Kariamu Welsh, who helped make contemporary dance a cornerstone of American academic life, has died at 72. She passed in Albany Hospital, Vermont, of kidney failure.
She was a pioneer of African-American and Afro-Latino dance movements — both of which have increasingly come under study as a result of the growth of both the arts and the educational establishment in this country. Her influence on choreographers was vast. Ms. Welsh was widely admired by critics and dancers of all nationalities for her fearlessness in exploring ethnic choreographies that few thought to be viable for Western performance.
“It was the whole range,” said Robert Johnson, Ms. Welsh’s successor as director of the Center for African-American Studies at the University at Albany, “from gumboot dance and choruses of drums and knots and drumming, all the way through to more exotic things like headdresses and tattoos. In general, she was a big person who spoke without filter. You could let anything out of your mouth because she was not bound by the conventions of what could and could not be said.”
Ms. Welsh was among a generation of influential American scholars who dealt with racial and ethnic notions of dance, including Andre Kamont, Gwendolyn Brooks, Calvin Butts, Gil Rose, Linda Earhart, Deaconess Christena Montalvo, Josiane Zaichick, Carrie Reiswig and Rebecca Budge.