Joanna Dee Das, "Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora" (Oxford UP, 2017)


By drawing on a vast, never-utilized trove of archival materials along with oral histories, choreographic analysis, and embodied research, Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora (Oxford University Press, 2017) offers new insight about how this remarkable woman built political solidarity through the arts. One of the most important dance artists of the twentieth century, dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) created works that thrilled audiences the world over. As an African American woman, she broke barriers of race and gender, most notably as the founder of an important dance company that toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades. The author makes the argument that Dunham was more than a dancer she was an intellectual and activist committed to using dance to fight for racial justice. Dunham saw dance as a tool of liberation, as a way for people of African descent to reclaim their history and forge a new future. She put her theories into motion not only through performance, but also through education, scholarship, travel, and choices about her own life. The book examines how Dunham struggled to balance artistic dreams, personal desires, economic needs, and political commitments in the face of racism and sexism. Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora analyzes Dunham's multiple spheres of engagement, assessing her dance performances as a form of black feminist protest while also presenting new material about her schools in New York and East St. Louis, her work in Haiti, and also traces Dunham's influence over the course of several decades from the New Negro Movement of the 1920s to the Black Power Movement of the late 1960s and beyond. Dance historian Joanna Dee Das is a dancer, a scholar, and an Assistant Professor of Dance at Washington University in St. Louis. She is passionate about teaching dance history from a global perspective and linking theory and practice in the classroom. Her research interests include dance in the African Diaspora, musical theater dance, the politics of performance in the twentieth century, and urban cultural policy. She received her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, her M.A. in American Studies, from New York University, and her undergraduate degree in Dance and History, also from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in Dance Research Journal, Journal of American History, Journal of African American History, Journal of Urban History, and Studies in Musical Theatre. This is her first book.
James P. Stancil II is an educator, multimedia journalist, and writer. He is also the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area NGO dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people. He can be reached most easily through his LinkedIn page or at

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