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Jewish Dance

Jewish dance traditions show the diversity of Jewish cultures. From the rhythmic hora to distinct hand gestures of Yiddish, Sephardic, Yemenite, and Adenite practices to the swiftly bouncing shoulders of eskesta and beyond, dance in community settings and on the concert stage shows the lived experiences of global Jewish communities. The Melton Center has hosted multiple Jewish dance symposia and dance artists as a vibrant part of its programming and inquiry through collaborations with Ohio State’s Department of Dance.


Modern Jewish Experience Through the Lens of Dance Conference, 2011

The Melton Center, with support from Ohio State’s Department of Dance, Center for Slavic and East European Studies, the Columbus Jewish Foundation, and Columbus Jewish Federation’s Jewish Education and Identity department, organized a conference called  “Modern Jewish Experience Through the Lens of Dance” on February 13 and 14, 2011. We are especially proud to have been the first university to host a major academic conference on Judaism and dance. This was the first conference on dance in Judaism ever held under academic auspices, and included a multi-media performance. Twelve scholars of dance from the U.S. and Israel joined to discuss the history of dance in Judaism, the meaning of performance, and the question of what can be “Jewish” about dance. A master class was also held for advanced dance students using the talents of these visiting scholars. The chief organizer of the conference (together with our staff) was Professor Hannah Kosstrin.

A video with highlights of the dance conference is below.

Introduction to the Dance conference video


Remote video URL


In 2017, Alicia Svigals, the world’s leading klezmer fiddler and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics came to Columbus  with members of her Klezmer Express group for a Yiddish dance workshop and concert. The dance workshop, Yiddish Dance as Community Dance, brought folk and Israeli dancers from around Ohio to learn Yiddish dance.

Alicia Svigals and photos from the Yiddish dance workshop


Also in 2017, the Melton Center welcomed scholars and practitioners of Jewish and Israeli dance for a Jewish Dance Symposium with the support of the Thomas and Diann Mann Distinguished Symposium Fund. This event was part of the inaugural conference of the Dance Studies Association, Transmissions and Traces: Rendering Dance at Ohio State hosted by the Department of Dance and chaired by Professor Hannah Kosstrin. 

With support from the Melton Center and other Ohio State departments and programs, the Department of Dance welcomed dance scholars and researchers from across the field in the largest conference attendance since the organizations joined forces in 2012. The Jewish Dance Symposium was a centerpiece of the programming, attracting approximately sixty attendees for an audience mixed from the Dance Studies Association conference, the Melton Center, and the Columbus community.

The Jewish Dance Symposium featured paper presentations, lecture-demonstrations, and a roundtable with leading Jewish and Israeli dance scholars discussing the state of the field. Presentations included: 

“Disobedient Dances: a Jewish Choreographer in Soviet Russia” by Janice Ross (Stanford University) 

“Excavating History: Memory, Community, and Place in Site-Specific Holocaust Performance” by Rebecca Rossen (University of Texas at Austin) 

“I, Thou, It, Us – Duet Dynamics and (Jewish) Structures for Change” by Hannah Schwadron (Florida State University) 

“Always Already: The Jewish Body as Victim and Victimizer” by Rebecca Pappas (Ball State University) 

“The Book is My Body: Demystifying the Improvisational Pedagogy of Gaga” by James Graham (University of California, Berkeley) 

“Speaking the Words: Performing Dance Philosophy” by Kimerer L. LaMothe (independent scholar) 

Judith Brin Ingber (independent scholar) led the lively roundtable discussion, “Contemporary Directions in Jewish Dance Scholarship” featuring Anna Petronella Foultier (Stockholm University), Naomi Jackson (Arizona State University), Einav Katan-Schmid (Humboldt University of Berlin), Hannah Kosstrin (Ohio State University), Adam W. McKinney (Texas Christian University), Melissa Melpignano (University of California, Los Angeles), Rebecca Pappas (Ball State University), Megan Quinlan (Kennesaw State University), Janice Ross (Stanford University), Rebecca Rossen (University of Texas at Austin), Hannah Schwadron (Florida State University), and Alexander Schwan (Freie Universität Berlin/Harvard University). The subfield of Jewish dance studies has greatly expanded in the past ten years, and gatherings like this have been integral to building the field.


Choreographer/Dancer Dege Feder            

Israeli dancer Dege Feder

The Ohio State University welcomed choreographer Dege Feder to Ohio State for a residency in February 2020. Feder is a multi-disciplinary artist born in Ethiopia and based in Israel, and recipient of the 2018 Israeli Ministry of Culture Prize for Young Dance Creators. At Ohio State, Feder led workshops and lectured in the Department of Dance and Department of Near Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures. She also performed her signature solo Jalo! (2017), which traces Feder's journey from her homeland to a new country through Operation Moses, and the challenges she faced to integrate into a new society and culture while trying to preserve her individual identity and past.

Dege Feder’s residency was co-sponsored by Ohio State's Department of Dance, Melton Center for Jewish Studies, and the Migration, Mobility, and Immobility Project of the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme.