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Dunham, Katherine

Born: 1909 AD
Died: 2006 AD

1909 – Katherine Dunham born on the 22nd of June in Chicago, and raised in Joliet, Illinois. She did not begin formal dance training until her late teens.

1933 – In Chicago she studied with Ludmilla Speranzeva and Mark Turbyfill, and danced her first leading role in Ruth Page’s ballet "La Guiablesse".

1936 – She attended the University of Chicago on scholarship (B.A., Social Anthropology,), where she was inspired by the work of anthropologists Robert Redfield and Melville Herskovits, who stressed the importance of the survival of African culture and ritual in understanding African-American culture.

1937 – 1938 – As dance director of the Negro Unit of the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago, she made dances for "Emperor Jones" and "Run Lil’ Chillun," and presented her first version of "L’Ag’Ya" on the 27th of January.

1937 – She returned to Chicago, She founded the Negro Dance Group, a company of black artists dedicated to presenting aspects of African-American and African-Caribbean dance. Immediately she began incorporating the dances she had learned into her choreography.

1939 – Moved her company to New York City, where she became dance director of the New York Labor Stage, choreographing the labor-union musical "Pins and Needles." Simultaneously she was preparing a new production, "Tropics and Le Jazz Hot: From Haiti to Harlem."

1940 – Her company appeared in the black Broadway musical, "Cabin in the Sky," staged by George Balanchine, in which Dunham played the sultry siren Georgia Brown — a character related to Dunham’s other seductress, "Woman with a Cigar," from her solo "Shore Excursion" in "Tropics."

       – That same year married John Pratt, a theatrical designer who worked with her at the Chicago Federal Theatre Project, and for the next 47 years, until his death, Pratt was Dunham’s husband and her artistic collaborator.

1945 – Opened the Dunham School of Dance and Theater (sometimes called the Dunham School of Arts and Research) in Manhattan. Although technique classes were the heart of the school, they were supplemented by courses in humanities, philosophy, languages, aesthetics, drama, and speech.

1946 – She choreographed more than 90 individual dances, and produced five revues, four of which played on Broadway and toured worldwide. Her most critically acclaimed revue was her  "Bal Negre," containing another Dunham dance favorite, "Shango," based directly on "vodoun" ritual.

1951 – Premiered "Southland," an hour-long ballet about lynching, though it was only performed in Chile and Paris.

1962 – She opened a Broadway production, "Bambouche," featuring 14 dancers, singers, and musicians of the Royal Troupe of Morocco, along with the Dunham company. The next year she choreographed the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of "Aida" thereby becoming the Met’s first black choreographer.

1965 – 1966 – She was cultural adviser to the President of Senegal. She attended Senegal’s First World Festival of Negro Arts as a representative from the United States.

1967 – She opened the Performing Arts Training Center, a cultural program and school for the neighborhood children and youth, with programs in dance, drama, martial arts, and humanities.

1977 – She opened the Katherine Dunham Museum and Children’s Workshop to house her collections of artifacts from her travels and research, as well as archival material from her personal life and professional career.

1992 – In February, at the age of 82, She again became the subject of international attention when she began a 47-day fast at her East St. Louis home.

2006 – Died on the 21st of May.