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Flowers, Katherine, 1896-1982



  • Existence: 1896-1982


Born on May 18, 1896 in Sherman, Texas, dancer and choreographer Katherine Jefferson Flowers exhibited a love for dance early in her childhood. Flowers opened her own dance studio in Chicago shortly after her 1942 graduation from Northwestern University. She taught dance classes and led troupes of dancers on international tours. Flowers' most successful tour was a production originally entitled, “Bamboula to Ballet”, which traced the development of a distinct African American dance style.

Flowers began performing at local folk festivals at the age of seven, and by age nine she organized shows with neighborhood friends in her backyard in Kansas City, Missouri, where her parents migrated in 1904. However, turn-of-the-century Kansas City provided African-Americans with few opportunities for a professional dance career. Not until she entered Kansas State Teacher's College (later Emporia State University) in 1913 did Katherine finally receive sustained formal training. There she studied voice, dramatics, and pageantry. She was a member of the school's varsity dance club, the Orchesis Society, and taught summer dance classes at the Kansas City YWCA. In 1916, she married Orlando Flowers, Jr. After graduating, she taught physical education at Sumner High School in Cairo, Illinois, and danced professionally at the Cairo Opera House. In 1924 she moved to Chicago and spent twenty-five years as a physical education teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. All the while, Flowers continued to study and teach dance. At Northwestern University, as a student of anthropologist Melville Herskovits, Flowers' interest in African and Afro-American dance was piqued, and she began a lifelong quest to document the evolution of African-American dance in the United States.

After completing her degree in education in 1942 at Northwestern, Flowers opened her own dance school in Chicago, the Flowers School of Dance, in 1944, where she taught ballet and classical dance. Out of this venture emerged a professional dance troupe, The Katherine Flowers Dancers, which toured the United States and Israel during the early 1950s. Their most popular production, originally entitled “Bamboula to Ballet” (later “Bamboula to Bop”) traced the development of a distinct African-American dance style. In 1949, Flower retired from the Chicago Public Schools to dedicate herself entirely to her dance company. After completing several highly acclaimed dance tours, Flowers resided briefly in Los Angeles, where her son and daughter lived, and opened a dance school there. In 1955 Flowers moved to New York City, which became her home until her death in July, 1982. In New York, Flowers set up a new dance school, although its success never matched her Chicago-based company. She supplemented her income by substitute teaching in the New York Public Schools, lecturing, teaching summer workshops, and teaching yoga. Flowers conducted yoga classes for many years to the diplomats and employees of the United Nations. In addition to these activities, Flowers hoped to write a book documenting the history of African-American dance as well as a children's book on the same subject, but neither of those projects got beyond extensive notes, which are represented in her papers.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Katherine Flowers (1896-1982) Papers

Identifier: 31/6/87

The papers of Katherine Flowers reflect a life dedicated to the art of dance, particularly African-American dance. They document Flowers' long career as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. The papers lend insight into the popularization of African-American dance in the twentieth century, a process in which Flowers and her contemporary, Katherine Dunham, played a significant role.

Dates: 1934-1981