University of the Arts Celebrates Legacy of African-American Dance Pioneer Pearl Primus

March 4, 2011

The School of Dance at the University of the Arts presents the "Pearl Primus Ensemble Project," three performances and a panel discussion celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Pearl Primus, known as "the grandmother of African-American dance." Events will be held March 17 and 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arts Bank (601 S. Broad Street) and are free and open to the public.

Led by University of the Arts faculty member Kim Bears-Bailey, the project will begin with a video documentary on Dr. Primus' life and work. University of the Arts dance students will perform three of Dr. Primus' signature works: "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "Strange Fruit" and "Hard Time Blues." The performances will be followed by lectures from Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, professor emeritius of dance studies at Temple University, and Peggy Schwartz, artistic director of the Sankofa Dance Project. 

A pioneer and leading scholar in the field of dance, the late Dr. Pearl Primus was born in Trinidad and raised in New York City. She graduated from Hunter College of the City of New York in 1940 with a degree in biology, but so few jobs were available in her field for African-American women that she gravitated toward dance. Dr. Primus formed her own dance company and gained notoriety for works that fused social protest, African-American culture and African dance traditions. Her meticulous scholarship and groundbreaking research into African dance established her as an important figure in the field.

Above: Dr. Primus performs "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," 1944. Photo courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Dance Program.

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