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House Approves Resolution Honoring Katherine Dunham

On July 23, the House approved, by voice vote, H. Res. 655, a resolution that honors the life and accomplishments of Katherine Dunham.

Sponsored by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), the resolution contains a number of findings, including:

  • Katherine Dunham was born on June 22, 1909, and passed away on May 21, 2006, at the age of 96. Throughout her lifetime she was a pioneering dancer and choreographer, author, and civil rights activist;
  • in the 1930s Katherine Dunham revolutionized American dance by developing a uniquely different dance form incorporating the roots of black dance and ritual;
  • Katherine Dunham received a bachelor of arts degree in social anthropology from the University of Chicago. She was a pioneer in the use of folk and ethnic choreography, and was one of the founders of the anthropological dance movement;
  • she used her dance and choreography career, as well as her public status, to draw attention to the civil rights movement and the issue of segregation;
  • in 1931, Katherine Dunham brought African and Caribbean influences to the European dominated dance world when she founded “Les Ballet Negre,” the first black ballet company in the United states;
  • Katherine Dunham was the first black choreographer at the Metropolitan Opera. She was also a dancer, choreographer, and director on Broadway;
  • in 1993, Katherine Dunham went on a 47-day hunger strike to call attention to the plight of Haitians, thereby helping to shift public opinion on United States relations with the Republic of Haiti and precipitating the return of the first democratically elected president of the Republic of Haiti;
  • she received ten honorary doctorates and numerous other awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, Albert Schweitzer Music Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, the French Legion of Honor, and the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award; and
  • with the death of Katherine Dunham on May 21, 2006, in New York City, the United States lost a prolific and premier artist and humanitarian.The House of Representatives honors the life and accomplishments of Katherine Dunham and recognizes her immeasurable contributions to the arts and all of humanity.

    Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) stated, “Katherine Mary Dunham was an American dancer, choreographer, songwriter, author, educator, and activist who was trained as an anthropologist. Dunham had one of the most successful dance careers in American and European theater of the 20th century…Upon receipt of her degree in anthropology in 1936, she was awarded a fellowship and left for the West Indies to do field research in anthropology and dance…What Dunham gave modern dance was a combination of African and Caribbean styles of movement which she integrated with techniques of ballet and modern dance…Dunham’s works have been performed on Broadway and on film, and have left an indelible mark on modern dance…Today, we honor the life of Katherine Dunham and her contribution to the arts and to the world.”

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