Dance in Transit

Katherine Dunham and her daughter
Katherine Dunham and her daughter Marie Christine board an airplane in New York bound for Rome, 1953. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Library of Congress.

Dance in Transit (Harmony Bench and Kate Elswit, PI; 2016-2018) is a digital humanities research project that applies the tools of data analysis to the study of dance history. In particular, this project emphasizes the necessary relation between touring performers and the modes, networks, and infrastructures of transportation that link cities, countries, and cultures. Combining science and technology studies, data analysis, digital humanities, and archival research, we focus on the ways in which technological systems facilitate both the production and transmission of culture. Dance in Transit asks: How does culture travel?
Dance in Transit focuses on African American choreographer Katherine Dunham, whose work as a choreographer and anthropologist included research trips throughout the Caribbean, global travel for her work in the Hollywood film industry, as well as the domestic and international touring of her dance company. In particular, we examine Dunham’s touring circa 1950-1953, which includes the premiere of her controversial work Southland in Chile in 1950 and its reprisal in France in 1953. Analyzing Dunham’s touring and choreographic work at the cusp of the Civil Rights Era allows us to consider both the transportation systems upon which she relied and the racism she and her company members faced when engaged in travel.
Dance in Transit seeks to make visible the itinerant life of a mid-century choreographer and bring focused attention to modes of transportation and transmission--as well as the relational infrastructures--that enable the global spread of dance. In addition to a Virginia Hull Research Award and assistance from the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Office at The Ohio State University, Dance in Transit is supported by a Battelle Engineering, Technology, and Human Affairs (BETHA) Grant.

Associated Publications

Where more than one author is listed, publications are equally co-authored and the name order is alphabetical.

  • Bench, Harmony and Kate Elswit. “Dance Touring and Embodied Data: Some Approaches to Katherine Dunham’s Movement on the Move.” Current Research in Digital History 2 (2019).
  • Bench, Harmony, Baylie MacRae, and Kat Sprudzs. “Analyzing Afrique: One Dance and Three Methods.” Research in Dance Education 21.1 (2020): 43-56.
  • Bench, Harmony and Kate Elswit. “Mapping Movement on the Move: Dance Touring and Digital Methods.” Theatre Journal 68.4 (2016): 575-596.


Consultants and Research Assistants


  • Eric Andrew Sherman, map specialist

Research Assistants (years active with project)

  • Kat Sprudzs (2017-18)
  • Julia Nichols (2017)
  • Baylie McRae (2017-2018)