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Dance Pioneers New exhibit credits innovators

LATONYA BERRY Contributing Writer While traveling north on Cass, it’s hard to miss the sculpture of dancers outside the Walter P. Reuther Library. “Dancing Figures” is a 1960s’ cast bronze sculpture by architect and sculptor Oskar Stonorov. It dresses the first plaque of the “Dance Pioneers: Michigan’s 20th Century Movers” exhibit, which went on display last month at the Reuther Library and will run until May 2014. This plaque grabs the attention of visitors and opens them up to the exhibit. The Reuther Library, in collaboration with Harriet Berg, Wayne State alumnus and founder of the Michigan Dance Archives, opened the exhibit to celebrate a century of dance in Michigan. The exhibit, located in the Leonard Woodcock wing, is composed of five other plaques in different categories of dance—Ballroom, Show Biz, Ballet

and Modern Dance—and displays different individuals from the 1900s who made a significant impact on the American dance scene. The plaque following the dancing figures is dedicated to ballroom. The display highlights the dance styles of Doris Eaten Travis, Paul Strasburg and the dancing duo of Henry Ford and Benjamin B. Lovett. Henry Ford, industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Co., did more than dramatically change the auto industry. According the display, Ford “attempted to concur the popular dance of his day,” including the Fox Trot and Charleston. He also brought Benjamin B. Lovett from New England to Michigan and “attempted to remake popular dance in the U.S.” The aqua blue display dedicated to Show Biz highlights the dance careers of Ziggy Johnson and Charles “Cholly” Atkins. Johnson founded the oldest African American dance school in Detroit. Atkins, according to the exhibit, “gave the Supremes

their gentle sways and shimmies and the Four Tops their precise glides and turns.” “The signature ‘Stop! In the name of love’ gesture was just one example of how Atkins would hit upon the perfect physical expression of a lyric,” noted the display. The fourth plaque, devoted to ballet, hangs in royal purple. It outlines the careers of Olga Fricker and Iacob Lascu who immigrated to the U.S. in 1972. He came to Detroit, where in 1974 he “initiated a cooperative venture with Dance Detroit,” Marygrove College’s dance company. Hanging to the left of the ballet display is the green Modern Dance plaque. It outlines the dance careers of Warren Spears, who danced with the Alvin Ailey company in 1978; Rod Rogers, known for bridging the gap between African and Modern dance; and Gay Delanghe, who is credited for her “intelligent innovation, wit, and vitality.” The last plaque is dedicated to former first lady Betty Ford, known

for her “long-standing parties in which she danced from one partner to the next.” Ford, the wife of 38th president Gerald Ford, grew up in Grand Rapids and is noted for often expressing her disappointment in never being good enough to be a first-rate dancer. Elizabeth Myers, director of the Reuther Library, said about 65 people attended the exhibit opening. “After the initial opening of the exhibit… we’ve had a fairly small number of visitors,” she said. Myers said she knows Harriet Berg is planning to promote the exhibit to educators on and off campus. “We are working together to design educational tours of the exhibit and the history of dance in Michigan.” Berg, who is the assistant curator of “Dance Pioneers: Michigan’s 20th Century Movers” told WSU, “Though Detroit is known for sports, music, and performing arts, it is rarely associated with dance.” She said this exhibit will remedy that misconception.


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