Event—Public Programming

A Woman Ahead of Her Time: Katherine Dunham and Afro-Caribbean Dance

Join us for a discussion and dance demonstration focused on the extraordinary life and work of choreographer, dancer, writer, and activist Katherine Dunham.


View the video recording of this program.

Join us for a discussion and dance demonstration focused on the extraordinary life and work of Katherine Dunham. Choreographer, dancer, writer, and activist, Dunham is a featured figure in the Newberry's current exhibition, Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time.

Called the “Matriarch of Black Dance,” Dunham fused modern, balletic, and Afro-Caribbean elements into her groundbreaking choreography. In 1935, as a student of anthropology at the University of Chicago, she traveled to Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti, studying island religions and rituals, including ceremonial dance. When she returned from the Caribbean, she found work with the Illinois Writers Project and wrote about the survival of African religious practices in Chicago through Black “cults” and storefront churches.

Dunham then took a position as dance director of Chicago's “Negro Unit” of the Federal Theatre Project. In the 1940s, Dunham founded a school in New York and traveled the world for two decades with the Dunham Company. ;In the 1960s, she turned her attention to East Saint Louis, IL where she brought dance and drumming to an impoverished community and founded the Performing Arts Training Center. Throughout her life, she continued to teach, codifying many of her movements into the “Dunham Technique,” a method and practice still widely taught.

In this program, Dunham's biographer Joanna Dee Das will be joined by dancer Amansu Eason, who will demonstrate the Dunham Technique.

Check out the exhibition catalog for Chicago Avant Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time.

This event is sponsored by the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

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Please note: This is an in-person event at the Newberry. Following guidelines from the Chicago Department of Public Health, masks are required for all attendees above the age of two, regardless of vaccination status.

In addition, we are limiting capacity to ensure social distancing is possible. If you feel sick on the day of the event, or have been in contact with someone who is sick, please stay home and visit us another time.

In compliance with an emergency travel order issued by the Chicago Department of Public Health, some visitors arriving from outside Illinois must take certain safety measures before visiting the Newberry.

We are closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19 in Chicago and will move this program online if recommendations from public health officials change.