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Katherine Dunham dancer Vanoye Aikens passes

CHARMAINE PATRICIA WARREN | 9/12/2013, 2:11 p.m.
Vanoye Aikens, a dancer with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company (KDDC), died on Saturday, Aug. 24 in Los Angeles. He ...
Vanoye Aikens with Katherine Dunham, 1948 courtesy of www.mohistory.org

Various news reports as well as longtime friend Robert Wood confirm that Vanoye Aikens, a dancer with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company (KDDC), died on Saturday, Aug. 24 in Los Angeles. He was 96.

KDDC pioneered African-American dance on stage and screen nationally, and the Dunham technique is renowned in the dance world. The always-elegant Aikens, a Georgia native and a member of KDDC since its beginning in 1943, was Dunham’s leading male partner. Aikens toured over 50 countries with the company until they disbanded in 1963.

Once the company dissolved, he continued as a performer on stage and screen, moved to Sweden to teach and then returned to the U.S. to again teach and perform. Among the many contributions he maintained toward the Dunham legacy, he is remembered for assisting Dunham in recreating dances for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in a program titled “Magic of Katherine Dunham” in 1989.

Joan Peters, a formidable teacher of the Dunham technique at the Alvin School, remembers being a student at the Dunham School alongside Aikens. “I was a little girl … but I remember that he was always very sweet to me. I loved the way he moved and how strong he looked,” she said. They kept in touch over the years. “He used to call me from time to time … he was a wonderful person.”

Leverne Backstrom Wizard, chairman pro tem of the Katherine Dunham Center for Arts and Humanities, added, “We were saddened to hear of his demise and appreciate his contributions to the world of dance through Ms. Dunham. We send our condolences to his friends and family.”

Wood said Aikens will be buried in Jonesboro, Ga.