February is recognized as Black History Month in the United States. In honor of this, let’s recognize a few prominent black artists from recent history who have influenced the dance world as we know it today.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
You probably know Bill Robinson best from his performance in the famous movie series Shirley Temple. In addition to this appearance, Robinson starred in fourteen motion pictures and six broadway shows throughout his life, an impressive career for a black performer of his time! Robinson didn’t just pave the way for other black performers to achieve publicity. He also introduced a new style of tap to the public – a style that was light and elegant. He did this by shifting his weight to his toes while he danced, versus the flat-footed style of tap that was most common at the time.
Katherine Dunham is praised as one of the pioneers of modern dance. After being the first African American woman to earn a degree from the University of Chicago, she traveled and studied in various Caribbean countries. She used this diverse education to develop a style of modern dance that had never been seen before, fusing elements of classical ballet with African-rooted dance. At the time, this dance style was innovative and freeing! Over the course of her career, Dunham founded a dance company, created her own technique, and changed the direction of modern dance.
Do you recognize the name? Alvin Ailey is most known for his world-renowned dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, founded in 1958. This company was among one of the first racially diverse dance companies in the United States. Ailey brought an enormous amount of publicity to modern dance, particularly African American influenced modern dance. Ailey’s works are still recognized as masterpieces, and are studied and performed today. He has left a permanent mark on American modern dance.