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The University of Southampton
The Parkes Institute

Dangerous Attractions: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity Seminar

9 May 2023
Lecture Theatre C, Avenue Campus & Online via Zoom

For more information regarding this seminar, please email .

Event details

Part of the 2022/23 Parkes Institute Research Seminar Series. Please note that due to UCU strike action, this event has been rescheduled from 22 February 2023 to 9 May 2023.

Contemporary popular culture often portrays Jewish mixed-sex dancing as either absolutely forbidden or as the punch line of a dirty joke. Fictional representations of women who leave the Hasidic world sometimes use transgressive dancing to underscore the seductive freedoms of secular society – and gentile men. Yet long before the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, Jewish writers used partner dance as a powerful metaphor for social changes that transformed Jewish communities between the Enlightenment and the Holocaust. Literary texts such as Marcus Lehmann’s novella Elvire (1868), serialized in the German Orthodox journal Der Israelit, depict dance scenes as part of a larger conversation about acculturation and courtship norms. In these works, young people challenge the social order through their partner choices on the dance floor, and frequently suffer tragic consequences for their rebellious behavior. Indeed, at a time when social dancing was a nearly universal leisure pursuit across class lines, readers were trained to interpret dances as texts and even to expect momentous dance scenes, which were crucial for plot and character development. Scandalous dance scenes in German, Yiddish, and other literatures allowed writers to convey their concerns with Jewish modernity while simultaneously entertaining their readers.

About the Speaker

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 (Stanford University Press), was a 2021 National Jewish Book Awards finalist. She is currently translating Tea Arciszewska’s modernist play Miryeml (1958) and developing a project on women who wrote plays in Yiddish.

This event will be chaired by Katie Power.

Dr Sonia Gollance
Dr Sonia Gollance
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