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Jewish Tango and Diasporic Dancing

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


What art form better expresses the experience of Jewish migration than dance, which is based on the movement of human bodies? Ashkenazi folk dance has long reenacted diasporic wanderings through its weaving together of a group of Jewish bodies in constant motion. But as soon as tango became an Argentine and then European phenomenon, modern Jews engaged in this modern dance form of migrants. Tango is the international dance of migration and diaspora. Associated strongly with Argentina and Uruguay, where Jews played a role in its original development, tango has migrated around the world with Jewish communities which have used it as a means of Jewish self-expression and even Holocaust commemoration. Modern Jewish immigrants and refugees have brought tango with them in their wanderings as far from home as China, and have created their own tango music in Yiddish, Ladino, Hebrew, and majority languages—with lyrics expressing both universal and uniquely Jewish themes. This panel explores tango and dance across several continents as they express Jewish difference, ideologies, wandering, trauma, and identity.

LeiAnna Hamel will speak to the traditional kale-tants as an embodiment of Jewish wandering in the Diaspora from the perspective of the Yiddish poetry in the post-Holocaust USSR. Joan Epstein’s musicological analysis brings Jewish tango of the Americas into dialogue with Argentine tango, in its function as a form of satiric social commentary. Sara Feldman’s paper explores the lyrics of Yiddish tango as they bridge the eroticism of the dance with the socialist currents in Yiddish poetry and songwriting. Monique Balbuena traces the history of Ladino tango from its Balkan origins to its present-day function as an affirmation of Sephardi and Latin-American Jewish identity.

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