbean dancer and choreographer, was born Percival Sebastian Borde in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, where he finished secondary schooling at Queens Royal College and took an appointment with the Trinidad Railway Company. Around 1942 he began formal research on Afro‐Caribbean dance and performed with the Little Carib Dance Theatre. In 1949 he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had one child. The year of their divorce is unknown.

Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture. In the early 1950s he acted as director of the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. In 1953 he met the noted American anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus who was conducting field research in Caribbean folklore Primus convinced Borde to immigrate to the United States as ...

Article

Jaime O. Bofill Calero

was born in Puerta de Tierra, a poor urban area of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 8 July 1908. He was the son of Leonor Atiles, a laundry woman, and Modesto Cepeda Robles, a field laborer. Rafael Cepeda is known as “El patriarca de la bomba y la plena” (the patriarch of bomba and plena), two of Puerto Rico’s most traditional forms of African-derived music and dance. This title was bestowed on him for his lifelong contributions to the preservation of these musical forms, as well as for successively passing on these traditions to his sons and daughters, whom he incorporated as an integral part of his folk- and community-based groups.

Among Cepeda’s ensembles, Ballet Folklórico de la Familia Cepeda (1975) stands out as the most important, due the influence this group had in shaping traditional bomba performance The Cepeda family is generally considered as ...

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Felicia A. Chenier

black theater organizer, writer, director, folklorist, chorographer, and educator, was born in Houston, Texas, the only daughter of Gerthyl Rae and Harvey G. Dickerson, an army officer. As a military child Dickerson traveled extensively with her parents and brother, Harvey. After graduating high school in Syracuse, New York, Dickerson studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there she studied theater and was mentored by noted educator and writer Owen Dodson, who was then the Drama Department chair. Noteworthy of her experiences at Howard is her discovery of writings by Zora Neale Hurston. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) from Howard in 1966, Dickerson received a master of fine arts (MFA) from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, in 1968 During the same year she returned to Howard as an assistant professor of drama and staged her directorial ...

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Vèvè A. Clark

Dunham, who is best known for choreography based on African-American, Caribbean, West African, and South American sources, began her dance career in Chicago with the Little Theatre Company of Harper Avenue. That experience was followed by study with Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page of the Chicago Civic Opera. Dunham's other primary influence during this period was Ludmilla Speranzeva, a Kamerny-trained modern dancer from Russia, whose teaching put equal emphasis on both dance and acting technique. She worked as well with Vera Mirova, a specialist in “Oriental” dance.

Out of her work with Turbyfill and Page, Dunham conceived the idea for a ballet nègre, and she later founded the Negro Dance Group in 1934; the group performed Dunham's Negro Rhapsody at the Chicago Beaux Arts Ball, and Dunham herself made a solo performance in Page's La Guiablesse at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1931 While enrolled ...

Article

USdancer, teacher, choreographer, and director who helped establish African-American dance as an international theatre form. She studied anthropology, specializing in dance at the University of Chicago, and took dance classes locally, making her major professional debut in Page's La Guillablesse in 1933. After a period of dance research in the West Indies (1937–8) she returned to Chicago to work for the Federal Theatre Project, and was then appointed director of dance for the New York Labor Stage in 1939, choreographing movement for plays and musicals. In 1940 she presented her own programme of work, Tropics and Le Jazz Hot—from Haiti to Harlem, with a specially assembled company. This launched her career as a choreographer. In the same year she and her company danced in the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky (chor. Balanchine after which she moved to Hollywood to ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Gregory S. Jackson

Characterized for much of her professional life as a woman with a double identity, as Broadway's grande dame of American dance and as a pioneering dance anthropologist of world renown, Katherine Dunham has influenced generations with her wide array of talent. Born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, she attended the University of Chicago, where she studied anthropology and first began to pursue the study of dance with professional aspirations. During the Great Depression Dunham opened a series of dance schools, all of which closed prematurely for financial reasons but not before they earned Dunham the attention and company of such noted individuals as Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Horace Mann, Sterling North, Charles Sebree, and Charles White. As the recipient of a 1935 Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship for the study of anthropology and dance traditions in the Caribbean Dunham united her work in anthropology with ...

Article

Joyce Aschenbrenner

An artist of many talents, Katherine Dunham is best known as a popular and widely acclaimed dancer who, with her dance company, performed on stages throughout the world in the 1940s and 1950s, choreographing Caribbean, African, and African American movement for diverse audiences. Her concerts were visually and kinesthetically exciting and appealing; they were also based on a profound understanding of the peoples and cultures represented as well as on a keen knowledge of social values and human psychology. Her achievements as anthropologist, teacher, and social activist are less well known.

By her own account, in her autobiography, A Touch of Innocence (1959), Dunham was born in Chicago. The family lived in Glen Ellyn, a predominantly white suburb of the city. Katherine’s mother, Fanny June Guillaume was an accomplished woman of French Canadian and Indian ancestry She died when Dunham was young Dunham s father Albert ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

dancer, anthropologist, and activist. Katherine Dunham, born in Joliet, Illinois, was an innovator in dance. She was the Queen Mother of Black Dance, basing her understanding of dance and her innovations in it on anthropological principles and fieldwork in Haiti. Her father, an African American dry cleaner, owned his own business. Her mother was French Canadian and American Indian. Dunham began her dance training in her late teens.

Dunham majored in social anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she earned her BA in 1936. The ideas of the anthropologists Melville Herskovits and Robert Redfield inspired her work in dance, and she applied these ideas to her work with young children in her dance company, Ballet Nègre, which she started in 1931. Her combination of dance and anthropology earned her a Rosenwald Travel Fellowship in 1936 Dunham traveled to the West Indies combining her ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

dancer, choreographer, school founder, and anthropologist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Albert Millard Dunham Sr., an African American tailor and amateur jazz musician, and Fanny June Guillaume Taylor, a school administrator of French Canadian, English, Native American, and possibly African ancestry. The Dunhams lived in the predominantly white suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, until Fanny's death when Katherine was four. Forced to sell the family home, Albert Dunham became a traveling salesman and sent Katherine and her older brother, Albert Jr., to live with relatives on the South Side of Chicago, where she was exposed to black vaudeville and blues performances.

Although Albert Sr. reunited the family after he remarried and purchased a dry cleaning store in Joliet Illinois he became increasingly unpredictable and violent Katherine found an outlet in athletics and dance while attending public high school and junior ...

Article

Alejandro Gortázar

was born on 8 August 1937 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Currently he is the director of Conjunto Bantú, and the president of Asociación Civil Africanía, two non-governmental organizations. As a child Olivera Chirimini lived in South Reus or Ansina neighborhood (Barrio Ansina) of Montevideo and candombe was part of his musical environment. In the 1950s he won first place as an amateur painter at the First Ramon Pereira Hall, a contest organized by a group of artists in honor to the Afro-Uruguayan artist Ramón Pereira (1919–1954). Around that time he finished high school and later on became part of the Black Independent Theater (Teatro Negro Independiente). The group was created by Dr. Francisco Melitón Merino in 1965 and pursued aesthetic and social objectives It promoted the idea of transforming society through theater providing the Afro descendant community with tools for individual improvement and appreciation of their cultural values ...

Article

Navneet Sethi

dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, and teacher. Along with Katherine Dunham (1909–2006), Pearl Primus is regarded as the mother of modern African American dance. Dunham and Primus used their vision as anthropologists to revolutionize African American concert dance by valorizing the African heritage in the African American experience.

Pearl Primus was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1919 and came to New York City with her parents in the early 1920s. A 1940 graduate in biology from Hunter College in New York Primus had her first brush with racism when she was unable to get a job in a laboratory Taking classes with the New Dance Group a subunit of the Workers Dance League that was dedicated to social change Primus recognized her passion for dance and the need to graft this passion with her sense of outrage at social conditions Primus ...

Article

James Briggs Murray

In the early 1920s Primus's parents brought her from their native Trinidad to New York City, where she attended Hunter College High School and Hunter College, graduating in 1940 with a degree in biology and premedical sciences. Her aspiration to be a physician was thwarted by racial discrimination, which blocked her from being hired by New York's medical laboratories. Turning to the National Youth Administration, she was given a wardrobe position in a dance demonstration unit, despite having no particular interest in dance. She later became a dancer's understudy, and the National Youth Administration assigned her to demonstrate everything from the minuet to the lindy.

Becoming more seriously interested in dance, Primus won a scholarship offered by New York City's New Dance Group in July 1941. She studied and absorbed the techniques of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, Charles Weidman, and Beryl McCurnie ...

Article

C. S'thembile West

Primus, Pearl (29 November 1919–29 October 1994), 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 pre-medicine at Hunter College of the City University of New York and graduated in 1940. 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, consulted books, articles, and pictures for months to produce on 14 February 1943 her first significant dance work, African Ceremonial for which she had ...

Article

Pearl Primus studied to be a doctor, not a dancer. A biology major at Hunter College in New York City (where her family had emigrated from Trinidad in 1921), then a graduate student of psychology and health education, she was prevented from gaining a laboratory job by racial prejudice. Pressed for money, Primus applied to the National Youth Administration and was placed as an understudy in a dance troupe. Primus's superb athletic ability won her a scholarship to the New Dance Group in 1941. The first black to study and perform there, she began a long career that sought to counteract racism with Afrodiasporic performance culture.

Primus's early work displayed her careful research of traditional African dance styles and her desire to infuse dance with political and social commentary. Her 1943 professional debut, African Ceremonial received such positive reviews that she was able to open on Broadway ...

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 ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

Pearl Primus set out to be a doctor and became a dancer. In her lifelong study of dance she also became a choreographer, an anthropologist, an educator, and a cultural ambassador. And in her hands dance became a language, a medium of social comment, a channel for anger and frustration, a teaching tool, and an instrument of healing.

Primus was born in Trinidad to Edward and Emily (Jackson) Primus. In 1921 the family moved to New York, where she attended Hunter College High School and graduated from Hunter College in 1940 with a major in biology and premedical sciences. At that time there were no jobs available to blacks in New York’s laboratories, so she turned to the National Youth Administration (NYA) for help finding work while she began her graduate studies at night.

The NYA unable to find the kind of job Primus was looking for sent her ...