Joanne Danto receives Honorary Doctor of Arts

Oakland has named retired professional dancer and full-time philanthropist Joanne Danto as a recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Arts. 

According to the Oakland News, Danto was one of several to receive honorary degrees for “outstanding achievements in their respective fields.” 

“It’s a great thrill for me, it’s just such an honor,” she said. “It’s a very close community and it’s very rewarding to be a part of that.”

Danto said that she has been dancing since around the age of seven.

“Oh, just like any other little girl, there was a ballet school in the neighborhood and I took ballet lessons,” she said.

According to Broadway World, Danto was a soloist at the Frankfurt Ballet in Germany in 1966 and the National Ballet of Washington in 1970. In 1972, she joined the Pennsylvania Ballet and was promoted to the rank of principal dancer where she appeared on the PBS television series “Dance in America” and on the CBS show “Camera Three.”

Though she originally attended OU pursuing an art history degree, after retiring from her career as a professional dancer, Danto went back to school at Indiana University. While there, she worked in the dance department and was given a teaching assistantship.

After becoming a teacher, Danto has served as a faculty member at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Point Park College in Pittsburgh, Marygrove College in Detroit and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

She has been a Master Teacher at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where she was previously a student. She has also spent time in Verona, Italy at the Verona Opera Ballet where she served one season as a ballet mistress. 

“I think I’ve always been a believer in passing on what I have learned to younger students and to pre-professional students,” Danto said.

Around 10 years ago, Danto said she stopped teaching and has since focused her time on philanthropy. 

She is one of three trustees for the Marvin and Betty Family Foundation, which was set up by her parents, who she said were philanthropic toward the arts, for her and her siblings. This foundation supports the arts, medical research and offers scholarships. 

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the Danto family donated $1 million to the Michigan Opera Theatre back in 2006 for a dance endowment. Since then, Danto has joined the board at the Michigan Opera Theatre.

She said enjoys the relationships she has made with the people she works with and setting an example of leadership for others. 

“It’s a good thing to be an example to other people to let them know that they too can step up and do, and think, and brainstorm and be apart of it,” she said. “Life takes you in some crazy directions that you don’t expect.”