One of the founders of the anthropological dance movement, Katherine Dunham distilled Caribbean and African dance elements into modern American choreography. In the 1930s, she did fieldwork in the Caribbean and infused her choreography with the cultures of that region. She and her company appeared in the 1940 Broadway version of Cabin in the Sky; she collaborated with George Balanchine on the show’s choreography as well as on the 1943 film. Other movie highlights include the 1941 Warner Bros. short Carnival of Rhythm—the first Hollywood dance film shot in Technicolor—and Stormy Weather (1943).
An educator, dancer, and choreographer, Dunham created more than ninety dances. She once wrote, “I am only interested in dance as an education, a means of knowing people.” Artist Boris Chaliapin, best known for his Time magazine covers, asked Dunham to pose for this portrait for his collection of drawings he had made of other noted dancers.