Dancing the Museum

A talk by Thomas F. DeFrantz

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Maxwell-Cummings Auditorium
1379 Sherbrooke West

June 2, 2017 - 6:00 pm


In partnership with SLIPPAGE: Performance|Culture|Technology, Duke University, and the University of Toronto, Concordia University presents, in association with DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, “Dancing the Museum,” a talk by Thomas F. DeFrantz as part of Configurations in Motion: Performance Curation and Communities of Colour.

This talk explores the ways that dance in the museum shifts across generations of theatrical dance practice to land, uneasily, in concert with the Curator’s craft. We will consider the embodied assumptions that surround the designations of dance across historical eras, and the ways in which these types of dance exceed or conform to possibilities of museum spaces. We will wonder at the gulf between the capacious physicality of dance practice, and the cultural capital afforded to museums that inevitably encourages choreographers to work in these rarefied sites. We will attempt to account for some of the ethical dimensions of dancing the museum for artists, even when the conditions of performance are far from ideal. The talk also considers the recent shifts in theoretical language affiliated with certain modes of dance production, and the exclusivity that academic language can create around very public practices of dance and performance. It also contends that theoretical language allows for transitions to museum curation of dance performance, whether that performance arrives fundamentally prepared for the spaces of the museums.

The event will be followed by a Q&A, moderated by Cheryl Sim, Ph.D Managing Director and Curator at DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art.

This talk will be presented in English. French translation of the text will be available on-site. This event is wheelchair accessible.

Free admission

Critical Dance Studies – Configurations Montreal

A transcript of the event can be found here.


Thomas F. DeFrantz is Chair of African and African American Studies and Professor of Dance and Theater Studies at Duke University. Born a Hoosier, his work focuses on theories of African diaspora aesthetics, intersections of dance and technology, and dance historiography. He writes articles and essays about black dance in the United States, as they are practiced in the U.S. and in global contexts. He is the director of SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, a research group in residence at Duke that explores emerging technology in live performance applications that works to create innovate interfaces that help us tell alternative histories. He currently convenes the working group Black Performance Theory and the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance. He is past-president of the Society of Dance History Scholars, an international organization that advances the field of dance studies through research, publication, performance, and outreach to audiences across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. His books include the edited volume Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance (2002) and Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey’s Embodiment of African American Culture (2004) and Black Performance Theory co-edited with Anita Gonzalez (2014). A director and writer, his creative works include CANE: A Responsive Environment Dancework that premiered at Duke in April, 2013, and where did I think I was going? [moving into signal] from 2015. With SLIPPAGE collaborators, he recently created work for the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Nasher Museum at Duke University. DeFrantz has also created a permanent installation for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


Jennifer Harge in fastDANCEpast as part of SLIPPAGE: Performance|Culture|Technology. Thomas F. DeFrantz, Director. Presented at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, March, 2016. Photo: Eto Otitigbe.