Monday, May 22, 2006

In Memorium, Modern Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, Human Rights Activist, And Humanist Katherine Dunham

"Katherine Dunham, a pioneering dancer and choreographer, author and civil rights activist who left Broadway to teach culture in one of America's poorest cities, has died. She was 96. ...

Government cuts and a lack of private funding forced her to scale back her programs in the 1980s. Despite a constant battle to pay bills, Dunham continued to operate a children's dance workshop and a museum.

Plagued by arthritis and poverty in the latter part of her life, Dunham made headlines in 1992 when she went on a 47-day hunger strike to protest U.S. policy that repatriated Haitian refugees.

''It's embarrassing to be an American,'' Dunham said at the time.

Dunham's New York studio attracted illustrious students like Marlon Brando and James Dean who came to learn the ''Dunham Technique,'' which Dunham herself explained as ''more than just dance or bodily executions. It is about movement, forms, love, hate, death, life, all human emotions.''

In her later years, she depended on grants and the kindness of celebrities, artists and former students to pay for her day-to-day expenses. Will Smith and Harry Belafonte were among those who helped her catch up on bills...

''She didn't end up on the street though she was one step from it,'' [Charlotte] Ottley said. ''She has been on the edge and survived it all with dignity and grace.''"

Associated Press "Katherine Dunham, Dance Pioneer, Dies at 96" May 22, 2006 via


Katherine Dunham

Not all great American artists die rich and adored; especially not the outspoken.

Photo credit: Mike van Sleen from Jacobs Pillow Dance 2003 "A Landmark Season" Exhibition. With thanks.


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I found this blog surfing.

Great post about an incredible person.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Thank you for your comment. Yes, Ms Dunham was a incredible person and a great American.

I recall, at Berkeley High School, attending a semester of Afro-Haitian Dance, which was based, in large part, on Ms Dunham's teaching.

6:54 AM  

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