Dance and the Museum: Professor on New Hit Exhibit

DeFrantz explains the significance of the show 'Dance! American Art 1830-1960'

Thomas F. DeFrantz plays an unusual role in a new touring exhibition devoted to the portrayal of dance in American art. DeFrantz, a professor of dance who chairs Duke’s department of African and African American studies, consulted on “Dance! American Art 1830-1960,” on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts. But DeFrantz also appears in the exhibit, in a manner of speaking.

The show includes life-size videos that appear alongside 90 paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works of art depicting dance. Visitors walking through the exhibit can watch a video of DeFrantz demonstrating tap traditions and African-American dance forms. 

“They really helps humanize the objects in a way,” DeFrantz said of the videos. “Older objects take on a vibrant contemporary life because they’re near videos of people who are living and breathing on the planet now.”

The exhibition includes works by Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, William H. Johnson, Faith Riinggold, Andy Warhol and many others. It was curated by Jane Dini, a former DIA assistant curator who is now with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The show remains in Detroit through June 12 and travels to the Denver Art Museum this summer. It opens at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas in the fall. 


What can we learn about ourselves and our world through dance?

In the latest "Good Question" from the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Thomas DeFrantz talks about how "our movement choices, including dance, allow for personal expansion and new forms of communication." 

"The human condition is emboldened by mistakes as well as the possibility for growth and learning. Dance can open up the capacity for expansion, and a gesture or a particular movement can inform that exchange. Dance reminds us of the liveliness of our bodies, and its viewer can feel that energy just by proximity. The pleasure of possibility in a given moment is all-encompassing: the possibility for self, for race, for gender, for sexuality, for community in all of its forms."

Read more from DeFrantz in "Good Question" here.