AmeriQuests: Narrative, Law and Society

Dancing the Black Atlantic: Katherine Dunham’s Research-to-Performance Method

Halifu Osumare


Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was one of the great dancer/choreographers of the 20th century. As a trained anthropologist and author, her unique contributions formed a marriage between dance and ethnology that developed the archetype of the scholar-artist. I explore her research-to-performance methodology that trail-blazed what has been analyzed by Caribbeanist VèVè Clark as "performance ethnography." Dunham explored Afro-Caribbean culture and dance, as well as her own African American culture. The essay demonstrates how she did this specially in her writings on the Jamaican Moroons and the Vodou of Haiti, recontextualizing the latter in her famous 1945 "Shango" dance work. In the process, Dunham danced the Black Atlantic well before that trope was even conceptualized, and dignified black dance forms of the Americas.

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DOI: 10.15695/amqst.v7i2.165

AmeriQuests: Narrative, Law and Society (1553-4316)

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