Archival Science

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 167–183 | Cite as

Reading gesture: Katherine Dunham, the Dunham Technique, and the vocabulary of dance as decolonizing archival praxis

  • Tonia SutherlandEmail author
Original Paper


This paper examines how the African diasporic dance works of anthropologist, dancer, and choreographer Katherine Dunham has endured over time through both archival intervention and through Dunham’s dance pedagogy, the Dunham Technique. Interrogating the ways that dance and gesture are rendered readable through visual literacies, the paper explores codification and transmission as apparatus for ensuring the continuation of culturally informed movement such as the Dunham Technique. The author argues that reading gesture as a document or as a record functions as a decolonial archival praxis, opening archives to modes of cultural expression that might otherwise be rendered invisible by extant western archival practices. The gestural document is conceptualized as a codified, culturally informed, and embodied record capable of being engaged at the archival threshold. The author also argues that gestural documents are capable of capturing and preserving cultural context as well as bringing into the present more robust and culturally informed readings of the past, generating conditions of possibility for remediating anti-Blackness in the archives.


Katherine Dunham Dunham Technique Dance Gesture Transmission Codification Visual literacy Decolonial archival praxis 



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Information and Computer Sciences, Hamilton Library 003BUniversity of Hawaiʻi at MānoaHonoluluUSA

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