4 November 2021: It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity

It could lead to dancing


with Dr Sonia Gollance and 

Prof François Guesnet (Chair)


Thursday, 4 November 2021 18:00 – 19:00 GMT
on Zoom



This event is co-organised with the
UCL Institute of Jewish Studies


Thursday, 4 November 2021 18:00 – 19:00 GMT


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.

Dr Sonia Gollance is Lecturer in Yiddish at University College London. She is a scholar of Yiddish Studies and German-Jewish Literature whose work focuses on dance, theatre, and gender. She received her PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from the University of Pennsylvania and has taught previously at the University of Vienna, The Ohio State University, and the University of Göttingen. Her first book, It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity, was published by Stanford University Press in May 2021.

François Guesnet is Professor in Modern Jewish History in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He is also the Chair of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, and the co-chair of the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry. He holds a PhD in Modern History from Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau, and specializes in the early modern and 19th century history of Eastern European, and more specifically, Polish Jews. He has published widely on Polish-Jewish history. Forthcoming is vol. 34 of Polin. Studies in Polish Jewry, co-edited with Antony Polonsky, on Jewish Self-government in Eastern Europe (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2022) and Sources on Jewish Self-government in the Polish Lands from Its Inception to the Present (Brill, 2022).

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