Rachel Linsky will show you the moves to join in a klezmer dance party at Jewish Culture Fest


Rachel Linsky is a Boston-based dancer, choreographer and educator. Her work draws from contemporary dance, her Jewish upbringing and history, and Yiddish folk dance traditions.

Linsky was a JArts and CJP Community Creative Fellow in 2022-23 and is a current member of Next Steps for Boston Dance. Her ongoing series, Zachor, fuses dance with the words of Holocaust survivors.

On June 2, Linsky will perform at the Jewish Culture Fest, held outside of the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence. After her performance, she will teach and lead a Yiddish dance workshop, and then you can use those new moves during a dance party featuring Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band.

“Klezmer music is meant to be danced to,” Linsky said, “so it is essential to me that the audience not just take a passive role in this performance, but really be invited into community dancing.”

The following interview with Linsky was conducted via email and has been lightly edited for clarity.

Tell us about your creative process. Where do you look for, and find, what you want to work on next?

I would describe my creative process as an evolving thread of curiosity. My various choreographic projects have taken me on a rich journey of learning and are one way for me to create meaning and gain understanding of the world around me.

Each work often inspires and leads to the next. For example, the work I am presenting at the Jewish Culture Fest is a deepening of research I started in 2022 under the JArts and CJP Community Creative Fellowship.

Under the fellowship, I created a dance film to the music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Jewish-Polish composer and Holocaust survivor who created brilliant classical compositions with clear Jewish and klezmer themes. I felt the best way to honor his artistry and to perhaps restore a small piece of deserved legacy to his name would be to create contemporary dance that brought out the same Jewish and klezmer influences that he kept alive in his music.

Along the way, as I studied Yiddish dance and klezmer music, I fell in love with this research and the rich layers of history and Jewish values that are embedded in Yiddish culture.

Once completing this work, I knew I wanted to dive deeper into developing this movement fusion, creating contemporary dance with influences of Yiddish folk dance and to work directly with live klezmer music.

Within Weinberg’s classical composition, you do lose the sense of heterophony and individual expressions within the context of a group that is so core to klezmer and Yiddish dance. That is an element that I really wanted to capture. My dancers and I joined forces with Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band and developed “Gathering Sparks,” and we are excited to share this work with you on June 2nd!

How do you begin to translate your ideas into movement?

The choreography in “Gathering Sparks” fuses aspects of Yiddish dance into my contemporary practice. It predominantly draws inspiration from the footwork and structures of Yiddish folk dance, reinterpreting them as a basis for movement development. The movements utilize Felix Fibich’s legendary theories of Yiddish dance: elements of angularity and asymmetry in the body that parallel shapes of the Hebrew letters, as well as elements of extreme torque and opposition that reflect the bittersweet “Jewish mood” where joy and sadness often coexist.

Individual expression within the context of a group is another principal characteristic of Yiddish dance. Through moments of structured improvisation, the performers strive to capture the balance of communal awareness and care, where dancers are able to find space for themselves, while also holding space for others.

Much of your work references Jewish experience. What led you to marry that with dance, and what compels you to continue exploring Jewish themes in your work? How has your relationship to Judaism evolved through these dance projects?

I have always found artistic inspiration in my Jewish upbringing and the symbols, movements, and songs I learned growing up. I use dance as a means to tell stories. My family, Judaism and a strong sense of community are a significant part of who I am and the stories I tell.

For the past five years I have directed and choreographed an ongoing series, ZACHOR, which seeks to preserve Holocaust survivor testimony through dance, and uses dance and performing arts as a means to take Holocaust education outside of just the Jewish community, where it is often heavily concentrated.

The Weinberg work under the umbrella of ZACHOR last year inspired the research into klezmer music and Yiddish dance. Collectively, these works have also been a wonderful way for me to share a piece of Jewish culture and history with my larger community.

What can dance convey that other forms of art cannot? What makes it unique?

Dance taps into a whole different form of communication and storytelling than most people actively think about – even though it is one we use far more than we are aware of. It opens up a new way to connect with one another through the embodiment of emotions that often hold a sense of familiarity, even when pushed to new limits.

As a choreographer, intentionality in crafting movement, gesture and narrative are really important to me; I always have a very clear sense for myself of what it is I am communicating in a work. I am always drawn to how much I can then learn from hearing audience members’ interpretations of specific gestures and qualities.

I appreciate the way contemporary dance invites various perspectives to make meaning of what can seem abstract, while making space for identifiable, innate human movement.

Tell me about teaching and what that adds to your artistic practice.

Teaching dance is all about finding new ways to communicate with others. Whether it is a very technical principle in ballet, or a very nuanced quality that you’re trying to pull out in a contemporary movement, you have to be able to create multiple approaches to cue-ing and expressing it, acknowledging the many different ways that people view, interpret and connect with things.

Being in the practice of teaching certainly helps my work as a choreographer. The process of finding different approaches to express what I am envisioning choreographically with the dancers creates really rich dialogue to learn more about the movement itself, in the different ways that they feel, embody and experience it.

As part of the set “Gathering Sparks” that we are sharing at the Jewish Culture Fest in Rhode Island, I will be teaching and leading the audience in a Yiddish dance workshop after the performance. We’ll then use what we learn to have a klezmer dance party with Ezekiel’s Wheels. Klezmer music is meant to be danced to, so it is essential to me that the audience not just take a passive role in this performance but really be invited into community dancing.

What project(s) do you have in the works? What should we watch for from you next?

This summer and fall, we have a series of performances and workshops coming up. In addition to the Jewish Culture Fest, we will be presenting this work with Ezekiel’s Wheels on July 20th with Beyond the Bounds in Cape Cod; October 18th and 19th at Boston University, through Boston Moving Art’s Productions; and December 19th at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2024 Hanukkah celebration.

I’ll also be releasing a new music video soon, created in collaboration with Baymele, a klezmer and Eastern European folk trio rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area.

SARAH GREENLEAF (sgreenleaf@jewishallianceri.org) is the digital marketing specialist for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and writes for Jewish Rhode Island.

Culture Fest, Rachel Linsky, dance