Our fifth dance will involve our study of Black pioneers in modern dance such as Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus. These great women studied anthropology and traveled extensively to study the influence of African dance in other cultures. They also applied their knowledge to future choreography. Modern dance is different from ballet in many respect. The most important of these is that modern dance looks to the expressive needs of the individual rather than to European models for its movement techniques. “The ballet is a formal classical style of dance, which recognizes five positions and which requires hat any movement begin and end with one of the five positions, Modern dance is expressionistic, and so any position necessary to create the desired effect is acceptable”.
Katherine Dunham was always interested in dance as well as anthropology. A lecture on African culture that had survived the new world inspired her to read her to read about Africa. She also took many anthropology courses. Dunham applied to the Rosenwald Fund for a grant to study dances of various cultures and received the grant.
In 1935, she began an extended trip to the West Indies. She studied dances in Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti. In Haiti, she found Charleston steps done in native dances. She formed a dance troupe and went on to win fame by appearing in musicals and movies like “Stormy Weather’.
Like Dunham, Pearl Primus was a dancer who also studied anthropology. She was born in Trinidad. Her grandfather was a descendent of the Ashanti people and held the distinction of head dancer of Trinidad. She quickly assembled a troupe and performed throughout New York where her family had moved when she was a young teen. “Primus was awarded the last and largest grant the Rosenwald foundation was to make.”
The president of the foundation saw her dance and assumed she had been to Africa to study the native dances. When he learned she had never been there, he quickly decided to raise money so that she could go. Primus was noted as a dancer, anthropologist, and lecturer, and completed her doctorate in anthropology wen she was fifty-two years old.
Our dance evolving from this modern period will be of great importance because modern dance inspired many Black dancers. Blacks were denied entrance to ballet careers so modern dance became the method of dance by which they could shine. We will use photographs from
Black Dance In America
, as well as videos of The Alvin Alley Dance Theatre. Our music will come from the jazz and blues made between the years 1930 and 1940.