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Dangerous Attractions: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity

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Dr Sonia Gollance

Contemporary popular culture often portrays Jewish mixed-sex dancing as either absolutely forbidden or as the punchline of a dirty joke. Fictional portrayals of women who leave Orthodoxy sometimes use transgressive dancing to underscore the temptation of secular society – and gentile men. Yet long before the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, Jewish writers used partner dance as a powerful metaphor for social changes that transformed Jewish communities between the Enlightenment and the Holocaust. Scandalous dance scenes in German and other literatures are part of a larger conversation about acculturation and courtship norms. Writers deploy these scenes to convey their concerns with Jewish modernity while simultaneously entertaining their readers.

Sonia Gollance is Lecturer in Yiddish at University College London. She taught previously at the University of Vienna, The Ohio State University, and the University of Göttingen. She is the author of It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity (Stanford University Press, 2021). Dr Gollance is Managing Editor of Plotting Yiddish Drama, an initiative of the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project.