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

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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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How to Cite
Osumare, H. (2010). Dancing the Black Atlantic: Katherine Dunham’s Research-to-Performance Method. AmeriQuests, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.15695/amqst.v7i2.165
Author Biography

Halifu Osumare, University of California, Davis

Halifu Osumare has combined an over thirty-year career in performing, choreographing, teaching, administrating, researching, and writing about dance and black popular culture internationally. She is currently an Associate Professor of African American & African Studies at University of California, Davis, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii in America Studies. Her teaching and research interests include African American history, literature, and dance, as well as hip-hop in urban America and its global diaspora. She researches black choreographers and their aesthetics , as well as black popular culture historically, politically, and globally. Her book, The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop: Power Moves (2007), was published by Palgrave Macmillan; while her 2008 Fulbright Scholars grant in Ghana, West Africa provided the research for her forthcoming book on the effects of hip-hop in Accra, Ghana.