Every February is Black History Month, so in today’s post, we decided to honour some of the incredible black talent that has changed the face of dance as we know it today.
Katherine Dunham is widely regarded as one of the pillars of black dance. Born in Chicago, she grew up to be a truly unstoppable force in the world of dance and beyond. She changed the face of jazz dance in the 1950s, when she fused elements of Caribbean and Latin American dance into the North American style. She also developed the Dunham technique of modern dance which is still taught today. Dunham lived for 96 years, during which she taught, inspired, and paved the way for a new generation of dancers to flourish. Some of her famous students include Eartha Kitt, James Dean, and Gregory Peck. She created and managed the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, the only self-sustaining black dance company of its time, for almost 3 decades. From Haiti to Japan, Brazil to Senegal, Dunham worked all over the globe, traveling for many years of her career. Katherine Dunham achieved so many outstanding feats that we can’t even include them all in this post, but we highly encourage you to do some further research if you’re interested.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Bill Robinson was an American tap dancer who dominated the stage and screen for the first half of the 20th century. He was the first to bring the majority of his movement up onto his toes, which gave tap as a whole a new sense of lightness and intricacy that had never been seen before. His style was copied and performed by a number of other performers, but Bojangles is credited with being one of the most creative tappers of all time. In fact, his birthday (May 25,) was officially declared National Tap Dance Day by the US Congress. With such a mammoth fan base, Bojangles was able to break racial boundaries by setting a number of firsts. He was one of the first vaudeville performers to not wear blackface makeup when he performed, the first black person to be in an interracial dance team in Hollywood, and the first black person to headline a mixed-race Broadway production. At the height of his career, he was the highest-paid black performer of his time, earning roughly $6,600 a week.
If you follow ballet at all, you’ve likely heard the name Misty Copeland before. She began studying ballet at 13 years old. 3 months later, she was en pointe, and 8 months after her first ballet class, was drawing crowds of 2000 people per performance when she played Clara in her high school production of the Nutcracker. Around a year after she had started, aged 14, Copeland won a national ballet competition, resulting in her first professional role. At 15, she won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award and was recognized as the best young dancer in the Greater Los Angeles Area by the Los Angeles Times. That summer, she won a full scholarship to attend the San Francisco Ballet summer intensive, where she was placed in the most advanced classes. Fast forward to 2015, Misty Copeland became the first black woman ever to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, one of the top three companies in the country. That same year, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was named one of the 100 most influential people of the year. Today, Copeland is the recipient of countless awards and accolades, is a published author, and is the recipient an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford for her contributions to classical ballet.
We hope you enjoyed this inspiring and uplifting post, and encourage you to look into some more of the countless black individuals who have helped advance the world of dance as we know it. If you have any dancewear related questions, feel free to reach out and let us know.