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Karen Goodman

Come let us dance (Lomir Geyn Tantsn).

Goodman, Karen: "Come let us dance", 16th International Congress on Dance Research, Corfu, Greece, 30/10-3/11, 2002.

"Come let us dance" (Lomir Geyn Tantsn) is a new documentary/instructional video that teaches the steps, style and heritage of traditional Eastern European Jewish dancing. Versions of a Freylekhs and a Sher are taught step by step by 81-year-old teacher and performer, Miriam Rochlin, who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1940. A fascinating and informative teacher, she includes a rich and witty commentary on the style and feeling of the dances and the lives of the people who danced them. Joining Mrs. Rochlin are a group of 8 dancers, 6 of whom are seniors. They each bring the authenticity of their own connections to Yiddish culture. "Come let us dance" is the first video made specifically for a general audience to document and to teach the old Yiddish dances that brings filmmaking and documentary values to the project.

The video brings to light the life and work of Nathan Vizonsky (1897-1968), who documented these and other once-important communal dances in his 1942 book, "Ten Jewish folk dances." It also features woodcuts from the book by its illustrator, Todros Geller, footage of the dancing of theater director Benjamin Zemach and of Rabbi Michael Roth, as well as photos from Berlin in the 1920's, 1930's photos of Vizonsky and his work, of poet Else Lasker-Schuler, director Max Reinhardt and the early European productions of the Habimah Theatre, as Mrs. Rochlin relates how these people were part of her life and work.

"Come let us dance" is an introduction to the spirit and style of dances that are no longer as accessible as they were even a generation ago. As a reference for present and forthcoming generations, it is a contribution to what very little is available to the general public. With the Yiddish revival, full understanding of Yiddish culture is not complete without knowing how its people moved and danced. In a culture that developed under difficult circumstances, intonation and gesture were everything, and so much of the flavor of those times is especially apparent in the old dances. They are a melding of European and Eastern European dances with a physical quality that came from davening, and a combination of passion and reserve required by both religious tradition and life in often unfavorable environments.

In the 1950's, Mrs. Rochlin worked with Nathan Vizonsky, whose book is notated and gives the background of the dances of his own youth in early 20th century Poland. Mr. Vizonsky came to the U.S. in 1921, and his career was devoted to keeping Jewish dance tradition alive for American Jewish communities through his teaching, performing and choreography of tradition-based work. He died in 1968, and with the death of the large Eastern European Jewish immigrant population that had come to the U.S. in the early 1900's, the dances began to fall into disuse.

In what began as personal research - a wish to include in her broad professional knowledge of dance the dances of her own heritage - choreographer/performer Karen Goodman found that there were few resources for people interested in learning the dances. By chance, she met Mrs. Rochlin and learned of her background in Jewish dance and theater and of Mr. Vizonsky's long out-of-print book. In learning the dances from her, the idea for this video was born.

Inspired by Mrs. Rochlin's links with the past and her wealth of knowledge from a life steeped in Jewish cultural traditions, Goodman realized she had a golden opportunity to document the authentic flavor of the dances. Through a chain of friends and strangers, Goodman was eventually able to contact Nathan Vizonsky's daughter, who supplied some of his history, as well as photos and programs that date back to the height of his career in 1930's Chicago. Also included are delightful, illustrative clips of the dancing of Rabbi Michael Roth. Born in Transylvania into a Chassidic rabbinical family, he founded and leads Congregation Beth Ohr in Los Angeles.

We learn of Mrs. Rochlin's own fascinating history in Germany (also documented by the Shoah Foundation), and her work in Los Angeles with director Benjamin Zemach, with whom she danced and acted in Jewish theater for 20 years and who introduced her to Vizonsky. It was Zemach's brother, Nachum, who founded the Habimah Theatre, which became the National Theater of Israel. The video becomes not only a document of two dances, but a glimpse of how Jewish communities and artists in Germany, Russia and America negotiated the difficult task of remembering tradition in ever-changing circumstances, as well as contributing to the cultural life of the countries in which they lived.

"Come let us dance" was produced, directed and written by Karen Goodman, a critically acclaimed choreographer/performer, recipient of honors including a National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer's Fellowship in 1990 and the 1998 Lester Horton Award for Outstanding Achievement in Individual Performance. Her most recent full-length solo, "Close dancing," which incorporates text and movement about the Talmudic Dance to the New Moon and a dance-related mystical story about the Bal Shem Tov into one section of this secular work, premiered and was performed in the 2000/01 season in Los Angeles.

Karen Goodman

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