DEC. 14-JUNE 1, 2001

Is it possible for one exhibit to do justice to 400 years of African-American religious, social, concert, and theatrical dance, as well as to the artwork involved with or inspired by such dance? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped the Ohio-based National Afro-American Museum and Culture Center from taking a shot. The center’s D.C. showing actually combines two exhibits. One was put together by a team of scholars; it focuses on the Africanization of American movement throughout history. The other, curated by art historian Samella Lewis, encompasses African-American art inspired by dance. Using artifacts, written text, diagrams, video, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and life-size cutouts and re-creations, the complete exhibition demonstrates how, in the words of dance historian Katrina Hazzard-Donald, “Africa has given America its way of moving.” “Spirit” goes from drum-propelled 17th-century rituals to modern-day hiphop throwdowns with countless stops in between: The Ring Shout, the Jig, the Cakewalk, the Charleston, the Lindy, the Jitterbug, tap dancing (as demonstrated by the renowned Nicholas Brothers, pictured), and breakdancing are all here—as are masks, musical instruments, and visual pieces by artists including John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, and Howardena Pindell. Seeing this show, you’ll sense the community of ancient tribes; feel the secular and sensual joy of a late-night, 20th-century basement dance party; and marvel at how a people under often brutal oppression transformed this nation’s cultural landscape, and for the good of us all. On view daily (except Dec. 25) from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through June 1, 2001, at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building’s South and East Galleries, 900 Jefferson Drive SW. Free. (Steve Kiviat)

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