Jewish Dance in America

Modern and postmodern concepts of individualism and female expression have challenged traditional Judaism--while creating new dance traditions.

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Jews and American Dance

The Jewish presence in American concert dance, while not always consciously linked to Jewish life, has had broad and important influence in promoting both excellence and diversity.

Prominent Jews in ballet include choreographers Jerome Robbins and Eliot Feld, and dancers such as Nora Kaye, Melissa Hayden, and Allegra Kent. Jewish patronage was forthcoming from prominent individuals like William Kolodney at the 92nd Street Y and Lincoln Kirstein at the New York City Ballet, as well as influential presenters such as Sol Hurok. Meanwhile, famous critics and scholars include Selma Jeanne Cohen, a leader in the establishment of dance history as an academic discipline, Judith Lynne Hanna, celebrated for her research into the relation between dance and society, and Marcia Siegel, one of the most prominent dance critics of the 20th century.

Jewish dance has played a major role in American Jewish culture as well as the broader dance field. In its social and folk forms it has provided a primary means for American Jews to feel connected to the ancient roots of Jewish life, as well as to the state of Israel. In the incorporation of modern and postmodern perspectives--especially in highlighting individuality, female expression, and varied minority perspectives--Jewish choreographers have foreshadowed and been a contributor to progressive developments in organized Judaism. Their work has also greatly contributed to the growth of American dance as a contemporary art form, embracing racial, religious, and ethnic diversity, demonstrating excellence, and promoting humanistic values.

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Naomi M. Jackson

Naomi Jackson is an Associate Professor of dance in the Department of Dance, Herberger College of the Arts, Arizona State University.