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Lois Wilcken

was born Pierre Louis Célestin Desrameaux on 6 August 1928 in Pétionville, a district and suburb of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, to Démosthènes Desrameaux, a farmer, and Fleurina Dorléance Alphonse, a retailer. His mother raised him in Port-au-Prince while his father labored in Delmas, another adjacent suburb. The family lived in the district of Belair, a struggling complex of neighborhoods used as slave quarters during the French colonial period. Some of the district’s houses of Vodou, an Afro-Haitian spiritual tradition, trace themselves back to pre-independence Haiti (before 1804). Desrameaux, who continued to divide his time between Belair and New York in later life, grew up Roman Catholic and, like many Haitians, participated in Vodou rituals at the same time. Scholars have dubbed Vodou a “danced religion,” and the ceremonies in Belair introduced Desrameaux to Haiti’s rich repository of traditional dances.

Desrameaux was born during the final years of the ...


Katherine Ramsey

was born on 26 March 1918 in the coastal town of Saint-Marc, Haiti, where his father worked for the local government and his mother Lucienne Destiné as a seamstress. Moving to Port-au-Prince with his mother, Destiné attended the Lycée Pétion, a prestigious secondary school for boys, and in the late 1930s began to study and perform with the pianist and choral director Lina Fussman-Mathon (later Mathon-Blanchet). Haiti was under US military occupation at the time of Destiné’s birth and for much of his childhood (1915–1934). During the later years of occupation, Haitian intellectuals, writers, and artists began to “re-evaluate” popular cultures long disavowed by elite Haitians, turning to them as a repository and inspiration for artistic creation.

Fussman-Mathon was one of the first musicians to arrange Haitian folk songs for concert performance, and Destiné became a member of the choir she founded in 1939. In early 1941 ...


Melanye P. White-Dixon

Inspired by a dance concert presented by Pearl Primus, McKayle began his dance studies at the New Dance Group Studio in New York City. He made his professional debut in 1948. Since then he has performed in the work of Sophie Maslow and Anna Sokolow and as a guest performer with the companies of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and he has established a diverse career as both dancer and choreographer in modern dance, musical theater, television, and film.

McKayle performed on Broadway in House of Flowers (1954) and West Side Story (1957). His numerous Broadway, television, and film choreography credits include Sammy Davis's Golden Boy (1964), Raisin (1974), Sophisticated Ladies (1981), the Ed Sullivan Show (CBS, 1966/67), Minstrel Man (CBS, 1977), Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1970), and the film version of The ...


Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Trained in classical ballet, Williams-Yarborough performed in musical comedy and modern dance before turning to African-derived, New World dance forms as a means of reaffirming her cultural heritage. Following Katherine Dunham and Jean-Léon Destiné, she combined the religious and folkloric dances of the Caribbean—particularly those of Haiti—with European forms of theatrical dance and created a syncretic, contemporary, theatrical black dance style. She also helped to establish national dance academies in Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, and the Bahamas.

Raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, and Brooklyn, New York, Williams-Yarborough began studying ballet when she was three years old. Tap, modern, acrobatics, singing, and acting classes soon followed. She graduated from Washington Irving High School in New York City and won a scholarship to the Art Students' League. Her dance teachers included Kay Perper (Denishawn School), Anna Sokolow, Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Katherine Dunham, Valerie Bettis, Lisan Kay, Helen ...