Dayton Contemporary Dance Company History
Jeraldyne Blunden Founder and Artistic Director
Jeraldyne Blunden was a visionary who began her dance training under the guidance of Josephine and Hermene Schwarz, founders of The Dayton Ballet. They helped Ms. Blunden gain access to greater opportunities, including summer scholarships to the American Dance Festival, where she studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, George Balanchine and James Truitte, teachers who later became her professional peers and personal friends. That exposure to the greater dance world shaped her vision for the future. She studied at the American Dance Festival and performed with the Dayton Ballet, Antioch Summer Theatre and the Connecticut College Dance Theatre Workshop. The Schwartz sisters believed deeply in Ms. Blunden’s dreams for the future of dance, and eventually gave her control of their dance school at the historic Linden Center. Through her work, she provided opportunities for her beloved Dayton dancers, sending them to train at Dance Theatre of Harlem, ADF, Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and others.
In 1968, she established the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which quickly developed into a nationally recognized institution and began acquiring an esteemed collection of masterworks of African-American choreographers for the company’s repertoire. Blunden also taught at Ohio State University, Wright State University, the University of Toledo, Wilberforce University, and the Miami University of Ohio. Ms. Blunden was also awarded honorary Doctorate degrees from the University of Dayton and Wright State University.
As much as she was a national figure, Ms. Blunden was a pillar of the local arts community, and confidant to many leaders of state arts institutions. Blunden believed that dance had the power to “connect us,” and used a grassroots philosophy to effect change in the landscape of Dance in Ohio. She was a champion for many fledgling dance companies to become members of the Regional Ballet Association, broadening the scope and national recognition of dance in Ohio. Blunden and her dance company hosted two regional festivals in the 1980s.
In 1996 Ms. Blunden established the JOSIE Award to recognize individual excellence in the art of dance. To date, thirty-four professional dancers have received the award; historically it has gone to members of DCDC, Dayton Ballet or Rhythm and Shoes. The strategic voting peer community she built around the nomination process helped to cultivate vibrant relationships between the professional dance companies in Dayton, OH.
She was a founding board member for the International Association of Blacks in Dance, giving OH national recognition as a change agent in the field and her participation in IABD was a part of that visionary work.
Blunden was herself an artist and conceived many dance projects over the years. That work brought nationally recognized artists to Ohio to produce groundbreaking work. Dancers and audiences benefited from collaborations with national recording artists, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and DCDC’s seminal work Children of the Passage, a collaborative undertaking by Donald McKayle, Ron K. Brown.
Ms. Blunden wanted the dance community in Ohio to experience perspectives from outside of the state, but also recognized the importance of mentoring dancers and choreographers from Ohio. It was her life’s work to support then emerging artists– Dwight Rhoden, former resident choreographer for DCDC and founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet; Terrance Greene, DCDC Alumni and founder of Cleveland Based Greene Works; Kevin Ward, past recipient of the OhioDance award and former Artistic Director of DCDC. She deeply believed in the gifts that Ohio had to offer the world!
Under Blunden’s watchful eye, DCDC became an undeniable center for contemporary dance. She acquired works by choreographers who became pillars of American dance history, including Ulysses Dove, who choreographed “Vespers” on DCDC in 1986. The list of masterworks she acquired for the company’s permanent repertoire, and for Ohio audiences to experience is endless; it includes Donald Byrd, Eleo Pomare, Talley Beatty and Donald McKayle.
Ms. Blunden’s dream has impacted the lives of countless dance artists, supporters and institutions in Ohio and beyond. Her legacy is alive in DCDC, and the hundreds of people she touched through her vision. That includes her daughter, Debbie Blunden-Diggs, whom she primed to be her successor. A New York Times critic once said that her “steely determination, a great personal warmth and humor and an unsentimental humanity that made her a much-loved figure on the national dance scene."
- Born Jeraldyne Kilborn in Dayton, Ohio on December 10, 1940, Blunden began her dance training at the age of six at the Linden Center, a recreation center in the African-American community of West Dayton. In 1948, a number of African-American mothers approached the Schwarz School of Dance, later to become The Dayton Ballet School, about providing opportunities for their children to enroll in the school.
- She married Charles Blunden and a year later gave birth to her daughter, Debbie Blunden-Diggs.
- Blunden chartered her own dance school named Jeraldyne’s School of Dance, beginning a new era of opportunity.
- Jeraldyne Blunden founded the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, almost 48 years in existence to date.
- DCDC becomes the first African-American dance company to gain membership as a Performing Company in the Northeast Regional Ballet Association.
- Was honored as one of the Top Ten Women of Dayton and the first female recipient of the Kuzaliwa Award for contributions to the black community.
- She received a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship.
- DCDC becomes one of four dance companies selected to take part in the American Dance Festival program, Black Traditions in American Modern Dance.
- Ms. Blunden received the OhioDance Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Advancement of the Dance Field.
- Regional Dance America Northeast Award.
- Received the the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship Award for her life’s work in dance.
- DCDC becomes one of six American companies (and the only one not based in New York) chosen to participate in the Biennial de la Danse in Lyon, France.
- Ms. Blunden established the JOSIE Award to recognize individual excellence in the art of dance. To date, thirty-four professional dancers have received the award.
- Dance Women Living Legend Honors.
- Katherine Dunham Achievement Award, the Dance Magazine Award, the National Black Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award.
- Choreographer and former DCDC dancer Kevin Ward was appointed Artistic Director.
- Blunden died on November 22, 1999 at age 58. She left behind a legacy of an innovative dance company already receiving national and international recognition.
- Ms. Blunden was the recipient of the Dance/USA Honors Award (posthumously).
- DCDC was featured in the 2001 Emmy award-winning PBS Great Performances documentary, Free to Dance.
- Dancer Sheri Williams received the New York Dance and Performance Award (the Bessie), the JOSIE Award, Fisk University’s Excellence in Artistry Award, and the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District Lifetime Achievement Award.
- DCDC toured 27 cities with The Flight Project, five dance works commemorating the Wright Brothers centennial of powered flight.
- The company closed the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Next Wave Festival with a week of performances.
- Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders named as Executive Director; DCDC performs the opening performance for Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Maya Angelo at the Schuster Center, Dayton, Ohio.
- DCDC was featured in the PBS special Dance in America: Dancing in the Light; DCDC toured 22 cities with colôr-ógrăphy, n. the dances of Jacob Lawrence, four dance works based on the paintings and inspirations of famous African-American painter Jacob Lawrence; Debbie Blunden-Diggs, daughter of founder Jeraldyne Blunden, was appointed Artistic Director.
- DCDC adopted a new business model that allowed for partnerships with the University of Dayton and Central State University; the company moves its studios to Central State University, Dayton Campus.
- DCDC formed a partnership with Wright State University; Debbie Blunden-Diggs celebrated a 40-year career in dance as a choreographer, former dancer, teacher, and administrator.
- DCDC performed for the grand opening of the University of Dayton's China Institute in Suzhou Industrial Park, China; DCDC provided arts programs, entertainment and education programs to over 40,000 people world-wide; the film "Sparkle" premiered on PBS featuring Sheri "Sparkle" Williams celebrating 40 years with DCDC.
- The company celebrated its 45th anniversary and the inception of ReVisioning 45, a project of new dance work by world leading choreographers and emerging choreographers that included Donald Byrd, Ronen Koresh, and Ray Mercer.
- DCDC joined the Bach Society in celebration and collaboration of African, European, and American music and dance; The Company took contemporary dance to the streets with an outdoor concert at historic Carillon Park, Dayton, Ohio.
- HeartShakes moved souls and hearts at this evening length contemporary dance piece choreographed by Kiesha Lalama that explored love, life, and passion.