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Jean-Léon Destiné
Occupation: dancer, choreographer
Born in Saint-Marc, Haiti, to a wealthy family, Jean-Léon Destiné spent his career bringing the art of Haiti to the rest of the world. Always interested in the powerful Haitian "vodoun" and the ritual dances integral to its practice, he studied and danced as a teenager with Lina Mathon-Blanchet, founder of the first Haitian dance company that based its work on its own folk traditions. He came to New York City with Blanchet's troupe in the early 1940s. He stayed in the city as a journalist, but continued to study dance and present solo concerts. In 1946 he joined Katherine Dunham's troupe tour, and became known for his performance of the boy possessed in "Shango."

In 1949 Destiné formed the Destiné Afro-Haitian Dance Company. A powerful, authoritative performer, Destiné based his choreography on African, French, and "vodoun" dances. In 1960 the Haitian government requested that he direct the "First Troupe Folklorique Nationale" and appointed him Cultural Attaché for the Republic of Haiti in the United States. Influential and respected, Destiné toured with both companies throughout Europe, North and South America, and the Orient.

Destiné continued to pass on his knowledge and passion for African-Haitian dance, music, and traditions through his teaching. He has taught at the New York Dance Group Studio, the New York University School of the Arts, the Lezly School of Dance, and at UCLA, among other schools. Though most closely affiliated with teaching in California, Destiné continued to tour regularly throughout the United States and to participate in international workshops. In 1993 he appeared at the Dance World Festival in Poland. In all his roles as dancer, choreographer, and folklorist, Destiné has reinforced perspectives about the art inherent within Haitian dance and religion, showing how the study of a culture can vitalize dance.

-- Kimberly Pittman

Emery, Lynne Fauley. BLACK DANCE FROM 1619 TO TODAY. 2nd ed. Princeton, N.J., 1988.

Source Citation: "Leon Destine." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.