Katherine Dunham was born in Chicago on June 22, 1909, where she began her interest in dance. She studied anthropology at the University of Chicago as both an undergraduate and graduate student. Dunham was awarded travel fellowships for her expertise in dance and anthropology. After graduation, she left for the West Indies further her studies. Dunham’s work in the Caribbean caused a profound shift in her career. She brought her Caribbean knowledge back to America and began a lifelong involvement with the people and dance of Haiti and Jamaica.
Dunham returned to Chicago in 1936 and was awarded a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology. Devoted to both dance performance and anthropological research, Dunham realized that she had to choose between the two. She decided to give up her graduate studies and depart for the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood to pursue a career in dance.
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Dunham served as a dancer and choreographer in motion pictures and stage musicals. Dunham organized her own dance company (the Katherine Dunham Dance Company) and even developed her own technique, known as the Dunham technique. She toured the United States and Europe with ballets that were based on African and Caribbean ceremonial and folk dances. She combined her knowledge of ballet, Caribbean ceremonial and folk dances, and African American vernacular dance, inadvertently creating jazz dance.
As well as dancing and choreographing, Dunham also operated her own school of dance called the Dunham School of Dance and Theater, which she opened in 1945. The school included courses in technique along with humanities, philosophy, languages, aesthetics, drama, cultural studies, and speech. Her school thrived for nearly ten years and was recognized as one of the best centers of its type at the time. Many of her students became future celebrities who continued to pass down the Dunham technique to their own students.
When she was not performing, Dunham went to Haiti for extended trips. She was also a major social activist, fighting segregation and forming hunger strikes. Her autobiography, A Touch of Innocence, was published in 1959. Katherine Dunham died in her sleep in New York City on May 21, 2006, at the age of ninety-six. She is perhaps the best known and most influential pioneer of jazz dance and is noted for her interpretations of the dances of blacks of the West Indies and the United States.
Katherine Dunham in “Stormy Weather”
Katherine Dunham: My Love for Dance
Jack Cole was born on April 27, 1911 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Early on, he decided to pursue dance with the Denishawn Dance Company led by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Cole made his first professional debut in 1930. However, soon after, Cole left the modern dance world and began as a commercial dancer in nightclubs across the nation. He developed his own jazzy style, incorporating techniques from India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Harlem. By the late 1930’s, his company, the Jack Cole Dancers, were headlining in the country’s leading nightclubs.
In addition being a commercial dancer in nightclubs, Cole was a performer and choreographer in many Broadway musicals. In 1933, Cole starred in “The Dream Sganareel,” his first Broadway performance. His first performance as a choreographer was “Something for the Boys” in 1943. Others included “Alive and Kicking,” “Kismet,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and “Foxy.” He was nominated for a Tony award for his choreography in “Man of La Mancha.”
He ended his career as a desired coach to Hollywood stars and a highly innovative choreographer for the camera. His film work includes “Cover Girl,” “Tonight and Every Night,” “On the Rivera,” “Les Girls,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” as well as numerous others. Cole became popular in Hollywood for his work with Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Mitzi Gaynor, and especially Marilyn Monroe. Cole and Monroe collaborated in seven different films, all of which showcases her exceptional femininity and seductiveness through dance.
Cole is considered to be the father of jazz dance technique. He created a jazz-ethnic-ballet style of dance that still prevails in concerts, Broadway shows, Hollywood movie musicals, and music videos today. Cole died on February 17, 1974, but will always be remembered for popularizing the theatrical form of jazz dance with his great number of choreographic works on television and Broadway.
Who is Jack Cole?
Kismet (1955) – Jack Cole Choreography
Eugene Louis Faccuito
In 1974, Luigi’s Jazz Dance Company was formed by Eugene Louis Faccuito. Faccuito was an accomplished dancer who, after suffering a crippling car accident in the 1950’s, created a new style of jazz dance based on the warm-up exercises he invented to avoid his physical handicaps. The exercise routine he created for his own rehabilitation became the world’s first complete technique for learning jazz dance known as the Luigi Warm Up Technique. The Luigi Warm Up Technique focused on body alignment, balance, core strength, and “feeling from the inside.”
Luigi-style Jazz Warm Up