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Othella Dallas, Keeper of Katherine Dunham’s Flame, Dies at 95

Ms. Dallas performed on Broadway in 1946 in “Bal Nègre,” a revue staged and choreographed by Dunham, and toured with the company throughout Europe. In Paris, she met a Swiss engineer named Peter Wydler. When Dunham discovered that Ms. Dallas intended 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. She taught the Dunham technique in Zurich in the 1950s, but soon left to pursue a music career back in America. In 1975, finally settled in Europe, she opened her dance school in Basel.

“Yes, I’ve had luck,” she said in the documentary, reflecting on her improbable life. “I’ve been lucky to have so much. That means, what is luck?”

Othella Dallas was born Othella Talmadge Strozier on Sept. 26, 1925, in Memphis. Her father, Frank, was a pharmacist. Her mother, Thelma Lee, was a seamstress who also sang in vaudeville. A grandmother ran a music school. Othella attended high school in St. Louis and aspired to become a doctor.

As a girl, she suffered from rickets; doctors suggested resetting her legs. Instead, as she told it, her grandmother took her to a voodoo priest, who prescribed that her legs get massaged in greasy dishwater while he recited an incantation.

After enough dips in the kitchen sink, he said she was cured.

“Let her dance,” he proclaimed.

“Let her dance where?” her mother asked. “Those old dirty nightclubs?”

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