Katherine Dunham: A Legacy of Social Activism Through Dance

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David DeBlieck, Visiting Assistant Professor, Theater

Katherine Dunham was an internationally-recognized dance artist, social activist and cultural anthropologist who changed the face of the American dance stage by incorporating dances from the African diaspora in her choreography and by presenting danceworks that explicitly addressed social issues of her time. Although she was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. and active in her pursuit of social justice during the civil rights era, her work is not known to most people outside of the dance world. This session will reveal important aspects of Dunham’s work, including an examination of Southland, a dance from 1950 that depicted the lynching of a black man in the racist American south. This session will also explore how Dunham’s legacy is continued through the Institute for Dunham Technique Certification and the training of today’s dancers in her African-based dance technique as well as her social philosophies. The session will also include reflections on my participation in the Institute’s intensive training program in the summer of 2018 and a description of how I plan to apply Dunham’s strategies and theories to engage CSB/SJU students in the creation of a new dancework that addresses themes of social justice.

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