Popular Anthropology: Dance, Race, and Katherine Dunham

Strom, Kirsten
January 2010
Avant-Garde Critical Studies;2010, Vol. 25, p285
Academic Journal
As a lifelong student of both dance and anthropology, Katherine Dunham would pioneer a hybrid field that united her two passions. She developed her reputation as a “Dance Anthropologist” in the 1940s, when segregation still ran rampant in the United States, and an interrogation of the political nature of the discipline of anthropology became increasingly imperative. Dunham made no effort to disguise that her own agenda was to celebrate the richness of the cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora. In the process of pursuing this agenda, she crossed the boundaries between “scholarly” research and creative output, verbal and visual knowledge, and high culture and popular entertainment. In her varied career, she would conduct anthropological research in Haiti and Senegal, perform in theaters dedicated to the art of Modern Dance, and appear in popular Hollywood musicals such as Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) and Stormy Weather (1943). She combined the critical perspective of intellectual discourse with the mass appeal of popular culture in order to effectively disseminate her work.


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