Dance at 92nd Street Y - Overview
Dance at 92nd Street Y is defined by three interdependent program areas—education, performance and social dance—each with multiple facets of activity. These activities range from creative ballet classes for three to five-year-olds to Dance Education Laboratory (DEL), which prepares professional dancers to be educators, to Fridays at Noon, which features works-in-progress by contemporary choreographers, to the annual five-week 92Y Harkness Dance Festival, which celebrates the finest in innovative dance, to Argentine Tango parties and Israeli folk dancing. Significantly, while the richness of 92Y's current programming has deepened and evolved over decades, this fundamental tripartite approach existed at the very conception of the dance program by William Kolodney, who joined 92Y as Educational Director in 1934.
Following the opening of the "new" Young Men's Hebrew Association building in 1930, the president and the board recognized that the attendance levels at the culturally oriented programs were less than hoped for or expected. The young men who joined 92nd Street Y (it did not become fully co-educational until the 1945 merger with the Young Women's Hebrew Association) did so for the social and recreational activities and not necessarily for educational purposes. 92nd Street Y was viewed by its members as a service agency and not as a cultural resource, though the constitution defined the mission of 92Y as "the improvement of the mental, moral, spiritual, cultural, social and physical condition of young men and the fostering of Judaism." In addition, it was felt by many on 92Y's board that Kaufmann Concert Hall had several disadvantages in attracting audiences (i.e., it was not located in Midtown, non-Jews might not feel welcome, 92Y was not known as a presenting organization), so upon his arrival, William Kolodney set out to offer the unusual in order to attract patrons.
Kolodney's personal interests centered on poetry and modern dance, and it was on these fields that he concentrated his early efforts. Kolodney designed a subscription series that offered dramatic readings, modern dance and solo musical artist performances as well as a classical film revival series. In 1935, with the help of John Martin, then the dance critic at The New York Times, Kolodney invited a group of leading modern dancers to give a free collective technique demonstration in Kaufmann Concert Hall. In the same year, at the request of Kolodney, Martin helped to conceptualize a "Three year course, thirty weeks a year, five days a week, three hours daily," in modern dance to be taught by Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, among others. The Dance Center at 92nd Street Y was born.
Dance Education at 92nd Street Y
92nd Street Y's Dance Education program is defined by its commitment to teaching a variety of dance techniques and styles from diverse cultures and for various ages, ambitions and skill levels. Classical ballet, Isadora Duncan technique, modern dance, Afro-Caribbean, flamenco, jazz funk, hip-hop, Middle Eastern dance, tap and swing dancing are among the many classes offered for adults and children, as well as master classes taught by leading professionals for professionals. While early on the emphasis in the Dance Education Division was on modern technique, a receptiveness to international dance forms has always been part of the culture of 92Y. In addition, dance education at 92Y has historically included intellectual engagement with the history of dance, its meaning and purpose within a wide cultural context. Starting in 1947, New York Herald Tribune dance critic Walter Terry conducted a series of lectures and demonstrations called Dance Laboratory that presented topics as diverse as "Dance as Ritual for Religio-Magic Purposes" and "The Meaning of Movement." Since 1993, Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, Judith Jamison, Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Arthur Mitchell and Jerome Robbins, among others, have been featured speakers in the Breaking Ground lecture/conversation series with dance critic and historian Deborah Jowitt.
Since 1995, 92nd Street Y has worked to reinforce current dance education practice through its Dance Education Laboratory (DEL), a teacher education program for professional dancers and dance instructors founded by 92nd Street Y board member Jody Gottfried Arnhold, leading dance educator Ann Biddle and former Dance Center Director Joan Finkelstein. The mission of DEL is to empower dance teachers to facilitate students in owning dance as a means of personal communication, cultural understanding and aesthetic expression. It does this through a series of workshops and courses with master instructors.
Social Dance at 92nd Street Y
Social dancing has always been part of the community-focused programming at 92nd Street Y. Since the Dance Center's earliest days, recreational dancing has been considered one of the greatest integrators of the human personality. In time, as the dance curriculum of 92Y broadened its offerings to include ballroom, salsa and tango, among other social dance forms, the social dance program at 92Y expanded as well, in order to offer practitioners the opportunity to put their skills to the test.
Today, Saturday evening Social Dances offer over 30 weeks of events in seven different dance styles, including lessons at the beginning of each event.
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Jewish Traditions in Dance
From its inception, the Dance Center has sought to foster the work of professional Jewish dancers and choreographers as well as showcase traditional Jewish folk dancing through performances, classes and social dance. While William Kolodney was deeply committed to the idea of Jewish creative and intellectual involvement in the broad secular, humanistic cultural community, he also understood that 92Y had an important role to play in helping American Jews remain connected to their heritage and involved in the re-examination of Jewish identity within contemporary society. To that end, dancers and choreographers such as Benjamin Zemach, Anna Sokolow and Lillian Shapero were among the earliest of the performers at 92Y. After World War II, there was a renewed interest within the American Jewish community in Jewish and emerging Israeli dance traditions. In response, 92Y presented original performances by Sophie Maslow and offered educational programs through the Jewish dance division at 92Y, which was led by Fred Berk.
In recent years, the Jewish Voices dance performance series (part of Sundays at Three) has presented works by a wide variety of emerging and established contemporary choreographers who address Jewish themes in their work, including Zvi Gotheiner, Risa Jaroslow and Heidi Latsky, Lee Saar/The Company, Deganit Shemy and Neta Yerushalmy.
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Diversity Through Dance
Hand-in-hand with its presentation of Jewish dance, 92nd Street Y Dance Center made an early commitment to introducing to New York audiences to both international styles of dance as well as the work of African American dancers and choreographers. Carmelita Maracci brought to 92Y her unique combination of ballet and Spanish dance traditions, while Sai Shoki, a Korean dancer based in Seoul, combined modern choreography with traditional Korean dance forms. The 1937 dance season at 92Y included the first-ever Negro Dance Evening, which sought to present a continuum of African American dance from its African and Caribbean folk origins to modern choreography. In the years that followed, Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Janet Collins, Carmen De Lavallade, Donald McKayle, Geoffrey Holder and Alvin Ailey were among the important and influential African American dancers and choreographers to perform at 92Y. This tradition of diversity continues through contemporary performances by Urban Bush Women, Nathan Trice, Yoshiko Chuma, Bill T. Jones, Reggie Wilson, Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, Magbana Drum and Dance, Nicholas Leichter, Edisa Weeks and a host of other established and emerging artists.
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Performance Innovation at 92nd Street Y
While the tradition of dance performance at 92nd Street Y is rooted in the avant garde of the 1930s, it has continued over the past 75 years to reach out to dance innovators in order to support both the art and artists of dance and introduce what is most vibrant and new to American, and quite specifically New York, audiences. The arc of performance begins with the Martha Graham Company and extends to Doug Varone and Dancers, the current company-in-residence at 92Y. It is significant how many dance companies and individuals in the past and present have premiered major works of their creation as part of 92Y's performance series. Today, this tradition of presenting contemporary dance continues in the annual Harkness Dance Festival, and in the monthly Fridays at Noon and Sundays at Three program series, where dancers and choreographers of all ages and stature are invited to share premiers and works-in-progress with intimate audiences of dance devotees. This year, all of the dance performances focus on the important crossover between contemporary work and the influence of such historic figures as Eleo Pomare, Fred Berk, Pearl Lang, Anna Sokolow and Charles Weidman, among many others.
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1994 - Present: Video Slideshow
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Dance Center Directors
William Kolodney named educational and club director.
Founding of the Dance Center with May, 1935 Free Symposium on the Modern Dance featuring Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm
Doris Humphrey returns as Dance Center advisor, named as first Dance Center director in 1945.
Lucile Nathansen, director.
Susan Schickele, director.
Sharon Gersten Luckman, director.
Jane Kosminsky, director.
Ilona Copen, director.
92Y School of the Arts, encompassing the Dance Center, the School of Music, the Art Center and the Educational Outreach Program is formed.
Cathryn Williams, director.
Robert Gilson, director, School of the Arts.
Joan Finkelstein, director.
The Dance Center is re-named the Harkness Dance Center, in recognition of the Harkness Foundation and its support.
Renata Celichowska, director
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92nd Street Y and the Harkness Dance Center wish to thank the following individuals and organizations for their help with this exhibition:
Sarah McNear, Exhibit Curator and Director, Art Center, School of Arts, 92nd Street Y
Naomi M. Jackson, dance historian and author of Converging Movements: Modern Dance and Jewish Culture at 92nd Street Y
Steve Siegel, Archivist and Library Director, Milstein/Rosenthal Center, Buttenwieser Library, 92nd Street Y
Daisy Pommer, Specialist, Archive of the Recorded Moving Image
Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
James Hicks, Exhibition & Architectural Design, New York
Julie Lemberger, Dance Photography, New York
Davis Berry, 75th Anniversary Research Assistant
John Kelly, Exhibit Video Editor
NYPL for the Performing Arts
Chris Pennington for The Jerome Robbins Foundation & The Jerome Robbins Rights Trust
Derek Bernstein for Amy Sue Rosen
David Dorfman Dance
Shala F. Mattingly for Bhaskar
Carmen De Lavallade
Rod Rodgers Dance Company
Jeremiah Miller for the Walter Terry Estate
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