Here at Máthair we have been very quiet, we have been consciously listening, reflecting and educating ourselves. We started this blog as a safe inclusive space for mothers/pregnant people to share and tell stories. The power of storytelling is something we feel very passionate about, especially in current days. We believe stories create magic and a sense of wonder at the world. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others. Storytelling is a unique way for children to develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures, and can promote a positive attitude towards people from different lands and religions. We have decided to share some short stories about incredible women from all over the world in the hope to educate and inform, not only other people but ourselves too. First up is my daughters new favourite dancer, Katherine Dunham - Choreographer and Anthropologist.
We hope you enjoy, much love Cheryl and Lyndsey
(1909 – 2006)
Despite a strict upbringing, Katherine was a creative and enterprising child. At the age of twelve she published a short story in W. E. B. Du Bois’s monthly magazine, and at fourteen she produced, directed and starred in a performance to raise money for her church. Dancing, though, was her true love, and she studied modern dance and ballet in her childhood. Everything changed for her after she attended a lecture on black culture at the University of Chicago. She learned that much of the black culture in America – the music, folklore and dances – had all begun somewhere in Africa.
Katherine wanted to find out how the roots of African culture had spread around the world, so she began studying anthropology, focusing on dances from the African diaspora. Throughout her career she found a way to balance studying dance, teaching it and actually performing it. In the early 1930s she formed the Ballet Nègre, one of the first black ballet companies in the United States, and the Negro Dance Group, a school to teach young black dancers about their heritage.
In 1935 she received a grant from the Rosenwald Fund and prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to conduct an ethnographic study of dance in the Caribbean. She travelled to Jamaica, Martinique and Trinidad but truly connected with the culture in Haiti.
After Katherine returned to the United States, she founded the Dunham School of Dance and Theatre. The dancers toured and performed and taught movement to artists, dancers and actors. Her classes were extremely popular due to her unique methods. She combined traditional African and Caribbean movements with ballet and modern dance in an innovative way that was soon canonised as the Dunham Technique. It's still taught in dance classes today, and she is referred to as the Matriarch of Black Dance.
She was also a social activist and continued to fight against racism and injustice all around the world throughout her life. She once refused to hold a show after finding out that the city's black residents had not been allowed to buy tickets for the performance. She was a ground breaking visionary and her legacy of spirited dance, cultural acceptance, and social justice lives on.
Words by Cheryl Gault