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Yiddish Dance Symposium, NYC, Dec 10, 2007

Session III. 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.

Peter Rushefsky, Executive Director
Center for Traditional Music and Dance

email Pete Rushefsky
phone: 212-571-1555 x36
web: www.ctmd.org

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