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Katherine Dunham: Dancing a Life

Overview

Throughout the better part of the twentieth century and in performance halls, classrooms, and communities throughout the world, Katherine Dunham's remarkable career can be traced to the intersection of dance, culture, and society. More than a recounting of Dunham's accomplishments as a dancer and choreographer, this biography is the first to thoroughly examine her pioneering contributions to dance anthropology and her commitment to humanizing society through the arts.

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Overview

Throughout the better part of the twentieth century and in performance halls, classrooms, and communities throughout the world, Katherine Dunham's remarkable career can be traced to the intersection of dance, culture, and society. More than a recounting of Dunham's accomplishments as a dancer and choreographer, this biography is the first to thoroughly examine her pioneering contributions to dance anthropology and her commitment to humanizing society through the arts.

Founder of the first self-supporting African American dance company, Dunham relied on her fieldwork as an anthropologist to fundamentally change modern dance. She shaped new dance techniques and introduced other cultures to U.S. and European audiences by fusing Caribbean and African-based movement with ballet and modern dance. Her revolutionary approaches to dance and its connection to the world influenced a generation of dancers, theatrical performers, and scholars. She believes that dancing involves the development of an entire person and that the rituals and traditions of dance are integral to the study of culture. Throughout her career she has been a living model of the socially responsible artist working to whet cultural appetites and combat social injustice.

Building on Dunham's published memoirs -- A Touch of Innocence and Island Possessed -- Joyce Aschenbrenner's multifaceted portrait blends personal observations based on her own interactions with Dunham, archival documents, and interviews with Dunham's colleagues, students, and members of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. Integrating these sources, Aschenbrenner characterizes the social, familial, and cultural environment of Dunham's upbringing and the intellectual and artistic community she embraced at the University of Chicago that laid the groundwork for her development as a dancer, anthropologist, and humanitarian. The book vividly depicts Dunham's and her dancers' touring experiences and includes detailed descriptions of her community cultural and educational programs in East St. Louis.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
As curator and education coordinator at the Katherine Dunham Museum in East Saint Louis, IL, Aschenbrenner (anthropology, emerita, Southern Illinois Univ.) is uniquely qualified to analyze and appreciate the life and career of her subject. Dunham founded the first self-supporting African American dance company, but she made more of an impact as a dance teacher, anthropologist, and socially responsible artist. Aschenbrenner's purpose is "to elucidate [Dunham's] views on anthropology and dance and how they relate to her social activism"-aspects that have received little attention in existing biographies (e.g., Terry Harnan's African Rhythms and Ruth Biemiller's Dance: The Life of Katherine Dunham), most of which are out of print. The author's purpose is realized through a careful reading and interpretation of Dunham's memoirs, A Touch of Innocence and Island Possessed, which are supplemented with information collected from archival documents, interviews with Dunham's colleagues, and personal reminiscences. This focused study is written for academics, specifically dance historians and anthropologists. Recommended for academic libraries.-Joan Stahl, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252027598
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1. More Than a Touch of Innocence 7
2. At the University of Chicago 19
3. Fieldwork at the Cutting Edge 43
4. Katherine Dunham's Possessed Island 58
5. Anthropology and Dance 82
6. Ethics and Politics 91
7. Creating the Company 105
8. Taking It Abroad 141
9. Katherine Dunham and Her Dancers 163
10. Arts and the Community 173
11. Legacy 203
Appendixes
A. Timeline 233
B. Performances and Choreography 235
C. Major Honors and Awards 238
D. Lectures and Publications 240
E. Resources on Katherine Dunham 242
Notes 245
Index 273
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