Pearl Primus, dancer and choreographer, was born on November 29th, 1919, in Trinidad. Her parents, Edward and Emily Primus, immigrated to the United States in 1921 when Pearl was still a small child. Primus’s promise as a dancer was recognized quickly, and she received a scholarship from the National Youth Association’s New Dance Group in 1941. She soon began performing professionally both as a soloist and in dance groups around New York.
In 1948 Primus received a federal grant to study dance, and used the money to travel around Africa and the Caribbean to learn different styles of native dance, which she then brought back to the United States to perform and teach. She also choreographed dances that contained messages about racism and discrimination. One of her dances, Strange Fruit, was a protest against the lynching of blacks.
Primus’ sojourn to West Africa has proven invaluable to students of African dance. She learned more about African dance, its function and meaning than had any other person before her.
Eventually Primus formed her own dance troupe which toured the nation. She also opened a dance school in Harlem to train younger performers. In 1953 Primus returned to Trinidad to study dance there, and met her husband, Percival Borde. They married, and had one son together who also showed promise as a dancer. In 1958 at the age of 5, he made his professional debut and joined her dance troupe.