Melony McGant

 

Honoring Black History: Dance Icon Miss Katherine Dunham #OPRAHLegend

Katherine Dunham Speaks Out on Dunham Technique, Today’s World Violence Leaders, and Hope by Melony McGant

Anthropologist, choreographer, writer and humanitarian Katherine Dunham have been called a visionary, a pioneer, and a living legend. She has been a major force in dance and is best known for incorporating African American, Caribbean, African, and South American movement style themes into her ballets. She has appeared in more than 57 countries around globe, received recognition from UNESCO as well as heads of state, and is the recipient of hundreds of awards and honorary doctorates including the U.S. Presidential Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the Albert Schweitzer Award, Essence Magazine Awards, the National Black Theatre Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, and was one of Oprah’s Legends.

Originally recorded in 2002 at the Miss Katherine Dunham’s residence in NYC, portions of this conversation have appeared in African Voices Magazine (a much longer version) and Tribes Magazine. In this interview with Melony McGant, Miss Dunham shares her heart, and hopes for a World of Peace, as she passes us the baton.

Miss Katherine Dunham was born in Chicago on 22 June 1909 and left this Earth Realm and Ascended to the heaven Realm on May 21, 2006. She Is Re-membered with Love!

MM: It’s been said that the Dunham Technique has strong implications and affiliations to the “other world.”

KD: I feel that to know Dunham Technique you have to be willing to accept the holistic view of life. That is the body, mind and spirit work together. They don’t work separately from each other. They grow together and unite. You have to be aware that these things do not operate alone, they operate together. So when you are deeply into Dunham Technique and are performing the choreography or are teaching, or learning, then all of those parts of your body begin to sing. And they begin to sing not in solo voices but in unison. It’s like striking a wonderful chord and the response from the person who is receiving is so great that the teacher grows from it too. You can not be a teacher of Dunham Technique without receiving back from the pupil or the person that you teach.

MM: Sometimes the student could get lost out there in their own meditation and become ecstatic. How can a teacher know when to bring them back?

KD: By identification. By being able to identify with others. The good teacher is so sensitive, so willing to know and love and be a part of … The open-minded student feels that. It’s like the audience. The audience wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be there. The minute you step on to the stage you have to feel their awareness and willingness and gather it into your whole being. Every move that you make goes out with love and with an understanding of body, mind, and spirit being united into one feeling, being, one “itness,” so that you are a successful performer and your audience is able to receive with an open self.

MM: How can a teacher help a student understand that?

KD: I’d say don’t talk about it. Just be it. Do it and be it. A lot of teachers try to explain. There’s a little explanation, maybe. If you help your student eat the right thing, breath the right thing, feel the right thing, be aware of good things. It can help … For instance, you might suggest that your student attend a concert that will immediately fit into their needs. Knowing the needs of other people is one of the hard things about BEING. I don’t say to a student don’t do this or don’t do that. I just try to show them. You know what was so wonderful about Erich Fromm … He’d ask me questions instead of telling me how to be over my malaise or unhappiness or whatever it was, he’d ask me questions that would lead me to the Balm and Gilead for me. And that I think is what a good friend or a true psychoanalyst, a truly worthy element in your life does … It is to guide you through love.

MM: How do you feel about what’s happening in the World”?

KD: What’s happening in the world today is very, very hard on me. It is so awful, so terrible, so painful and so many people suffering. It’s a fact. It’s here with us. It’s ridiculous to think that your government is going to ease your pain. As I look at it I say … For God’s sake I say don’t go and kill to compensate for killing.

MM: This is a hard question for me to ask. Do you have any anger about anything?

KD: Anger. Oh yes, that’s a part of activism. If I do not approve of what you are doing, then I will do everything I can to stop it. I will bring all of my strength to stop it. I am not in agreement, I am not in accord … I am angry at what is happening in this world today. I wouldn’t be me if I tried to suppress that anger, I’d be false … hypocritical. I don’t have to put it on anyone else. You don’t have to be angry with me if that’s not the way you feel. But above all don’t try to stop me from being angry.

MM: If you were speaking to our world leaders, what would you say?

KD: Well to most of them I would say: “You do not belong in a position of leadership. You have not overcome self. You don’t really love humanity, yourself included. You are not a leader. Stop and look at it and study it, realize it and change it. Change yourself or step aside and help someone else take the position that you feel you are fulfilling but you’re not.” And I’d say: “Stop and think and don’t try to put aside, or shut your eyes to those things that are showing you where you’ve made mistakes. Open your heart to these things inside and help. Be sure that your every breath, every thought, every movement, every deed is being helpful to someone or something. Be sure that you are honest and true.”

MM: How do you feel about this violence?

KD: It should have no place in human living.

MM: Are all religions the same? Not the dogma, but the spirit?

KD: I think that intellectually they sound as though they are the same. Intellectually they all say we believe in our God. We want to do what that one God says do but we see errors that are committed because between God and action comes man. And man is by no means perfect creature.

MM: And the United States?

KD: The United States is a great big hypocrite bully. Our God has chosen to give us … .a means of conquering … but when you are power driven, you are bound to turn to destruction and violence.

MM: What do you want to tell my generation and the children … those who come after. What should we be doing?

KD: You should be aware. And of course always be forgiving. You can judge but I don’t feel that we have within us the right to hold forth any blessings. God does that. And I would say be aware and be giving. Know how to take, how to receive and how to give. Be sure that both are operating always in your life. If you feel strongly about a cause, don’t push it on people but be willing to defend it when it is necessary. Just one word, that one word love is strongest. Know all the different phases of love and have them all in your life. And be able to live with them.

MM: Could you give me a couple of examples of love that you were thinking of?

KD: Well, you certainly have to know self-love. Erich (Fromm) was probably the founder of that… belief in yourself and a love of yourself. Be kind and gentle with yourself and everything else. Try to avoid, and succeed in avoiding injury to others. Live life with kindness and live life with love.

MM: Is there any hope?

KD: I feel that this present civilization is just about over. I feel that there is a hope in some people, elements, I won’t say remnants … things that are still there, that they can manage to be together after a period of rest and growth. And choose to grow in the sunshine of hope and love. Yes, then there is hope for another civilization on this earth. Of course, there is always a chance that out in the universe there are some other earths that could come and smash this one into nothing. I see no reason why there shouldn’t be another chance for man because he is a creature of God but I’m not counting on it. I’m counting on trying to help save and give hope to those whose eyes are open now and who are suffering.

MM: Is there anything that I can personally do for you? Or anything that I personally need to know?

KD: I think that you are one of the people who has the fabric of knowledge and I think that you should develop it and continue on your mission of nurturing love and furthering love and that you must spend a little more time protecting yourself. You can’t afford to be hyper-sensitive, put it that way. You have to find different ways to help you to be stronger every day. And be stronger and wiser. You need strength and you need wisdom. And you’ve helped so much … just the fact that you are there. And I know that you are there. And that I know you are an honest person working towards the same end, that’s great.

MM: Thank you, you honor me.

KD: And don’t be embarrassed by tears …

MM: I gathered my things, thanked Ms. Dunham again, and gave her a big hug.

Miss Katherine Dunham was born in Chicago on 22 June 1909 and left this Earth Realm and Ascended to the heaven Realm on May 21, 2006. She Is Re-membered with Love!

(c) Melony McGant, 2002, Photo May 1, 2006, by Tyrone Rasheed

 

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