Katherine Dunham was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. She was a dancer, anthropologist, and activist who paved the way for many African American dancers and scholars. Her life was full of adventure, and her legacy lives on to this day.

Here are some inspiring aspects of Katherine Dunham’s life.

The Early Life of Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham was born on June 22nd, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the youngest of five children in a loving family. Her mother encouraged her love of learning and enrolled her in the University of Chicago’s Laboratory School. Katherine excelled in school and even skipped a grade! However, her life was not without its challenges. Her family struggled to make ends meet, and Katherine had to work long hours to help them.

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However, Katherine found solace in dance. She began taking ballet lessons as a child, and when she was 16, she moved to New York City to attend the prestigious Teachers College at Columbia University.

The Early Career of Katherine Dunham

In New York, Katherine pursued her passion for dance in earnest. She studied dance with some of the best teachers in the city, including the legendary Martha Graham. Katherine wanted to make dance more accessible to African Americans, so she formed a dance troupe called The Katherine Dunham Dance Company in 1939. They performed a mix of African, Caribbean, and American dances.

The Anthropologist in Katherine Dunham

Besides dance, Katherine was also interested in anthropology. She believed that dancers could learn from different cultures and incorporate those elements into their performances. In 1944, Katherine became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. Her research focused on the African diaspora in the Caribbean and Brazil. She incorporated her findings into her dance routines, making her work unique and groundbreaking.

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Katherine Dunham and Activism

Katherine always had a passion for social justice. During World War II, she traveled to military bases to perform for African American soldiers. She protested against segregation and racism in the United States, and in 1964, she even ran for Congress on the Illinois Democratic ticket!

Katherine Dunham’s Legacy

Katherine Dunham’s legacy is far-reaching. She revolutionized the field of dance by mixing different forms of movement and incorporating elements of anthropology. She also paved the way for African American dancers and scholars, proving that they could be just as successful as their white counterparts. Her dance company continued after her death in 2006, and her influence can be seen in the works of many modern dance companies.

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Q. What was Katherine Dunham’s dance company called?

A. The Katherine Dunham Dance Company.

Q. What was Katherine Dunham’s Ph.D. in?

A. Anthropology.

Q. In what year did Katherine Dunham pass away?

A. 2006.

Q. What made Katherine Dunham’s dance routines unique?

A. She incorporated elements of anthropology into her movements, making them a mix of different cultures and traditions.

Q. What did Katherine Dunham protest against?

A. Segregation and racism in the United States.

Q. What is Katherine Dunham’s legacy?

A. She revolutionized the field of dance, paved the way for African American dancers and scholars, and inspired many modern dance companies.

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Q. What did Katherine Dunham study at Columbia University?

A. Dance.


Katherine Dunham was an incredible woman who made a significant impact on the world of dance, anthropology, and activism. Her life was filled with adventure, and her legacy continues to inspire people to this day. Whether you’re a dancer, scholar, or activist, there’s something to learn from Katherine Dunham’s incredible legacy.

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