The “Katherine Dunham: A Life of Dance, Activism and Anthropology” exhibit is open to the public at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Center (ESLC).
The renowned dancer, anthropologist, and social activist founded the Performing Arts Training Center (PATC) at the ESLC in 1967 and adopted the City of East St. Louis as her second home around the same time.
While Dunham’s name is not foreign in East St. Louis, where the Katherine Dunham Museum is located, many do not know the breadth of her work and influence on the area and SIUE, according to Cory Willmott, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Anthropology, who curated the exhibit with Konjit Avent, integrative studies graduate student.
“The Dunham exhibit celebrates the contributions that Dunham made during her East St. Louis years – from 1967 to her passing in 2006,” said Willmott. “Our first thought in doing the show was to rekindle awareness of Dunham’s extraordinary life and career at the Edwardsville campus, where few people today even know that Dunham Hall was named for her.”
“When (ESLC Executive Director) Jesse Dixon asked if we would bring the show to the Center, we were thrilled with the opportunity to bring Miss Dunham back home to the community where she chose to complete her life’s work,” said Willmott. “Many people in East St. Louis were students of Miss Dunham and have personal connections and memories of her.”
Heather Himes, certified Dunham Technique instructor, performed at the exhibit opening. Her piece included a commentary on police brutality, which is a Dunham tradition of using dance as a vehicle for social activism.
Himes was trained under master Dunham instructor Ruby Streate and certified Dunham Technique instructor Theo Jamison (SIUE alum and former East St. Louis Performing Arts Program Director).
“There is a new generation of dancers choreographing original works that incorporate Dunham Technique,” said Himes. “But these youth have also moved beyond it, to engage today’s movements, themes and social issues.”
“Although Miss Dunham prematurely left academia to pursue a dance career, she never gave up scholarship and teaching,” explained Willmott. “The Performing Arts Training Center in East St. Louis (which became the SIUE East St. Louis Center for Performing Arts Program) was the fruition of Dunham’s scholarship and the crowning of her life’s work.”
“It was a unique concept that has not been matched since,” she continued. “Out of it sprang many individual success stories of local community members, and a path forward for those to come.”
The exhibit will be at the ESLC through Monday, May 21.
The SIUE East St. Louis After School Performing Arts Program was founded by the legendary dancer, anthropologist, and social activist Katherine Dunham and has been an integral part of the community for decades.
—– Katherine Dunham exhibit opens at SIUE East St. Louis Center —–