Dunham, Katherine Mary (1909–2006) By Das, Joanna Dee
As a choreographer, anthropologist, educator, and activist, Katherine Dunham transformed the field of dance in the twentieth century. In the mid-1930s she conducted anthropological research on dance and incorporated her findings into her choreography, blending the rhythms and movements of the Caribbean with ballet and modern dance. Through her dance troupe, which she formed in 1936, Dunham brought Africanist aesthetics to the concert dance stage and popularized the genre of African-American modern dance. For the next 28 years, Dunham and her company of dancers, singers, and musicians toured the USA, Europe, Latin America, and Asia, exposing international audiences to a creative, modern interpretation of African diasporic culture. Through her school in New York, Dunham also established the Dunham Technique, which synthesized what she called primitive rhythms with ballet and modern dance. This technique became one of the foundations of modern and jazz dance in the postwar period. As an anthropologist, Dunham paid attention not only to how people danced, but why they did so. She disseminated her ideas on the social importance of dance through performance, publications, and education. Throughout her career Dunham used her public stature to fight for progressive social change, challenging segregation in the USA, discrimination in Brazil, and American foreign policy in Haiti.