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Yiddish Dance Research Symposium, NYC, Dec 9-10, 2007

The Center for Traditional Music and Dance and New York University’s Department of Performance Studies present:

The Yiddish Dance Research Symposium
“Defining Yiddish Dance: Secular, Sacred, Borrowed and Transformed”

Sunday, December 9, 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Edgar M. Bronfman Center
New York University
7 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003
(between 5th Avenue and University Place).

Admission: $10 general public, $5 students/seniors

Scholars wishing to register should RSVP to Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s Pete Rushefsky, 212-571-1555 ext. 36, or email Pete

A special session focused on strategies for revitalizing the Yiddish Dance tradition will be held on the morning of Monday, December 10th (call/email Pete Rushefsky for details).

The Yiddish Dance Research Symposium is a historic first-ever gathering of leading researchers, teachers and practitioners of the Yiddish (Ashkenazic) Dance tradition along with scholars specializing in dance ethnography, Jewish culture and other Central and East European cultures. The goals of the Dance Research Symposium are for researchers to share fieldwork, discuss research into the dance tradition and its place within Yiddish culture, and identify goals/strategies for future fieldwork and dissemination of educational resources.

The Symposium co-Chairs are Michael Alpert and Walter Zev Feldman, Ph.D. Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett of New York University’s Department of Performance Studies is the Symposium’s host and will moderate.

Sessions: Sunday, December 9 - 10AM - 6PM

  • Welcome from the co-Chairs and Moderator

  • Defining Yiddish Dance

    • Cultural Contexts

    • Dance Genres

    • Gestures

  • Analysis of Film and Video Documents

  • Connection of Dance and Music

  • The Sher and Contra-Dance

  • Interaction with Co-territorial Dance

  • European Hasidic Dance

  • Concluding Thoughts

Monday, December 10th: Special Session (place/time to be announced)
  • Strategies for Field Research, Documentation and Dissemination

  • Training Dance Leaders & Encouraging Participation

For hundreds of years, Jews were part of a diverse tapestry of ethnic communities in Eastern and Central Europe. Dance, particularly during wedding festivities, was an important means of cultural expression and community cohesion for Jews living in cities and shtetlekh (villages) alike. Much of the dance repertoire of East European Jews was of a multi-cultural nature. Nevertheless, Jewish dance also featured a unique vocabulary of gestures and genres. A variety of factors caused most traditional Yiddish dance and its associated klezmer repertoire to fall almost completely out of practice by the 1960s.

Participants at the typical American-Jewish celebration of today may move in a circle to the rhythm of the music but are at a loss as to the dance forms, steps and stylistic gestures of the tradition. While remnants of a limited number of dance forms and gestures are retained in Hasidic communities, today there are but a few elderly immigrant and second-generation Jews left who still perform, or can even recall traditional dance from either Europe or America.

Despite significant success in the revival of traditional Jewish klezmer music over the past thirty years, the associated Yiddish Dance tradition has received less attention and is at alarming risk of being almost completely forgotten. It is only thanks to the work of a handful of dedicated individuals (mostly operating without institutional support) that any fieldwork and documentation of Yiddish Dance has been done over the past thirty years.

Special thanks to Erik Bendix and Jill Gellerman for their work in helping to conceptualize the conference.

Thanks also to Renata Celichowska, Adrienne Cooper, Lee Ellen Friedland, Hayim Kaufman, Jill Gellerman, Itzik Gottesman, Cindy Greenberg, Judith Brin Ingber, Haim Kaufman, Janet Leuchter, Hankus Netsky, Ethel Raim, Karen Sander, Jake Shulman-Ment, Fanchon Shur, Mark Slobin, Steve Weintraub, Adam Whiteman and Helen Winkler.

Other Upcoming Yiddish Dance Events:
Thursday November 1st and Thursday December 6th from 7PM – 10PM
Tantshoyz (Yiddish Dance House) – Workshop/Dance Party at the JCC in Manhattan (76th and Amsterdam). Zev Feldman leads the dancing to live klezmer music. Dancers of all abilities welcome. $10/$8 for JCC and Workmen’s Circle members.

Support for the Yiddish Dance Project was provided to the Center for Tradi