Chuck Davis, Who Brought African Dance Traditions to America, Dies at 80

DanceAfrica, a sprawling, multiday communal celebration, presents dancers and musicians from the United States, Africa and the diaspora, along with an outdoor bazaar selling African food and handicrafts. It has been reprised in cities throughout the United States.

American Dance Festival 2015 Season Dedicated to Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis Video by AmerDanceFest

“We need reminders of our history,” Mr. Davis, speaking of DanceAfrica, told The New York Times in 2001. “It adds meaning to our lives.”

Photo

A DanceAfrica performance in 2015 featuring members of Bale Folclórico da Bahia, a Brazilian folkloric dance company. From left, Tiago Lima and Wagner Santana.

Credit
Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Mr. Davis frequently traveled to Africa with his dancers to study dance and folkloric traditions, and lectured and gave master classes around the world. In North Carolina, he took his company to perform in schools, prisons and nursing homes, as well as on concert stages.

His “vast knowledge of dance and music from the African continent,” The Washington Post wrote in 2001, “has helped make African dance part of the American cultural landscape.”

All this from a man who in his youth had planned to become a nurse — until he realized that his love of dancing might well pre-empt that career.

Charles Rudolph Davis was born on New Year’s Day, 1937, in Raleigh, N.C., the only child of Tony Davis, a laborer, and the former Ethel Watkins, a domestic.

Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Chuck attended all-black schools. In high school, he entered a Navy R.O.T.C. program, training as a medical corpsman.

In the late 1950s, after completing his naval service, he worked in a Washington-area hospital and planned…

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