Katherine Dunham

Louis Draper made connections with many influential people over the years. Fellow photographers, painters, sculptors, writers and political activists were all apart of his community. Finding this portrait of Katherine Dunham was a great joy, but certainly not a surprise considering Draper’s mission as a photographer and activist.

Katherine Dunham, 1960s, Gelatin silver print

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was a groundbreaking dancer, choreographer, anthropologist and political activist. She founded the Dunham Dance Company in Chicago in 1937. After moving to New York City in 1939 the company began performing on Broadway and touring all over the world. Dunham’s techniques influenced alumni like Alvin Ailey and Ertha Kitt. Around this time the Dunham School of Art and Theater (also known as the Dunham School of Arts and Research) was founded. Prior to teaching dance, Dunham went to school to pursue a degree in anthropology. She spent extensive time in the Caribbean, specifically Haiti, working on her ethnographic study of dance. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 1936 with a BA in social anthropology.

Dunham and her company faced significant discrimination and unfair treatment while touring. In this video Dunham discusses one of the most memorable moments of touring:

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