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CoastLine: Dancing past language and limits - including white supremacy

Professor Thomas DeFrantz, Duke University, Department of African and African American Studies; Program in Dance, SLIPPAGE@Duke
Duke University
Professor Thomas DeFrantz, Duke University, Department of African and African American Studies; Program in Dance, SLIPPAGE@Duke

Humans dance. The purpose varies: invoking the power of the gods, expressing deep or transcendent emotion, connecting socially, resisting the power structure, developing a future identity, but at its root, whatever the reason, exploring the depth and breadth of human creativity is inseparable from the act of dance.

In her book, Exuberance, the Passion for Life, Kay Redfield Jamison writes, “Over fifty thousand years ago, Neanderthals made flutes from the bones of bears; long before that, mothers sang to their infants and, through that song, parent and child were brought closer together still. Music, the gods knew, transforms. Orpheus sang and turned the course of the rivers; trees stirred from their rootings. Sisyphus took leave of his labors…

Just a quick editor’s note: Knowing I’m about to interview an accomplished writer, professor, performer, and dancer, a person who also happens to be Black, the breadth of my obliviousness explodes into view, as I paint the picture of history replete with Western – white – mythology, music, and dance tradition. You’ll hear my guest gently and gracefully expand on the origins of dance in the first segment.

“...to sit still on his rock and listen to Orpheus; the vulture, under his spell, desisted from ripping at Prometheus’s liver. And Jupiter, in awe, took Orpheus’ lyre and placed it among the stars.”

Duke University Professor Thomas DeFrantz asserts that our lives are about shifting direction, pivoting, or being stopped. And creativity, he says, lives in finding the way to keep going, keep moving. The electromagnetic pulse of the body is the goingness. Another way of saying this: people find their way into creativity by paying attention to the “yes” moments. And embracing feeling, how one is feeling in this moment, is a key metric for understanding the value of life. It’s a way of perceiving, living, and understanding relationship that other cultures may have abandoned, but Black culture has not.


Thomas DeFrantz is a Professor at Duke University in the Department of African and African American Studies and in Duke’s Program in Dance. Professor DeFrantz is also the creator and director of SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, a research group that explores emerging technology in live performance applications. DeFrantz has written five books, including Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey’s Embodiment of African American Culture and Black Performance Theory, co-edited with Anita Gonzalez. Professor DeFrantz and taught at MIT in Music and Theater Arts and Comparative Media Studies.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.