Katherine Dunham forms Ballet Négre

In 1931, Katherine Dunham (1910–2006), a dancer, anthropologist, social worker, activist, and author, formed Ballet Nègre.

In 1928, while still an undergraduate, Katherine Dunham began to study ballet with Ludmilla Speranzeva, a Russian dancer who had settled in Chicago after having come to the United States with the Franco-Russian vaudeville troupe Le Théâtre de la Chauve-Souris, directed by impresario Nikita Balieff. Dunham also studied ballet with Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page, who became prima ballerina of the Chicago Opera. Through her ballet teachers, she was also exposed to Spanish, East Indian, Javanese, and Balinese dance forms.

In 1931, at the age of 21, Dunham and Mark Turbyfill formed a group called Ballet Nègre, one of the first Black ballet companies in the United States. Turbyfill acknowledged that the development of a Black ballet company began in the mind of a young Katherine Dunham. After a single, well-received performance in 1931, the group was disbanded. Encouraged by Speranzeva to focus on modern dance instead of ballet, Dunham opened her first dance school in 1933, calling it the Negro Dance Group. It was a venue for Dunham to teach young Black dancers about their African heritage. The Negro Dance Group appeared with the Chicago Symphony and at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934.


Katherine Dunham, Wikipedia
Katherine Dunham, Encyclopedia
Katherine Dunham’s Timeline, The Library of Congress
Barzel, Ann. “The Lost Ten Years: The Untold Story of the Dunham-Turbyfill Alliance.”
Jackson, La’Toya Princess. “Black Swans Shattering the Glass Ceiling: A Historical Perspective The Evolution of Historically Black Ballet Companies— From Katherine Dunham to Arthur Mitchell.”

Other Happenings in 1931

American History

Mar 3: “The Star Spangled Banner” officially becomes US national anthem by congressional resolution.
May 1: Empire State Building opens in New York City.
Jun 12: Al Capone is indicted on 5,000 counts of prohibition and perjury.
Oct 1: The second (and current) Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is opened in New York.
Oct 18: American gangster Al Capone is convicted of tax evasion.
Oct 24: George Washington Bridge, linking New York City and New Jersey, is dedicated and opens the next day.
Nov 13: Hattie Caraway (D-AK) is appointed first US woman senator.

World History

Mar 5: Gandhi and British viceroy Lord Irwin sign pact.
Nov 7: Chinese People’s Republic is proclaimed by Mao Zedong.
Dec 11: Statute of Westminster gives complete legislative independence to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland (Free State), and Newfoundland (not then part of Canada).

Arts & Sciences

Feb 14: The original Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi as the titular vampire, is released.
Feb 21: Alka Seltzer is introduced.
Jun 9: The first rocket-powered aircraft design is patented by Robert Goddard.
Nov 1: Dupont introduces synthetic rubber.
Dec 25: NY’s Metropolitan Opera broadcasts an entire opera over radio.

Human & Civil Rights

Aug 15: Roy Wilkins joined NAACP as Assistant Secretary.


Jul 26: The 25th Tour de France is won by Antonin Magne of France.
Aug 18: Lou Gehrig is hitless in Detroit, his 1,000th consecutively played game.

Leave a Reply