In 1948, Katherine Dunham opened and directed the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre near Times Square in New York City after her dance company was provided with rent-free studio space for three years by an admirer, Lee Shubert; it had an initial enrollment of 350 students.
The program included courses in dance, drama, performing arts, applied skills, humanities, cultural studies, and Caribbean research, and in 1947 it was expanded and granted a charter as the Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts. The school was managed in Dunham’s absence by one of her dancers, Syvilla Fort, thrived for about ten years, and was considered one of the best learning centers of its type at the time. Schools inspired by it later opened in Stockholm, Paris, and Rome by dancers trained by Dunham.
Her alumni included many future celebrities, such as Eartha Kitt, who, as a teenager, won a scholarship to her school and later became one of her dancers before moving on to a successful singing career.
The following videos are dance sequences from the Katherine Dunham and her Company in the film Casbah from 1948.
This one is of Eartha Kitt making her film debut here as a member of the company:
In this video Tony Martin, Yvonne De Carlo and Katherine Dunham perform:
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In this third and final video, Pepe Le Moko, and Eartha Kitt performs again.
Others who attended her school included James Dean, Gregory Peck, Jose Ferrer, Jennifer Jones, Shelley Winters, Pepe Le Moko, Tony Martin, Yvonne De Carlo, Sidney Poitier, Shirley MacLaine, Doris Duke, Toni Cade Bambara and Warren Beatty.
Marlon Brando frequently dropped in to play the bongo drums, and jazz musician Charles Mingus held regular jam sessions with the drummers. Known for her many innovations, Dunham developed a dance pedagogy, later named the Dunham Technique, that won international acclaim and that is now taught as a modern dance style in many dance schools.
In 1965, Katherine Dunham reassembled some of her dancers for a New York performance at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on the occasion of American Ballet Theater’s twenty-fifth anniversary gala.
In 2004, “A Conversation with Katherine Dunham” was presented at Barnard College in Harlem, New York.