Toward a Politics of Dance’s Everyday: Katherine Dunham on Tour, 1950-53

Dance in Transit data visualization showing light spots on a dark map indicating the locations of Katherine Dunham's touringHarmony Bench and Kate Elswit will be presenting at the 2018 International Federation for Theatre Research conference in Belgrade! What we are presenting at comes at the end of our pilot project, Dance in Transit (funded by BETHA, 2016-18) and just as we begin Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry (funded by AHRC, 2018-21). These projects extend our work on the geography and networks of historical dance touring and transmission (see Bench and Elswit, 2016), through the exemplary case study of African American choreographer Katherine Dunham (1909-2006). Dunham worked across five continents in many contexts, from her early anthropological research in Haiti to her curatorial and administrative projects later in Dakar, New York, and St. Louis. She choreographed and performed in operas, revues, Broadway shows, Hollywood films, and modern concert dance. She was also an extraordinary self-archivist. In this presentation, we will show some data visualizations generated from daily travel data collected from primary resources documenting Dunham’s whereabouts from 1950-1953. We will also talk about what it means to track a single person’s movements every single day for four years (1461 days), the gaps and absences in the historical record, and the scholarly investments in mundane, personal, and behind-the-scenes information that emerged from this process.

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