The Art of American Dance examines dance-inspired paintings, prints, sculptures, and photographs from the 1830s to the recent past—from dance in Native American cultures to ballroom dancing, the Jitterbug, swing, modern dance, burlesque, classical ballet, and more. It features some 90 artworks by iconic artists such as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, Nick Cave, and Faith Ringgold.
The exhibition was organized by Detroit Institute of Arts, where it was on view March through June, 2016 it then was on view at The Denver Art Museum from July through October, 2016. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the exhibition’s final venue.
At Crystal Bridges, the exhibition is divided into two main sections. The first section features depictions of everyday people engaged in social dances. As artists explore community dance, issues of class, race, tradition, belief, sexuality, and gender are revealed. The second half of the exhibition focuses on professional dancers on stage. As dance became more recognized as performance art, visual artists, dancers, choreographers, designers, and musicians collaborated to create interdisciplinary performances.
The artworks follow the theme of dance through diverse segments of American history and society; among them are Native American traditional dance paintings from the turn of the 20th century featuring international dance celebrities; works by Harlem Renaissance artists who challenged negative stereotypes and sought to create and sustain a vibrant cultural identity; and modern objects such as costumes or photographs that demonstrate the influence visual artists, dancers and choreographers had on one another.
Alongside works in the gallery, the exhibition brings programs and interactives that help connect the viewer to the rich history of dance and art through contemporary dancers, choreographers, and historians. For example, seven videos throughout the exhibition feature dancers discussing and demonstrating American dance traditions such as the Osage Nation dances, performed by Director of Student Engagement, Inclusion and Multicultural Programs at Oklahoma City University, Russ Tallchief. The video helps reveals the important role dance plays in religious ritual and affirms the significance of these customs today.