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“Dance! American Art 1830–1960” opens March 20 at Detroit Institute of Arts Exhibition looks at vibrant history of dance in America through artists’ eyes

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ED. Notes: Media Preview–Save the Date–March 16, 10 a.m.

Media kit available at

(Detroit)—The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) presents the multimedia exhibition “Dance! American Art 1830–1960” from March 20 to June 12, 2016. The exhibition is organized by the DIA and presents more than 90 paintings, sculptures, photographs and costumes brought together for the first time to celebrate and explain the important place of dance in American culture. Works are from the DIA and other leading American and international museums as well as from private collections.

The artworks explore dance through diverse segments of American culture, including sacred dances of indigenous North Americans; the history of African American dance forms; paintings from the turn of the 20th century featuring international female dance superstars; works by Harlem Renaissance artists who challenged negative stereotypes and sought to create and sustain a vibrant cultural identity; and modern objects that demonstrate a fluid dialogue between visual artists, dancers and choreographers.
“This is the first major exhibition to explore visual art related to American dance. Dance has such a rich history and has touched all segments of American society,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “This exhibition is not only about the representation of the art of dance, it explores how artists were inspired by how Americans move, how they interacted with each other and experienced the rhythm of music.”

Among the works featured are “The Jolly Flatboatmen” by George Caleb Bingham, John Singer Sargent’s “La Carmencita,” Winslow Homer’s “Summer Night,” Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds,” Mary Cassatt’s “Bacchante” and nine watercolors by Diego Rivera. Other artists in the show include William Merritt Chase, Florine Stettheimer, Thomas Hart Benton and Faith Ringgold.

American artists were captivated by the personalities, expressiveness and ideas represented by dance performance. The exhibition explores these ideas through several themes: dances that trace back to Indigenous Americans, Africans and Europeans; dance morphing, enduring and continuing through generations; artists who represented dance to point to societal changes; people dancing together in social settings like nightclubs and parties; dances during distinct eras, such as the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Swing and Charleston; dancers as celebrities; and collaborations between artists and dancers.

Seven videos highlight dance performances that include historic footage and contemporary dancers discussing and demonstrating American ballet, tap and Detroit’s dance legacies. These include Haleem Rasul and members of Hardcore Detroit; Michigan native Amber Neumann, currently with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago; Russ Tallchief, Osage Nation, director of Student Engagement, Inclusion and Multicultural Programs, Oklahoma City University; Francesca Harper, performer and artistic director, The Francesca Harper Project; and Thomas F. DeFrantz, chair of African and African American Studies and professor of Dance, Duke University, who served as creative director for the videos.

"In addition to the outstanding works of art, it was important for me to have the voice and expertise of dancers within the exhibition itself,” said Jane Dini, associate curator of American Painting and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and curator of the exhibition. “They help illustrate how dance as an artistic form had an enormous impact on the fine arts, especially painting and sculpture.”

The DIA offers a multitude of activities related to “Dance!” Live performances, movies, dance demonstrations and conversations and a fun program for all ages, “Dancing in the DIA,” which takes place in the museum’s Great Hall. It is a creative movement class guided by Detroit’s ARTLAB J. No experience is necessary, but a spirit of fun is encouraged. Click here for a complete list of activities. 

The local community has also gotten on the “Dance!” bandwagon, with a dozen community and professional dance organizations and cultural institutions offering a range of programs. Information is available in the online media kit.

A catalogue published by the DIA is the first major investigation of the visual arts related to American dance, offering an interdisciplinary overview of dance-inspired works from 1830 to 1960. The book is edited by Dini, associate curator of American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and former assistant curator of American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It features 14 essays by renowned art and dance historians, among them Dini, Thomas F. DeFrantz, Lynn Garafola, Dakin Hart, Constance Valis Hill, Valerie J. Mercer, Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Kenneth Myers and Sharyn R. Udall.

Exhibition tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents, $7 for ages 6–17, $5 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents ages 6–17, and free for DIA members. Admission is free every Friday. School groups need to register in advance. Tickets at or 313-833-4005.

“Dance: American Art, 1830–1960” will travel to the Denver Art Museum, July 10–October 2, 2016 and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, Oct. 22, 2016–Jan. 16, 2017.

The exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Support has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support has been provided by the Marjorie and Maxwell Jospey Foundation and an ADAA Foundation Curatorial Award and the Association of Art Museum Curators.

Support for the catalogue has been provided by the Ida and Conrad Smith Fund.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Museum Hours and Admission
9 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesdays–Thursdays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. General admission (excludes ticketed exhibitions) is free for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents and DIA members. For all others, $12.50 for adults, $8 for seniors ages 62+, $6 for ages 6–17. For membership information, call 313-833-7971.


The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA’s collection is known for its quality, range and depth. The DIA’s mission is to create opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art.

Programs are made possible with support from residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.