Othella Dallas, Keeper of Katherine Dunham’s Flame, Dies at 95
Ms. Dallas appeared on Broadway in 1946 in Bal Nègre, a Dunham-directed and choreographed revue, and toured Europe with the company. In Paris she met a Swiss engineer named Peter Wydler. When Dunham discovered that Ms. Dallas was about to get married, she was initially furious, but she served as Ms. Dallas’s witness and popped the champagne at the wedding in 1949. Eartha Kitt sang “C’est Si Bon”.
Ms. Dallas left the company later that year to stay with her husband in Switzerland. In the 1950s she taught the Dunham technique in Zurich, but soon left it to pursue a music career in America. In 1975, finally based in Europe, she opened her dance school in Basel.
“Yes, I was lucky,” she said in the documentary, reflecting on her improbable life. “I was fortunate enough to have so much. That is, what is happiness? “
Othella Dallas was born Othella Talmadge Strozier on September 26, 1925 in Memphis. Her father Frank was a pharmacist. Her mother, Thelma Lee, was a seamstress who also sang in the vaudeville. A grandmother ran a music school. Othella attended high school in St. Louis and aspired to be a doctor.
As a girl she suffered from rickets; Doctors suggested putting her legs back. Instead, as she told her, her grandmother took her to a voodoo priest, who prescribed that her legs be massaged in greasy dishwater while he recited an incantation.
After enough dips in the sink, he said she was cured.
“Make them dance,” he announced.
“Let them dance where?” asked her mother. “Those old filthy nightclubs?”