Peggy and Murray SchwartzNov 2, 2012
The Dance Claimed Me
A Biography of Pearl Primus
Yale University Press 2012
For some time now I've been in spaces with dancers and dance scholars who lament the amount of available research on some of the black luminaries in our field. Sometimes the need for a particular project is present for so long that its absence is taken for granted and treated as the norm. One of the "missing" but "much needed" projects I've heard talked about over the years is a book length treatment of the work of modern dance pioneer and scholar Dr. Pearl Primus. I'm really glad that her dear friends, Peggy and Murray Schwartz decided to fill that empty space with their latest project that is as much scholarly research as it is a homage to their very dear friend. For the entirety of her 74-year lifespan, Dr. Primus worked tirelessly and diligently as a dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist bringing the value of African culture to students and audience members around the globe. Though Primus studied and honed her approach to contemporary dance right alongside well known artists like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Hanya Holm her work, while known to some has not been celebrated in the same way for its enduring impact. Pearl's career began in 1943 as she began sharing dance works that infused her commitment to social justice and racial commentary with her approach to concert dance. In The Dance Claimed Me: A Biography of Pearl Primus (Yale University Press, 2012), Peggy Schwartz and Murray Schwartz, examine the ways in which Pearl's career influenced dance, education and culture, charting her life story through its beginnings in Trinidad and work with the New Dance Group up to and through her later years. Dr. Primus's extensive travels through Africa, the Caribbean, Israel, the United States and Europe are discussed in this book and presented as an example of what the life of a committed dancer, scholar and humanitarian can look like through hard work and dedication. Peggy and Murray were longtime personal friends of Primus decided to take on the task of cementing her name in the literature by crafting a tender, thoughtful and soaring biography that focuses on not only her creative work but her lasting impact on the contemporary dance landscape. Peggy Schwartz is professor emeritus of dance and former director of the dance program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Murray Schwartz is former dean of humanities and fine arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He teaches literature at Emerson College.