Artist-American

Excerpted from the identity section of a 45-minute dance work entitled
The Thirteen Levels of Desire by Karen Goodman

The following text is projected on the backdrop of a stage while Karen dances variations on the movements of traditional davening (Jewish prayer). In presenting this material at the 2009 Conney Conference: “Performing Histories, Inscribing Jewishness” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this week, Karen invited the audience to read the text aloud as she danced. She asked, “Would you please do that for me now? Just loudly enough so you can hear each other as well as yourself. And don’t worry about speaking in unison, just read in your own way.”

On a grant application survey, I am asked to check off the description of my ethnicity. From the choices, I guess I should check “European-American.” Europe? Where my people were sheltered, persecuted, expelled, ghettoed, exterminated? Were the shtetls “Eurocentric?” I was not a victim, but grew up knowing I could be. That too was part of my identity, not to be slighted by a check mark in a box.

karen-goodman1
In Russia, when my mother’s mother was a baby, they shaved her head of its blond hair, hoping it would grow back Jewish brown, not the evidence of past intermarriage, or worse. When my mother, born in Detroit, with blue eyes and blond hair, met my olive- skinned, brown-eyed father, it never occurred to him she was Jewish. He asked her out anyway. This was America.

I am their first-born, named for my mother’s mother, Bluma. Karen is my middle name. At age four, my parents legally reverse the order to avoid the teasing this foreign name might bring when I enter kindergarten on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa. I walk by a cornfield to get to school, and even though I am a dark-haired, dark-eyed little girl, my new Swedish name is as blond and American as the corn.

Or shall I write “Middle-Eastern-American?” After all, my people say at Passover, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Or “Semitic-American?” How odd that sounds without the “anti” in front. And what about my work? I am my work, migrant to that fearsome outback, “The Arts.” Call me “Artist-American.”

Census takers! I await.

I write a grant proposal and consider my identity–not my work. Fifty years ago, my father was “The Other.” Am I “The Other” or “Not Other Enough?” Where do I or any of us fit? Should we fit? Who makes that decision?

If we gather into tribes for definition, comfort and strength in this impossible and frightening world, will my tribe have to fight your tribe over some half-remembered, half-understood injustice, or the new ones we commit on a daily basis?

Who will I be? Who will you be? Who will we be?
Who will I be? Who will you be? Who will we be?
Who will I be? Who will you be? Who will we be?
Who will I be? Who will you be? Who will we be?
Who will I be? Who will you be? Who will we be?

Who will I be?
Who will you be?
Who will we be?

Karen Goodman is a critically acclaimed Los Angeles-based modern dance choreographer/performer and teacher. She is also a researcher of Yiddish-related dance history, currently setting a Yiddish dance suite at Santa Monica College and collaborating with composer Yuval Ron on a production based on a Baal Shem Tov story. Her many honors include a 1990 NEA Choreographer’s Fellowship, L.A.’s Vanguard Award for Choreographic Innovation, a 1998 Lester Horton Award for Individual Performance and a 2005 Detroit Jewish Women in the Arts Award. She produced, directed and wrote a Yiddish dance documentary, “Come Let Us Dance,” distributed by JewishVideo.com. She has contributed to Encyclopaedia Judaica and MOFA Magazine of Performing Arts and has been featured recently in The Corsair Online. You can reach her at goodmandance (at) sbcglobal (dot) net.

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About tolerantamerica

On her recent tour for her book, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, Lisa was inspired by the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American elected president of the United States, to encourage cross-cultural dialogue about multiculturalism in America. To increase tolerance and understanding across communities, Lisa launched "A More Tolerant America" to feature guest bloggers, authors, activists, artists and other writers, who, like her, are multicultural. Klug's father is a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor from Poland and the descendant of a Spanish Jewish family that escaped the Spanish Inquisition. During her tour, Lisa encountered ignorance and bigotry toward Jewish Americans. As part of her campaign, this blog will giveaway books and other materials that promote cross-cultural dialogue.
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