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Collection Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection

Barrelhouse

Katherine Dunham in a c.1950s photograph of "Barrelhouse." Courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Choreographed by Katherine Dunham in 1938, Barrelhouse (also known as Barrelhouse Blues and Florida Swamp Shimmy) is one of the first of what she would come to call her Americana works. Based on the Shimmy from the Florida Gulf Coast, Dunham once explained that the duet is about "a beat old woman who goes to a dance to recapture a moment of her lost youth." After a performance in 1955, dance critic Walter Terry wrote "The marvelous 'Barrelhouse,' in which Miss Dunham and [Vanoye] Aikens do a Florida swamp shimmy, had to be encored and deservedly so, for this is an insinuating, sexy, and delightfully humorous dance which every Dunham fan cherishes in his memory" (New York Herald Tribune, 23 November 1955).

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