“Why do I dance? Dance is my medicine. It’s the scream which eases for a while the terrible frustration common to all human beings who because of race, creed, or color, are ‘invisible’. Dance is the fist with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice.”–Pearl Primus
“A revelation of one woman’s life, a celebration of Black beauty, and a pleasure to read, The Dance Claimed Me is required reading for anyone interested in one twentieth-century Black woman trailblazer’s story.”–Eisa Nefertari Ulen, The Crisis
Pearl Primus (1919-1994) blazed onto the dance scene in 1943 with stunning works that incorporated social and racial protest into their dance aesthetic. In The Dance Claimed Me
, Peggy and Murray Schwartz, friends and colleagues of Primus, offer an intimate perspective on her life and explore her influences on American culture, dance, and education. They trace Primus’s path from her childhood in Trinidad, through her rise as an influential international dancer, an early member of the New Dance Group (whose motto was “Dance is a weapon”), and a pioneer in dance anthropology.
Primus traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, Israel, the Caribbean, and Africa, and she played an important role in presenting authentic African dance to American audiences. She engendered controversy in both her private and professional lives, marrying a white Jewish man during a time of segregation and challenging black intellectuals who opposed the “primitive” in her choreography. Her political protests and mixed-race tours in the South triggered an FBI investigation, even as she was celebrated by dance critics and by contemporaries like Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson.
For The Dance Claimed Me, the Schwartzes interviewed more than a hundred of Primus’s family members, friends, and fellow artists–among them Maya Angelou, Geoffrey Holder, Judith Jamison, Donald McKayle, and Archbishop Granville Williams–to create a vivid portrayal of a life filled with passion, drama, determination, fearlessness, and brilliance.