Dancer wunderkind Pearl Primus was born in 1919 in Trinidad; she became the top interpreter of her African heritage via choreography and performance. She received international attention and respect even though she had no formal training in dance and had intended on being a physician. Pearl was a Jill of all trades, working as a switchboard operator, photographer, health counselor, and as a welder in New York’s shipyards, as well as many blue-collar factory jobs. Once Pearl committed to dance as her profession, she went at it with fierce dedication and concentration, viewing dance as a way to express her ideas about social conditions and the state of humanity. She was incredibly innovative, mixing dance and musical styles constantly. Fairly quickly, her pieces, such as “Strange Fruit,” became classics. She also recited African, West Indian, and African American poetry and literature during freestyle dance performances, such as Langston Hughes’ “Our Spring Will Come” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Pearl Primus really dug into the Afro-Indian culture, learning and in turn teaching through her dance about the cultures, tribes, and history of her people. She once said, “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.’”
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