Katherine Dunham

June 22, 2016

Today In History

‘Katherine Dunham, dancer and choreographer, was born in Joliet, IL, on this date June 22, 1909. In the 1940’s, Dunham formed a dance company that toured 60 countries, founded a dance school, and authored books about the dance techniques she taught.’

(photo: Katherine Dunham)

- CARTER Magazine


being in the field of anthropology, all of the historical issues stand out significantly to me. moreover, they aren’t just of the past. they’re still quite alive and thriving today. anthropology started by colonial powers who, in the process of taking over the planet, needed people to go out in communities and get as much information about them in order to best and most effectively conquer them. the Nuer (or Naath), for example in southern Sudan, kept the British at bay well after the surrounding communities had been colonized. they sent E.E. Evans-Prichard in to get the low-down, and they were in time (with his help), colonized as well. this is how anthropology began, and for me it’s highly problematic. even now, anthropologists still continue to work in association with western militaries and corporations. 

i hope to be an anthropologist, in the spirit of Pearl Primus, Zora Neale Hurston, and Katherine Dunham, who unlike the majority of anthropologists (past or present), sought to actually live and be a part of their studies. Hurston, it has been said, was initiated into Vodun around 5 times - each time in a different community, within a different tradition and emerging each time with a different perspective for knowledge to share with others but also for her own personal experience. Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham not only studied the different types of African dance on the continent and in the diaspora, but started their own dance troupes and educated the world on African diaspora practices and “survivals”. Kamari Clarke, an anthropology professor, remarked in one of her books that anthropologists should start studying colonial powers just as much as they do the colonized peoples. and as opposed to going to another (seemingly) remote village in Africa or Papua New Guinea or South America, she’s researched international law and written a book on why all those tried in International court tribunals have largely been Africans.

it is no coincidence that these are all Black women. our perspectives are bound to bring a change in an overwhelmingly white, western, middle/upper class male dominated field. this practice of going to another rural village, imposing on their lives, taking a bunch of pictures of them and giving them nothing in exchange for contributing to your studies, books, promotions, etc. is not something i wish to be a part of. it’s bout time to end it altogether.