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Dance and Disability in Israeli and Jewish Contexts

Dance and Disability in Israeli and Jewish Contexts

Thu, Jul 28, 2022 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4)

Register here.

This panel discusses the complicated junction of dance and disability within Israeli and Jewish contexts.

About this event

The AJS Conversation Series and the Jewish Music Forum, A Project of the American Society for Jewish Music, are pleased to present “Dance and Disability in Israeli and Jewish Contexts.”

Panel abstract

This panel will discuss the complicated junction of dance and disability within Israeli and Jewish contexts. While the phenomenon of “disability dance,” an art form in which dancer with and without disabilities collaborate, has received a growing scholarly attention in recent years, arguing for the empowering force of disability performance art, the specific junction where dance, disability, and Jewish studies come together, has not received much scholarly scrutiny.

In this panel we ask to remedy this lacuna, inviting scholars to reflect upon the Jewish and Israeli aspects of disability dance they have encountered in their studies, examining the complicated cultural meeting between dance and disability, which are typically considered oppositional, and in conflict with each other. The Jewish and Israeli contexts invite further thoughts on the cultural binarism dividing dance and disability, and different possibilities to challenge it.

The papers in this panel are challenging distinctions between dance and disability from varied points of views, including prisms such as age, nationality, and performance studies. The papers identify social processes and representations that allow for disability, bodily difference, and dance to exist side by side, in the same public spaces, and within the same bodies, due, for example, to specific imageries of the dancing body within the history of Israeli dance, and new performances that altering the image of the imperfect Jewish body.

Chairperson: Dr. Gili Hammer (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Presenters: Dr. nili Broyer (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Prof. Dina Roginsky (Yale University), and Dr. Yali Nativ (The Academic College for Arts and Society & Levinsky College of Education).

Performances of the Body: From Ideal to Impaired in Israeli National Dancing Dina Roginsky, Yale University

This paper is a sociohistorical and ethnographic analysis of the presentation of the Israeli body as manifested in the Israeli folk dance movement from the early 1940s until the present. Various appearances of body image and capability are discussed, spanning a continuum from the representative to the disabled. On one end are the state-sponsored folk dance troupes, which include the performances of dancing Israeli soldiers during the 1948 war. In these performances a refined expression of the Sabra’s ‘ideal’ body image is presented: one of youth, good looks and agility.

At the other end are various groups that represent the ‘impaired’ or ‘other’ body (special needs populations, older participants, visually impaired and LGBT members), headed by troupes of disabled Israeli army veterans performing in their wheelchairs. The theoretical discussion focuses on the differentiation of the physical and symbolic body and on the agency of the disabled groups in progressing toward the representational Israeli ‘superbody’.

I claim that the Israeli folk dance field enables the acceptance of impaired bodies as long as they conform to its ideological principles of operation. To this end, the physical body (the ability to dance or even to move) assumes a secondary standing and is replaced by the rising importance of the symbolic body and the legitimacy of belonging to the Israeli national collective.

Bio: Dina Roginsky (PhD) is a sociologist and anthropologist. She completed her post-doctoral research in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University and holds a master’s degree in psychology. She is a faculty member in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale University. Her research interests focus on the intersection of culture, history, politics and performance. Roginsky is a co-editor with Henia Rottenberg of the anthologies: Dance Discourse in Israel (Resling, 2009), Sara Levi-Tanai: A Life of Creation (Resling, 2015) and Moving through Conflict: Dance and Politics in Israel (Routledge, 2020). The latter is a pioneering exploration of points of contact between Jews and Arabs through dance.

Hiding her face: To face the crip body in Lehrer’s self-portraits Dr. nili Broyer, Center for Disability Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Riva Lehrer is a known Jewish American disabled and queer woman artist and a leading figure in the disability art movement. My presentation examines three of Lehrer’s self-portraits in each of which her face is intentionally omitted from the painting: Blue Veronika, 1999; Cauda Equina, 2005; and Zora: How I Understand, 2009. Based on Emmanuel Levinas’ and Erving Goffman’s theoretical frameworks, I wish to offer a new reading of faces in the context of stigma and disability art nurtured by Jewish thought. While Levinas is commonly known as a Jewish philosopher, Goffman is rarely considered as one. Therefore, throughout my presentation I actively search for Jewish perspectives in my study. Ultimately I argue that Lehrer’s artistic decision to expose her crip body while leaving her face unapproachable is a political act that destabilizes the power dynamic of the ableist gaze.

According to Levinas (1969), the encounter with the other person’s face is essentially an ethical one since the face resists objectification and conveys a moral demand: “Thou shalt not kill.” In an irreducible face-to-face encounter, the face is revealed as a trace to the infinite that cannot be absorbed, grasped, or comprehended and thus fully known. Levinas explains, that as a result, the Other cannot be consumed by ontology and the Western totality of the same.

Another known conceptualization of the face was offered by the sociologist Goffman (1967), who also studied stigma. Goffman defines the face as a positive image of a self that is accepted and agreed on by an encounter’s participants. Social context decides which optional faces are available to each performer. Still, there is labor involved in the successful presentation of a face. Although these frameworks are significantly different, for the analysis of Lehrer’s paintings I find them complementary. Since stigma is a sign that taints identities, I suggest that it requires a face to launch itself on. The absence of a face interferes with this act of disgrace and permits the disabled body to be present. Thus, similarly to the Levinas face, this time it is the crip body who demands an ethical stare.

Bio: Dr. nili Broyer is an academic director at the Center for Disabilities Studies, Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her PhD in Disability Studies is from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where she was a recipient of the Ethel Louise Armstrong (ELA) Scholarship Award. Her main research interests include: critical disability studies, cultural studies, disability art and culture, performance studies, feminist theory, autoethnography, and stigma.

Ageing Professional Dancers in Israel – New Traditions, New Bodies Dr. Yael (yali) Nativ, The Academic College for Arts and Society & Levinsky College of Education, Israel

There has been much written about dance in the last three decades, yet little of the writing refers to experienced “mature” or “older” dancers, the nature of their body practices and traditions and how these connect to social and national constructs of the body and to systems of financial support.

In the last two centuries, Western theatrical dance has appreciated, promoted and preferred the youthful body. This ideal has a direct impact on dancers’ professional longevity and public visibility, forcing most of them to start their transition out of their performative careers in their early-mid thirties. Yet in Israel, the situation is different and there are more than 35 ageing professional dancers (age 50-87) who still perform on stage. Dancers who choose to go “against the grain” and continue working, creating and performing.

Based on an ethnographic research (interviews and observations, in process) I will argue that this phenomenon can exist as a result of three factors: the first is that professional ageing dancers in Israel are less subjected to the severe traditional body and age aesthetics as in Europe. As a new nation in the Middle East, Israeli dance lacks hundreds of years of classical ballet tradition and legacy, that formed in the West the “correct dancing body”. The second is the fact that most ageing dancers are also independent choreographers working outside of institutional dance companies; and the third is the national system of supporting the arts (by The Israel Ministry of Culture and Sports) targeted at such independent choreographers, allowing them to work and perform. Thus, we can see how the aesthetic and arts support policies are involved in creating new possibilities for new traditions and new bodies among ageing dancers in Israel.

Bio: Dr. Yael (yali) Nativ is a dance scholar with sociological and anthropological orientations. She is a Senior Lecturer at The Academic College for Society and Arts, a lecturer at Levinsky College for Education and a Professor at Masson Gross School of the Arts Online at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. In her writing and research, she explores social and cultural issues looking at the linkage between dance, body, culture, education, gender and creativity. Her book Fractured Freedom: Body, Gender and Ideology, which she co-wrote with Dr. Hodel Ophir, was published in 2016. Currently she is engaged in an ethnographic research, looking at the experience of the body among professional Israeli ageing dancers who still perform on stage. In addition to her participation in various public dance committees, she serves as the Head of the Board of Directors of the Israeli Association of Independent Choreographers.

Bio: Dr. Gili Hammer (Ph.D., 2014) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Program in Cultural Studies. Between the years 2014-2015 she was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and between the years 2013-2014 she was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Michigan. In her doctoral research, she focused on the social constructions of gender and femininity among blind women, and on the cultural construction of blindness and sight in the Israeli public sphere. Her current project examines people with and without disabilities in the “disability culture” phenomenon, studying professional and community-based integrated dance companies, as well as projects in the fields of education and the arts. The research focuses on sensory practices such as movement and the kinesthetic body among research participants, analyzing the ways “corporeal otherness” is represented, negotiated, and regulated in the public sphere, and the meeting between varied body types. Her fields of research include disability studies, anthropology of the senses, gender studies, research of visual culture, anthropological and sociological theory, performance studies.

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