US dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher who pioneered an awareness and understanding of the African-American tradition in dance. She was one of the first artists to incorporate genuine African elements into American concert dance as well as portraying contemporary African-American experience. She was awarded the National Medal of the Arts 1991.
Primus was born in Trinidad and raised in the USA. As a medical student unable to find a laboratory job, she applied to the national Youth Administration and was directed into dance. She studied contemporary technique at the New Dance Group School as well as with Martha Graham and Charles Weidman. When she made her professional debut as a dancer and choreographer 1943, including then unusual African themes in her programme, she immediately received critical acclaim. Primus also looked at contemporary black American experience; early dances include her solo Strange Fruit, in which a woman reacts to a lynching, as well as The Negro speaks of Rivers, based on a poem by Langston Hughes.
In 1948 Primus won a scholarship, which enabled her to study dance in Africa, where she worked with local performers. From these experiences she created a solo called Fanga, which had its premiere in Liberia and later became part of the repertoire of the Alvin Ailey Company. From 1959–61 she was the first director of of the African Performing Arts Centre in Liberia. Primus wrote and lectured extensively, and completed a doctorate in anthropology at New York University 1978.
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