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Teaching history through dance.

The dedication of a Holocaust museum is not the usual gig for a dance convention team. But most dance teams don't create dances about the Nazi genocide of European Jews during World War II. On November 9, at the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of the Delaware Valley, Jersey Cape Dance Center (JCDC) from Cape May, New Jersey, performs Suffer the Innocent, a poignant tribute to mothers and children who were separated during the Holocaust.

JCDC Director Stina Smith decided to create a dance about the Holocaust the hearing the Sam Harris song "Suffer the Innocent" on the radio. "I just knew that this music was what I wanted to use," says Smith. "I started the piece last summer, but my kids couldn't understand it, and I wasn't getting what I needed out of them, so I went to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. While I was there I got a lot of diaries of women and children of the Holocaust, which I read to my students. It turned into quite an educational experience for my students and myself." Smith also showed the students films about the Holocaust and, to personalize the experience, she invited her mother to speak to the students about Smith's grandfather, an Austrian Jew who fled Europe before the war.

Smith then asked each student to write a first-person essay describing what it would be like to be taken from their homes, separated from their families, and put into concentration camps. "The piece starts as if they are getting herded off of a train, and I wanted them to understand what they had left behind, and what had happened to get them up to this point," says Smith. "In their essays, I was so impressed that they had absorbed so much from the dance."

Smith modeled the costumes after prisoners' uniforms she had seen at the National Holocaust Museum. A costume for the one Nazi soldier in the piece proved more difficult "I called costume companies, thinking that they would have a Nazi soldier uniform, if nothing else, one for The Sound of Music," says Smith. "They were very particular--which I was thrilled to hear--they would not sell a Nazi uniform unless you sent them your business card and letterhead and an explanation of what you were using it for. But they wanted $500 for the costume, so we ended up going to an army surplus store and getting an old jacket, and having the pants and all the lapels on the jacket altered as closely as we could. We had to have the swastika armband made."

Smith hesitated before entering Suffer into a convention competition, in which entries rarely cover subjects so weighty. "I wasn't sure how it would be accepted in a competition," says Smith. As it turned out, the work was well received, though the audience response, normally hoots and hollers for fellow teammates, was markedly different than usual. "There have been just tears and silence. You go to competitions, and it's so rowdy, and so many people are so rude; they just watch their piece and that's it. To stand in the back of the hall and look at the reaction, which was just silence, and see people look at each other like, `Did you see what I just saw?' was wonderful."

The judges agreed, awarding the Bill Como Memorial Award at Rhee Gold's American Dance Awards, and first place at Starpower.

The young dancers, who range in age from seven to eighteen, throw themselves into the work with startling intensity. "They get very wrapped up in the emotions," explains Smith. "At first, the children didn't understand why they were getting as emotional as they were. They would come offstage and some of them would say that they got hurt, and when I asked, `What part of you hurts?' they would think about it and say, `I guess I really didn't get hurt,' which led me to realize that they were getting totally wrapped up in who they were onstage. To the point that a fourteen-year-old--and you don't expect fourteen-year-olds are going to say these things--said, `I know this is going to sound really silly, but I was actually afraid onstage.'"

Kevin Garcia, who dances the role of the Nazi soldier, finds the hatred in the role difficult to assume. "It's been hard for him, as he loves these girls dearly, and onstage he has to be so mean and hate them," explains Smith. "He's scared to death that he's going to hurt them." Offstage, Garcia hugs and comforts the young students who occasionally shed tears after performing the piece.

Since their convention victories, the dancers have performed for schools in New Jersey, which mandates that the Holocaust be taught in schools. Smith intends to continue to take the work to competitions and is hoping to have an opportunity for the students to perform at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum "That would be the children's ultimate dream," she says. "That would culminate everything."


"To bring together dance educator organizations for cooperative discussion," starts the proposed mission statement for UNITY, an association of dance education organizations. Representatives from fourteen organizations met in Boston August 16 and 17 to draw up proposals regarding a mission statement and bylaws committee which will be voted on at the next meeting, January 10-11. Marian Horosko from Dance Magazine spoke about legislation regarding music licensing fees, and Dance Teacher Now's K C. Patrick provided information about the effect on dance teachers of government codes to classify businesses. For information, contact: Rosanne Bootz, P.O. Box 16, East Greenwich, RI 02818.
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Title Annotation:Conventions & Competitions; award-winning 'Suffer the Innocence' based on the Jewish holocaust danced at dedication of the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of the Delaware Valley, by the Jersey Cape Dance Center
Author:Sims, Caitlin
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 1997
Previous Article:Is a high school that specializes in dance right for me?
Next Article:Capeman and Pimpernel.

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