Welcome to KDCAH!

Katherine Dunham is probably best known as a legendary dancer who propelled the awareness of the cultures of the African Diaspora via her choreography. Her famous dance technique reflects a fusion of many cultures.

Miss. Dunham was a true renaissance woman. She was an artist, anthropologist, author, activist, manager, movie star, producer, educator, wife, mother and so much more.

The world needs to know about her wonderful life story and there’s no better learning environment than the Museum and Centers for Arts and Humanities she created.

Please take a global journey through this website and find out more about Miss Dunham’s legacy, Museum, Dance Technique, Dance Seminar, Children’s Workshop, and Membership/Giving Opportunities.

Thank you for visiting our website and we invite you back again and again.

Her legacy continues...

Professional Career Timeline

Katherine Dunham's ballet teacher, Ludmilla Speranzeva. Photo provided by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.1928

  • Began to study ballet with Ludmilla Speranzeva, Vera Mirova, Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page


  • Entered University of Chicago as an Anthropology major, focusing on dance


  • Formed dance company, Ballet Négre


  • Ballet Négre’s debut performance at the annual Beaux Arts Ball in Chicago
  • Ballet Négre disband


  • Opened her first dance school – the Negro Dance Group – in Chicago


  • Danced in Ruth Page’s ballet La Guiablese (The Devil Woman)
  • Acted as assistant to Ruth Page, ballet director of the Chicago Opera
  • Ballet Négre was revived with students from the Negro Dance Group
  • Choreographed Spanish Dance and Fantasie Négre for Ballet Négre
  • Dunham and company appeared at the Chicago World’s Fair


  • Received a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to study the dances of the West Indies
  • Began to travel and conduct research – Accompong, Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad

Katherine Dunham and her company in the 1936 work, Fantasie Negre. Photo provided by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.1936

  • First trip to Haiti
  • Received a bachelor of philosophy from the University of Chicago


  • Ballet Négre performed in A Negro Dance Evening for the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), New York
  • Premiered Rara Tonga as part of Primitive Rhythims, Goodman Theater, Chicago
  • Premiered Tropics, including Woman With a Cigar, Abraham Lincoln Center, Chicago


  • Choreographed and produced L’Ag’Ya, Federal Theater, Chicago
  • Tropics, Goodman Theater, Chicago
  • Named director, Negro Unit of the Chicago branch of the Federal Theater Project
  • Staged many productions, including Run Li’l Chil’lun and The Empoeror Jones
  • Choreographed A las Montanas, her first solo, Abraham Lincoln Center, Chicago
  • Submited thesis at the University of Chicago – “Dances of Haiti: Their Social Organization, Classification, Form, and Function”
  • Choreographed and performed in Barrelhouse
  • Choreographed Son (Sound)


  • Katherine Dunham and Dance Company performed for the Quadres Society, University of Cincinnati
  • Performed in her first film, Carnival of Rhythm, released in 1941
  • Dance Director for “Pins & Needles” produced by I.L.G.W.U.
  • Katherine Dunham and Dance Company performed Tropics Le Jazz “Hot”, College Inn Panther Room, Hotel Sherman, Chicago
  • Choreographed Bahiana
  • Published “Sketchbook of a Young Dancer in La Martinique” under the pseudonym Kaye Dunn
  • Directed I Hear America Singing, New York
  • Two articles by Dunham appear in Esquire: “La Boule Blanche” (September 1939) and “L’Ag’ya of Martinique” (November 1939)
  • Created a dance for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (IGLWU)'s Broadway musical Pins and Needles
  • Appeared in the first hour-long American Spectacular on NBC


  • Staged and choreographed Tropical Pinafore, for the American Negro Light Opera Association of Chicago
  • Tropics and Le Jazz "Hot" debuted as Sunday performances at the Windsor Theater, New York
  • Dunham remounted scenes from the Spanish Earth at New York's Windsor Theater
  • The Dunham Company opened the nightclub at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago
  • Dunham collaborated with George Balanchine on choreography for dances in the musical play Cabin in the Sky, Martin Beck Theater, New York


  • First United States tour in the Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky
  • Premiered Rites de Passage at the Curran Theater in San Francisco


  • Featured dancer in the patriotic film Star Spangled Rhythm
  • Staged dances for the film Pardon My Sarong

Katherine Dunham in a performance presented by legendary Sol Hurok, 1943. Photo provided by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.1943

  • Katherine Dunham and Company stared in Tropical Revue, Martin Beck Theater, New York, presented by impresario Sol Hurok
  • Katherine Dunham and Company took the show on a national tour
  • Dunham and her company appeared in the film Stormy Weather


  • Premiered Choros (nos. 1-5), Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto Flaming Youth, 1927 premiered, New Britain, Connecticut
  • The Dunham School of Dance and Theater opened, Caravan Hall (Isadora Duncan's former studio), New York
  • Dunham and her company appeared in such clubs as Chez Paree in Chicago, El Rancho Hotel and the Trocadero in Las Vegas, and Ciro's in Hollywood
  • Tropical Review appeared for one week at Cleveland's Hanna Theater
  • After performing at the Memorial Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky, Dunham stated to the audience, "It makes me very happy to know that you have liked us . . . but tonight our hearts are very sad because this is a farewell to Louisville. . . . I have discovered that your management will not allow people like you to sit next to people like us. I hope that time and the unhappiness of this war for tolerance and democracy . . . will change some of these things. Perhaps then we can return."


  • The Dunham School in New York moved to 220 West 43rd Street
  • Tropical Review tours Los Angeles
  • The Katherine Dunham Dancers appeared at the Belasco Theater in New York in Blue Holiday
  • Choreographed and performed in Shango
  • The Katherine Dunham Dancers appeared in Concert Varieites on Broadway
  • Dunham choreographed, directed, and stared in the musical play Carib Song, Adelphi Theater, New York
  • John Pratt, Dunham’s companion, future husband, and costume and set designer, is drafted to the U.S. Army and Dunham assumes responsibility for costume and set design
  • Dunham's article "Goombay" appeared in the November issue of Mademoiselle
  • Wrote “Anthropologist Katie,” an article for Negro Digest


  • Premiered Nañigo and La Camparsa, as numbers in the suite Motivos, Temple Theater, Portland, Oregon
  • The Dunham School’s name is changed to the Katherine Dunham School of Arts and Research
  • John Pratt is discharged from the army and reassumes his role as costume and set designer
  • Dunham's first book is published: Journey to Accompong (New York: Henry Holt, 1946; reprint, Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1971)
  • Bal Négre opens at New York's Belasco Theater


  • The Katherine Dunham Experimental Group presented Caribbean Backgrounds at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
  • Choreographed the musical play Windy City, Great Northern Theater, Chicago
  • "Dances of Haiti," Dunham's thesis written for the University of Chicago in 1937, was translated into Spanish by Javier Romero and published as Las danzas de Haití as a special issue of Acta antropológica 2.4 (Mexico, 1947)
  • Rhumba Trio is premiered at Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes


  • Bal Négre played at the Geary Theater, San Francisco
  • Choreographed Angelique, Blues Trio, and Veracuzana for engagements at Ciro's nightclub, Hollywood
  • Dunham and her company appeared in the film Casbah
  • Appeared with her company at the Prince of Wales Theatre (London) in A Caribbean Rhapsody
  • Delivered an address, "The State of Cults among the Deprived," to the Royal Anthropological Society in London

Katherine Dunham, John Pratt and their daughter Marie-Christine. Photo provided by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.1949

  • Dunham and her company performed at the Alhambra Theater in Brussels
  • Premiered Jazz in Five Movements at the Théatre National de l'Opéra in Paris
  • Dunham and her company appeared in the Italian film Botta e risposta
  • Choreographed Afrique and a new version of Adeus Terras while in Rome
  • Purchases Habitation Leclerc, her estate in Haiti
  • Dunham married John Pratt on July 10. In addition to being Dunham’s husband, John Pratt is credited with designing costumes and scenery for most of Dunham’s productions
  • Dunham and her husband, John Pratt, adopted their daughter, Marie-Christine


  • "Dances of Haiti," published in French as Les danse d'Haēti, with a foreword by Claude Lévi-Strauss (Paris: Éditions Fasquelle, 1950)
  • Sol Hurok presented Katherine Dunham and Her Company in a dance revue at the Broadway Theater in New York


  • Dunham and her company toured South America, Europe, and North Africa (1951-1953)
  • Premiered her ballet Southland at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago, Chile.


  • The Dunham School in New York renamed the Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts
  • A photograph of Dunham appeared on the front cover of Ballet magazine (March 1952)
  • Named a chevalier of the Haitian Légion d'Honneur et Merite
  • Dunham's short story "Afternoon into Night" appeared in Bandwagon (June 1952)
  • Dunham and her company performed in Denmark
  • Choreographed and performed in Acaraje for Hommage ą Dorival Caymmi in Arachon, France
  • Dunham and her company performed at the Windsor Palace in Barcelona
  • Dunham and her company toured North Africa (1952-1953)
  • Appeared on Spectaculars on BBC, London
  • Appeared on Spectaculars on National Television, Paris


  • Choreographed Afrique du Nord
  • Dunham and her company toured the United States and Mexico.


  • Dunham and her company toured Europe and South America (1954-1955)
  • Dunham and her company appeared in two European films - Mambo and Die Grosse Starparade
  • Choreographed and performed in Liebes Sender, a German film
  • Esso World Theater, Public Television


  • Dunham and her company toured Mexico
  • Dunham and her company appeared in the Mexican film Música en la noche
  • Dunham and her company performed in the Greek Theater, Los Angeles
  • Sol Hurok presented Katherine Dunham and Her Company in a dance revue at the Broadway Theater, New York
  • Appeared on Spectaculars in Buenos Aires


  • Dunham and her company toured Australia and New Zealand (1956-1957)
  • Appeared on Spectaculars on CBC, Toronto


  • Appeared on Australian Television, Sydney


  • Dunham and her company toured East Asia
  • Provided choreography for the film Green Mansions


  • Dunham's third book published: A Touch of Innocence: Memoirs of Childhood (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959; reprint, University of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • Dunham and her company toured Denmark, Germany, France, Greece, and other European countries


  • Dunham and her company appeared in a German television special, Karibische Rhythmen
  • The Dunham Company is disbanded, only coming together for special events


  • Katherine Dunham, a few former Dunham dancers, and the Royal Troupe of Morocco appeared in a new revue, Bamboche!, at New York's 54th Street Theater. (Dunham’s last appearance on Broadway)


  • Choreographed Anabacoa for an engagement at Club Antilles in the Hotel Chalfonte–Haddon Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • Choreographed a new production of Aida for the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Katherine Dunham with a student, 1960s. Photo provided by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.1964

  • Dunham's short story "The Crime of Pablo Martínez" appears in Ellery Queen's Magazine
  • Provided choreography for the film The Bible, directed by John Huston and produced by Dino de Laurentiis
  • Became artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale


  • Staged Charles Gounod's opera Faust at Southern Illinois University
  • Reassembled some of her dancers for a New York performance at Harlem's Apollo Theater on the occasion of American Ballet Theater's twenty-fifth anniversary gala
  • Directed Albert Husson's musical comedy Deux Anges Sont Venus at the Théatre de Paris
  • Directed Ciao, Rudi in Rome


  • Invited by President Léopold Senghor to train the National Ballet of Senegal
  • Appointed by President Léopold Senghor to the position of adviser for the first World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, also known as the World Festival of Negro Arts (Festival des Arts NŹgre), held in Dakar
  • U.S. State Department gave Dunham official status in naming her U.S. representative to the festival in Dakar
  • Invites master drummer Mor Thiam (from Senegal), to teach in East Saint Louis
  • Directed theater performance at the San Remo Festival in New York


  • “Afternoon into Night” is reprinted in Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, edited by Langston Hughes (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967)
  • Completed the manuscripts for Island Possessed (published in 1969) and a fantasy for young people with a Senegalese setting, Kasamance (published in 1974)
  • Collaborated with Buckminster Fuller on a proposal for a cultural arts center in East Saint Louis
  • Received a $400,000 grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) but was thwarted by local politicians who do not share her vision
  • The Equal Opportunity Commission, as part of the Southern Illinois University's Experiment in Higher Education, funded Dunham's proposal for creating a Performing Arts Training Center (PATC) in East Saint Louis
  • Established a cultural education program at the Alton campus of Southern Illinois University and, with two former members of the Dunham company
  • Established classes at Rock Junior High School in East Saint Louis

Katherine Dunham and Eli Lesiat, Haitian President, 1939. Photograph by Bob Golby. Photo provided by Southerin Illinois University Carbondale, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.1968

  • Named a grand officer of the Haitian Légion d'Honneur et Merite
  • Received the Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago Alumni Association
  • Appointed honoree on the President's Council on Youth Opportunity in Washington, D.C.
  • Directed A Dream Deferred and Ode to Taylor Jones in East Saint Louis with the Youth Dance Group from her Performing Arts Training Center
  • Receives a Dance Magazine Award


  • Dunham's fourth book is published: Island Possessed (New York: Doubleday, 1969; reprint, University of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • Directed theater performance at the Black Arts Festival at Rockhurst College, Kansas City


  • Dunham took children from East Saint Louis to Washington, D.C., for the White House Conference on Children, hosted by Adlai Stevenson Jr.
  • Choreographed and directed a tour of the American midwest and east: included Psychedelia, South American Suite, and Drums of Kasamance


  • Received the Dance Division Heritage Award from the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation


  • Directed the world premiere of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha at Morehouse College, Atlanta
  • Received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois
  • Received a National Center of Afro-American Artists Award from the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, Boston


  • Dunham's fifth book is published: Kasamance: A Fantasy (New York: Odarkai Books, 1974)
  • Named to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and to the Entertainment Hall of Fame Foundation
  • Lectures at the International Institute of Ethnomusicology and Folklore in Caracas, Venezuela


  • The Katherine Dunham Fund purchased three adjoining houses in East Saint Louis from Southern Illinois University, to be used as a personal residence, an office, and a residence for students, instructors or visitors
  • Given the International Women's Year Award, United Nations Association, Saint Louis Chapter


  • Visiting professor of Afro-American studies for the spring quarter at the University of California at Berkeley
  • An exhibit entitled Kaiso! Katherine Dunham, honoring Dunham was mounted in the Women's Center at the University of California at Berkeley
  • Dunham student dancers performed in Wolftrap Park, aired on PBS
  • The Katherine Dunham Fund bought an English Regency-style townhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue at Tenth Street in East Saint Louis for use as a museum with a carriage house to be used as a children’s workshop

Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum.1977

  • The Katherine Dunham Museum and Children's Workshop is opened in East Saint Louis
  • Received an honorary doctorate of literature from Atlanta University


  • Received the Dance Pioneer Award given by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
  • Kaiso! Katherine Dunham: An Anthology of Writings, edited by VèVè A. Clark and Margaret B. Wilkerson, is published in a limited, numbered edition of 130 copies by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California at Berkeley


  • Presented the Albert Schweitzer Music Award at “A Katherine Dunham Gala” at New York’s Carnegie Hall
  • Received three honorary doctorates of fine arts: from Westfield State College in Massachusetts, from Brown University, and from Dartmouth College
  • International opening of the Katherine Dunham Museum in East Saint Louis


  • Rites de Passage was taped for Dance in America in a program titled "Divine Drumbeats: Katherine Dunham and Her People," WNET-TV, New York
  • Received a CBS grant for her Children's Workshop in East Saint Louis
  • Received the National Dance Week Award from the Dance Concert Society


  • Received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri


  • Retired from Southern Illinois University


  • Dances of Haiti published in English, with photographs by Patricia Cummings (Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, 1983)
  • Received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
  • Awarded the grande croix of the Légion d'Honneur et Merite by the Haitian embassy
  • One of five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.


  • Received an honorary doctorate of laws from Lincoln University and an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Howard University
  • The Dunham Technique Seminar was inaugurated in East St. Louis, Illinois


  • Received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Anthropological Association
  • John Pratt, Dunham's husband and artistic collaborator for forty-seven years, dies
  • Received the Southern Cross, Award of Honor and Merit from the Government of Brazil
  • Received the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award
  • Received the Medal of Artistic Merit in Dance, given by the International Council on Dance, UNESCO
  • Received the Oral Self-Portrait from the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.


  • The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater produced "The Magic of Katherine Dunham"
  • Received the Ebony Magazine American Achievement Award in Fine Arts
  • Received the Candice "Trailblazer" Award from the National Coalition of One Hundred Black Women
  • Awarded honorary doctorates of fine arts from Tufts University and Buffalo State College
  • Named a Founder of Dance in America and is honored as such at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York


  • The governments of both Haiti and France designated Dunham as an officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
  • Named as recipient of the President's Award of the National Council for Culture and Art, New York


  • Awarded a star on the Saint Louis Walk of Fame
  • Dunham is one of nine individuals presented the National Medal of the Arts by President George Bush


  • Received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Spelman College in Atlanta
  • Received the Caribbean Award from the government of Trinidad and Tobago


  • Wrote foreword for Black Dance: From 1619 to Today, Lynn Fauley Emery


  • Protested the plight of Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States who President Bush ordered back to Haiti by engaging in a forty-seven day hunger strike


  • Haiti awarded citizenship to Katherine Dunham
  • Received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Chicago State University


  • Became artist-in-residence and lecturer at the University of Hawaii


  • Received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles


  • During Dunham’s 90th birthday celebration, a grant from the Illinois Arts Council was announced and she received a Smith Award, presented to Dunham by representatives of the Smithsonian Institution


  • Named one of "America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by the Dance Heritage Coalition
  • The Library of Congress received $1 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to undertake the Katherine Dunham Legacy Project
  • The superintendent of School District 189 in East Saint Louis and other community leaders presented plans for the Katherine Dunham Academy of Performing, Visual, and Cultural Arts
  • A photograph of Dunham in L'Ag'Ya appeared on the front cover of Dance Magazine (August 2000) for the feature article written by Wendy Perron, “Katherine Dunham: One-Woman Revolution"
  • Provided choreography for Free to Dance, a documentary
  • Singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover attended a meeting at Dunham’s request where Illinois governor George Ryan announced a $57.4 million educational grant to the East Saint Louis district


  • Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in western Massachusetts, organized a special tribute for Katherine Dunham on her 93rd birthday with American and African dancers and musicians
  • Received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Harvard University
  • The Library of Congress begins a complete documentation of Dunham Technique


  • Honored with a three-day tribute in New York City with performances at Symphony Space on upper Broadway

Katherine Dunham2004

  • "A Conversation with Katherine Dunham" is presented at Barnard College in New York City
  • Headlined Baila USA, the annual African-American cultural festival in Miami, Florida. She teaches a master class, with assistance from Theodore Jamison, and attends a gala performance and a bembé, a traditional party of the Santería religion


  • An expanded version of Kaiso!: An Anthology of Writings by and about Katherine Dunham, edited by VèVè A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson, is published by the University of Wisconsin Press
  • Katherine Dunham passed away on May 21, 2006


Information obtained from:

Southern Illinois University Carbondale Morris Library Special Collections Research Center

The Library of Congress http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/html/dunham/dunham-timeline.html

DVRepublic http://www.dvrepublic.com/view.php?stid=14

Kaiso! Writings by and about Katherine Dunham, Edited by VèVè A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson