It Could Lead to Danc­ing: Mixed-Sex Danc­ing and Jew­ish Modernity

Sonia Gol­lance

January 12, 2021

Dances and balls appear through­out world lit­er­a­ture as venues for young peo­ple to meet, flirt, and form rela­tion­ships, as any read­er of Pride and Prej­u­diceWar and Peace, or Romeo and Juli­et can attest. The pop­u­lar­i­ty of social dance tran­scends class, gen­der, eth­nic, and nation­al bound­aries. In the con­text of nine­teenth- and twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Jew­ish cul­ture, dance offers cru­cial insights into debates about eman­ci­pa­tion and accul­tur­a­tion. While tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish law pro­hibits men and women from danc­ing togeth­er, Jew­ish mixed-sex danc­ing was under­stood as the very sign of moder­ni­ty – – and the ulti­mate bound­ary transgression.

Writ­ers of mod­ern Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture deployed dance scenes as a charged and com­plex are­na for under­stand­ing the lim­its of accul­tur­a­tion, the dan­gers of eth­nic mix­ing, and the impli­ca­tions of shift­ing gen­der norms and mar­riage pat­terns, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly enter­tain­ing their read­ers. In this pio­neer­ing study, Sonia Gol­lance exam­ines the spe­cif­ic lit­er­ary qual­i­ties of dance scenes, while also pay­ing close atten­tion to the broad­er social impli­ca­tions of Jew­ish engage­ment with dance. Com­bin­ing cul­tur­al his­to­ry with lit­er­ary analy­sis and draw­ing con­nec­tions to con­tem­po­rary rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Jew­ish social dance, Gol­lance illus­trates how mixed-sex danc­ing func­tions as a flex­i­ble metaphor for the con­cerns of Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in the face of cul­tur­al transitions.

Discussion Questions

Sonia Gollance’s It could Lead to Danc­ing: Mixed-Sex Danc­ing and Jew­ish Moder­ni­ty is a thor­ough­ly researched and engag­ing study of the role of mixed-sex danc­ing in mod­ern Jew­ish life. Gol­lance mines a wide range of lit­er­ary resources — nov­els, mem­oirs, short sto­ries, plays and poems, in Yid­dish, Ger­man, Hebrew and Eng­lish, in the mod­ern peri­od (17801940) and beyond.

The book maps the effect of mixed-sex danc­ing on tra­di­tion­al class, gen­der, eth­nic bound­aries — in lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish social and reli­gious life. Gol­lance finds in ball­rooms, wed­dings, dance halls and syn­a­gogues evi­dence of shift­ing expec­ta­tions and trans­gres­sion of tra­di­tion­al reli­gious and cul­tur­al boundaries.

The book is well-doc­u­ment­ed, well-illus­trat­ed, and con­tains many points of inter­est, such as the broygez tants, a mock quar­rel-and-rec­on­cil­i­a­tion dance per­formed by new moth­ers-in-law at the wed­ding of their children.