In the prime of her career (1930 - 1960s,) African American dance legend Katherine Dunham and her company toured over 60 countries, and she performed on Broadway and in Hollywood films. She created the Dunham Technique, bringing together elements of dances from Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, and Trinidad, as well as modern dance and ballet. The rigorous technique is credited for bringing Black dance to the classroom and to the stage, where it has mesmerized audiences globally and transformed the world of dance. The rust belt city of East St. Louis, Illinois, may seem an unlikely city for the international superstar and high-demand choreographer (who died in 2006) to put down roots. But when Dunham, who lived in the Caribbean as a young anthropology student, encountered East St. Louis in 1967, it reminded her of Haiti. Residents of East St. Louis also experienced high unemployment and violence, and Dunham felt it was a place where she was needed. In a few short years, Dunham turned the city into an important hub of the Black Arts movement. By 1972, she had enrolled over 1,000 students in her program, started a student dance company, and opened a museum dedicated to African art. Her program opened doors into culture, pride and discipline that have been powerful forces for many, whether they’ve stayed with dance or gone on to other professions. The program Dunham created runs to this day at the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities, and continues to revolutionize lives with dance and culture. Meet some of East St. Louis’ culture keepers, including Ruby Streate, one of Dunham’s most trusted teachers whom Dunham passed the baton to, and choreographer and educator Keith Tyrone Williams. Watch dancers Heather Beal and other Dunham program alums perform at the Mississippi River’s edge, in front of the Katherine Dunham Museum, and in downtown East St. Louis.

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