Dances and balls appear throughout world literature as venues for young people to meet, flirt, and form relationships, as any reader of Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, or Romeo and Juliet can attest. The popularity of social dance transcends class, gender, ethnic, and national boundaries. In the context of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Jewish culture, dance offers crucial insights into debates about emancipation and acculturation. While traditional Jewish law prohibits men and women from dancing together, Jewish mixed-sex dancing was understood as the very sign of modernity—and the ultimate boundary transgression.
Writers of modern Jewish literature deployed dance scenes as a charged and complex arena for understanding the limits of acculturation, the dangers of ethnic mixing, and the implications of shifting gender norms and marriage patterns, while simultaneously entertaining their readers. In this book, Sonia Gollance examines the specific literary qualities of dance scenes, while also paying close attention to the broader social implications of Jewish engagement with dance. Combining cultural history with literary analysis and drawing connections to contemporary representations of Jewish social dance, Gollance illustrates how mixed-sex dancing functions as a flexible metaphor for the concerns of Jewish communities in the face of cultural transitions.
Join YIVO for a discussion of Gollance's book with Josh Lambert, professor and director of the Jewish Studies Program at Wellesley College.
About the Speakers
Sonia Gollance is Lecturer in Yiddish at University College London. She is a scholar of Yiddish Studies and German-Jewish literature whose work focuses on dance, theatre, and gender. Her first book, It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity, was published by Stanford University Press in 2021. Previously she taught at the University of Vienna, The Ohio State University, and the University of Göttingen (Germany). She received her PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from the University of Pennsylvania and her BA in Comparative Literature and Germanic Studies from the University of Chicago.
Josh Lambert is the Sophia Moses Robison Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and English, and director of the Jewish Studies Program, at Wellesley College. He's the author of The Literary Mafia: Jews, Publishing, and Postwar American Literature (2022) and Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture (2014), and coeditor of How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish (2020).
Ticket Info: Free, registration is required.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.