Iconic Dance Items at the Newest Smithsonian Museum
Sammy Davis Jr.'s childhood tap shoes. Photo courtesy Smithsonian NMAAHC
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened last fall in Washington, DC, covers a wide and deep swath of the history of black Americans. Included are many items that demonstrates the importance dance holds for the community and the tremendous contributions African Americans have made to the dance world. Here are a few of the many notable dance items on display:
Sammy Davis Jr.'s childhood tap shoes (shown above)
Virginia Johnson's costume from Dance Theatre of Harlem's Creole Giselle
A sequin-covered black jacket worn by Michael Jackson on his 1984 Victory Tour, on the heels of his Thriller album
Selected photos of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from the 1960s and '70s
A portrait of dancer and entertainer Josephine Baker
A pair of American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland's pointe shoes
A case on musical theater detailing the history of minstrel shows and the evolution of black dance from blackface and the cakewalk to Broadway's The Wiz and The Tap Dance Kid
A wildly popular interactive video-tutorial on step dancing, featuring Step Afrika!, Washington, DC's much-in-demand touring troupe, teaching classic step-dance moves
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.