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Pearl Primus

Pearl Primus was one of the grande dames of African-American dance. A dancer, choreographer, director and activist, Pearl helped to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance to disprove the myth of savagery.


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Pearl Primus Bio

Our shade ‘Pearl’ is named after Pearl Eileen Primus (November 29, 1919 – October 29, 1994). Pearl was an American dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, and teacher that helped pioneer the way for the global majority of dancers.

Pearl played an extremely important role in introducing the African dance style to America, because her performance work and teaching largely drew on the African American experience.

Pearl began her formal study of dance with the New Dance Group in 1941, and she was the group’s first black student. During these studies, Pearl not only gained a foundation for her contemporary technique, but she learned about artistic activism. The New Dance Group’s motto was “dance is a weapon of the class struggle.”

With this motto, they instilled the belief that ‘dance is a conscious art and those who view it should be impacted.’ The organisation trained dancers to be aware of the political and social climate of their time – something not all organisations would do. This exposure to a newfound form of activism encouraged the themes of social protest later found in Pearl’s work.

In 1948, Pearl received a federal grant to study dance and decided to use the money to travel around Africa and the Caribbean. Whilst travelling, she learned the different styles of native dance which later informed her performance work and teaching upon return to the United States.

Pearl choreographed dances to contain messages about racism and discrimination – experiences Pearl and many others were subject to as commonplace in American society.

A stand-out piece of choreography – Strange Fruit – was a protest against the lynching of black people. Dance companies still pay their respects to Pearl by using inspiration from her story, and this choreographic piece.

You can watch this short clip on YouTube of one of the many recreations of Strange Fruit: Strange fruit by Pearl Primus – YouTube

Furthermore, Black Past posted this article about Pearl in 2008: Pearl Primus (1919-1994) • (blackpast.org)

Thank you so much for reading and learning about the names behind the shades!

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