Obituary: Jeraldyne Blunden

CALM DIGNITY and clear focus were immediately evident when one met Jeraldyne Blunden, who against the odds created a successful black modern dance company in mid-America 30 years ago, and continued to make it thrive artistically, in the face of difficult economics. She once said, "My father said I am stubborn. I say I am tenacious."

Her company, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) is that rarity in the United States, a modern dance company based on repertory rather than a dominant choreographer. It has been hailed for its revivals of works by early black modern choreographers and for dancing of whole-hearted commitment, power and grace.

Blunden's intention to teach and build a company in her native Dayton, Ohio, dated from her teens. The closeness of the company and the school, which trained many of its dancers, is clear in the cheerful, modern facilities they share in Dayton.

Born Jeraldyne Kilborn, in 1940, from the age of eight she received her basic dance education from the school of the sisters Josephine (Miss Jo) and Hermene Schwarz, who founded the Dayton Ballet. She received close attention and guidance, and found helpful the approach which Miss Jo later characterised as "ballet taught from a modern viewpoint and modern taught from a ballet viewpoint."

Her wide early exposure to advanced modern dance styles included classes at an important summer modern dance school, the American Dance Festival, where in her first year she was the only black student. She had classes in the techniques of Martha Graham and Jose Limn. Another important influence was the technique of the west-coast pioneer Lester Horton, as transmitted by a DCDC artist-in- residence, James Truitte.

Jeraldyne Kilborn gained performing experience with several ballet and modern companies in Dayton. She married happily at 19, to Charles Blunden, and began to raise a family. The close-knit family was a source of strength in her work.

Her first youthful attempt at starting a company of her own was a bit forceful for her potential dancers; on being told that dance was serious business and "If you don't think you can come up to my demands, then I want you to leave", they all left.

But in 1960, when she was 20, she created the school and the beginnings of the company, which was incorporated in 1968. Her idea was to create modern dancers with a strong base in ballet. She also said once that she was one of the few people to continue teaching "old-school Graham technique".

She saw to it that her students had summer opportunities to study in New York City (for example at Dance Theatre of Harlem) or the National Association for Regional Ballet choreography conferences.

For the fledgling company, she at first created the repertoire herself. Neither her dancers nor the repertoire have been exclusively black. They have, for example, danced Merce Cunningham's Channels/ Inserts. But the black choreographers are a distinguished roster, from Talley Beatty and Donald McKayle to Eleo Pomare, Donald Byrd and Ulysses Dove.

Blunden developed a number of prominent dancers, such as the lyrical star of Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, Donna Wood. The company has made appearances abroad including at the Lyons Biennale de la Danse, and in Seoul, Moscow, and Warsaw. It also has a youth ensemble. At Wright State University in Dayton, Blunden developed a pre-professional training programme with the Department of Theatre Arts.

Blunden had arranged for the future of the company, with her daughter and former student, Debbie Blunden-Diggs, and the choreographer-dancer Kevin Ward already in place to succeed her as co-artistic directors. "I certainly want the company to go on after I'm gone," she said not long ago. "We put in too many years to fold."

Jeraldyne Kilborn, dancer and choreographer: born Dayton, Ohio 10 December 1940; married 1959 Charles Blunden (one son, one daughter); died Dayton 22 November 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'