“Miss Josephine and Miss Hermene Schwarz (founders of the Dayton Ballet) recognized that this would be a very valuable and needed experience for African American children but incorporating them into their school at that time was not doable.,” said her daughter, Debbie Blunden-Diggs, the chief artistic administrator & producing director for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, in a 2016 interview. “At that time we were really in a segregated state of mind around the nation.”
Jeraldyne Blunden was known to a be dedicated and demanding teacher. A sign posted in her dance studio read, "This is not Burger King. You cannot have it your way." DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE
The sisters agreed that if another location in the community could be found they would teach dance to Blunden and other children. “As a child she loved the creativity and the freedom of moving and being able to be in control of how you moved your body,” said Blunden-Diggs. “Within the discipline of training your body there is a freedom and she really loved that.”
The sisters recognized her talent and in the following years supported her career by assisting with access to study with the Dayton Ballet, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the American Dance Theatre. She studied with dance greats Martha Graham, José Limón, George Balanchine and James Truitte.
Jeraldyne Blunden, founder of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, juggles office work and babysitting for her granddaugher Lyndsey in this 1994 photograph. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE
Credit: JAN UNDERWOOD
Credit: JAN UNDERWOOD
At 19, she became director of the Linden Community Center founded by Josephine Schwarz. That role evolved into Jeraldyne’s School of Dance where she dedicated her talent to young children in the community. “She watched them experience something they might not have a chance to experience,” said Blunden-Diggs.
“She wanted to give dancers the opportunity to study good quality dance and she wanted to give this area the opportunity to see what good quality dance looked like, particularly African American dance,” said Blunden-Diggs.
She was known to be dedicated and devoted yet demanding of her dance company. A sign posted in the dance studio in her handwriting and signed ‘J.B.’ read, “This is not Burger King. You cannot have it your way.”
Sheri “Sparkle” Williams, a dancer with DCDC for more than 45 years, began taking dance classes at Jeraldyne’s School of Dance at age 9. As a child she recognized Blunden’s commitment to excellence.
“She was always a real stickler for what she wanted. She was discipline oriented and nurturing at the same time,” she said. “Jeraldyne was always trying to pull the best from you.”
DCDC is among the best in American modern dance troupes. Blunden and her company have received international acclaim and performed around the world.
Jeraldyne Blunden was awarded an honorary doctrate from the University of Dayton in 1990. Then UD President Brother Raymond Fitz congratulates her. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE
Blunden received numerous awards during her life including the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship Award in 1994.
She died of renal failure Nov. 22, 2000 at the age of 59.
“She was special because she was so human,” said Williams. “She was humble and gracious, real and talented and she wanted to share that with others and create an environment where artistry flourished and she did that.”
Blunden-Diggs said her mother’s vision exposed the community to a level of modern contemporary dance that most would not get a chance to experience. “Being able to contribute to the arts community and this art form, DCDC has their own place in history because of her.”