Dec. 2, 2011 by David Low
In The Dance Claimed Me (Yale University Press), Peggy MALS ’77 and Murray Schwartz provide an intimate perspective on the life of Pearl Primus (1919–1994) who made her mark on the dance scene in 1943 with impressive works incorporating social and racial protest into their dance aesthetic. Friends and colleagues of the dancer, the authors explore her influences on American culture, dance, and education.
The Schwartzes trace Primus’s journey from her childhood in Port of Spain, 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. They interviewed more than 100 of the artist’s family members, friends, and fellow artists, and others.
Primus traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, Israel, the Caribbean, and Africa, and she played a significant role in presenting authentic African dance to American audiences. She was celebrated by dance critics and contemporaries such as Langston Hughes. But she found 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.
Peggy Schwartz is professor of dance and former director of the Dance Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Murray Schwartz is former dean of humanities and fine arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He teaches literature at Emerson College.
For an interview with the authors, click here.