Field Trip Fridays: Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum

13, June 2014
First in an occasional series inspired by the 250 in 250 exhibition

On Field Trip Fridays we’ll suggest St. Louis–area places to visit that have some connection to the exhibit 250 in 250. They can relate to any of the 50 People, 50 Places, 50 Images, 50 Moments, or 50 Objects in the show.

Today I encourage you to head to the Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum in East St. Louis, Illinois. Miss Dunham is one of the 50 People in our exhibit, known for both her dance career and her activism.

DunhamKatherine Dunham, in a pose from L'Ag'Ya, a story of love and revenge set in Martinique. Photograph by unknown photographer, 1938. Katherine Dunham Collection, Missouri History Museum.

Her fusion of Afro-Caribbean dance with ballet—known as the Dunham Technique—continues to influence modern dance. Dunham dancers don’t learn just dance. They also learn language, culture, and history. Dunham believed dance is more than just “personal pleasure”; it is an expression of “culture, the meaning of your life, the meaning of the people you came from, your family, and your roots.” She brought these ideas to the Performing Arts Training Center, which she opened in East St. Louis in the 1960s.

A former house in that city has been transformed into a museum celebrating Dunham’s life. On display are some of Dunham’s costumes, photos, and awards from her career in show business. You can also view her art collection, including sculptures, paintings, and tapestries from Africa and the Caribbean.

You must make an appointment to see the museum. Tickets are only $10 for a guided tour, so check the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities website for more information.

—Lauren Mitchell, Senior Editor