Multimodality and Embodied Learning in Communities and Schools
Edited By Mira-Lisa Katz
6. 36 Jewish Gestures
GESTURE AS A FORM OF IDENTITY: JEWISH IN THE MIRROR
36 Jewish Gestures
Not long ago, I choreographed a dance about a Jewish family from the 1950s, set in the Jewish community (and mob culture) of Las Vegas. As it turned out, only one of the dancers cast in this piece had grown up in a Jewish family herself, and I was thus faced with the unlikely task of teaching the dancers how to move and act like members of my own Jewish family. To complicate matters, I cast all the male roles with female dancers, so some of the dancers were also learning how to move convincingly as males. Together we scrutinized the movement, language, and signatures of gender and culture, to bring this project to life.
I was not entirely new to drag performance at the time—I had once created a physical portrait of a boxer in another dance—but I was curious about how to articulate a form of drag that was convincingly Jewish. This was perhaps when I first started to ask: is there such a thing as a Jewish gesture? Do we embody desire and loss in identifiably Jewish ways? The hands, the postures, the facial expressions—what does our movement say about us?
I frequently recognize Jewish gestures, and in fact have become somewhat obsessed with collecting them. If I am comfortable with someone, I will spontaneously ask her “what’s your favorite Jewish gesture?,” but mostly I just see...
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