Pearl Primus


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(b Port of Spain, Trinidad, 29 Nov. 1919; d New Rochelle, NY, 29 Oct. 1994)

US dancer, choreographer, teacher, and anthropologist. She studied medicine and biology at Hunter College in New York and later obtained a Ph.D. in anthropology from New York University (1978). Her dance studies were undertaken via a scholarship to the New Dance Group (1941) and she gave her first solo recital in 1943, launching her own company in 1944. With her husband, Percival Borde she she devoted herself to research into West Indian, African, and other native dance forms, believing in dance as a means of fostering cultural understanding. She made several trips to Africa to further her research and established the African-Caribbean-American Institute of Dance in New York in 1963. In 1978 she founded the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute in New Rochelle. She also taught at New York's Hunter College. She choreographed African Ceremonial (1944) for her own company and re-staged The Wedding for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (1974). Other works include Fanga (1949), inspired by a Liberian ritual dance, and Strange Fruit (1943), which dealt with lynching of blacks in the Deep South. She also choreographed Broadway musicals and the dances in O'Neill's play The Emperor Jones (1947).

Subjects: Dance — History.

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