The Dance Claimed Me A Biography of Pearl Primus Peggy Schwartz, Murray Schwartz

Publication date:
31 May 2011
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
336 text + 16 insert pp

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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' path 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.

Primus travelled 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.

For The Dance Claimed Me, the Schwartzes interviewed more than a hundred of Primus' family members, friends, fellow artists, and other individuals to create a vivid portrayal of a life filled with passion, drama, determination, fearlessness, and brillance.

Peggy Schwartz is professor emeritus 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.

"The authors create vivid descriptions of her performances, and illuminate her pioneering work in merging African dance with modern dance innovation; they explore her charming but difficult personality with tact and grace....The photo section is particularly resonant: Primus in her prime, charisma and virtuosity shining through."—Judith Flanders, Times Literary Supplement

"In this engaging biography, the Schwartzes raise a myriad of enduring social issues involving politics, race, class, and religion." Dr Glenville Ashby (read review here)