Katherine Dunham, Pioneering Dancer and Activist, Inspires a Book

06GUIDE2-master768The choreographer, dancer and social activist Katherine Dunham made headlines in 1944, when, after reluctantly performing for a racially segregated audience in Louisville, Ky., she declared that if the theater wanted her to return, it would have to integrate. This scene introduces an in-depth, necessary new book on Dunham and her trailblazing career, “Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora” (Oxford University Press), by the dance historian Joanna Dee Das. Ms. Das, who grew up studying Dunham Technique, examines the relationships, both explicit and subtle, between Dunham’s art and activism, from her formative travels in Haiti to her support for the Black Arts Movement in East St. Louis, Ill. A multifaceted portrait emerges, of a woman who believed, as Ms. Das puts it, that “living in the space of diaspora, in between-ness, was the way to achieve wholeness.” Though Dunham is celebrated for her contributions to modern dance, her works are rarely restaged today. Ms. Das leaves us wondering: How can we see more?

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