From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Dean, Dora [Dora Dean Babbige Johnson]

(born: 1872  -  died: 1949) 

Dora Dean Babbige Johnson was born Dora Babbige in Covington, KY. She was known in vaudeville as "The Black Venus." She was married to Charles E. Johnson, with whom she performed as a couple, often billed as the creators of the Cake Walk dance. Dean and Johnson were a stylish and graceful dance team who perfected the Cake Walk into a high-stepping swank. They also performed soft-shoe and wing dancing and were stars of "The Creole Show," which emphasized couples dancing.

Dean and Johnson were the first African American couple to perform on Broadway. They were also the first to perform in evening attire; they were the best-dressed couple on stage. They were the first to use strobe lighting. It has also been said that the couple was the first to use steel taps on their dance shoes, but this has not been verified. Beginning in 1903, the couple lived and performed mostly in Europe and some in Australia and the U.S.

Dean was described as possessing a plump, striking figure; she posed for German painter Ernest von Heilmann; the painting was unveiled in 1902 at the coronation of King Edward VII and exhibited at the Paris Expo.

They returned home in 1913. The couple had divorced in 1910; once back in the U. S. they continued performing separately but not together for a long while. In 1930, Dean had an acting role in the film Georgia Rose, an all African American talkie by white director Harry Gant. Dean and Johnson reunited as a team and a couple in 1934, and both retired by 1942. They spent the remainder of their lives in Minneapolis, MN.

For more see Tap Roots, by M. Knowles; "Dora Dean" in the Biographical Dictionary of Dance, by B. N. Cohen-Stratyner; and vol. 2 of the African American National Biography, edited by H. L. Gates, Jr. and E. B. Higginbotham. See also Dora Dean and Charles Johnson on the site, which includes a photograph of the team.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Kenton County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Covington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Georgia Rose (film)
NKAA Source: Tap roots: the early history of tap dancing
NKAA Source: Biographical dictionary of dance
NKAA Source: The African American national biography

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry: From Kentucky to France and Back, 1870-1920

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Dean, Dora [Dora Dean Babbige Johnson],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed February 27, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-01-03 21:26:37