A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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From L.A. to Israel to St. Louis: A dance of Jewish connections and joy

Dance holds significant importance in the Jewish faith. In the Bible, Mishnah and Talmud, dance is referred to in various contexts as an important ritualized activity and as an expression of joy. In today’s world of dance, the Los Angeles-based company “BODYTRAFFIC” searches for this joy and is set to share it with a St. Louis audience at Touhill Performing Arts Center on April 6.

BODYTRAFFIC is considered by many to be a world-class contemporary dance company. It has surged to the forefront of the contemporary dance world with the “compelling style of invention, attitude and urban edge,” according to its website.

But weaved within the dynamic, fluid, expressive moves of the dancers is a Jewish story of connection.

BODYTRAFFIC

The company was founded in 2007 by Tina Finkleman Berkett, who grew up in a tight-knit Jewish-Italian home in New York.

“We celebrated all the Jewish holidays as a family, but unlike my father, I was not bat mitzvah. It wasn’t until high school that my Judaism made an impact on my life,” said Finkleman Berkett, now the artistic director of BODYTRAFFIC.

As a teen, Finkleman Berkett began to feel a deeper connection to her Jewish roots and began asking more and more questions.

Tina Finkleman Berkett

“So, I started to do a personal, deeper dive into Judaism which of course, my family supported. And then when I was out of college, I had a formal conversion because my mother never converted, and I wanted to make sure that there would be no question that my kids could be Jewish,” said Finkleman Berkett.

Judaism, Israel and dance

Since 2007, BODYTRAFFIC’s ties with Judaism, along with Finkleman Berkett’s, flourished. Although the dance wasn’t explicitly “Jewish,” Finkleman Berkett stresses that her Jewish values influenced her artistic work, guiding her leadership and creativity.In 2009, the company’s first performance was at Sinai Temple, a Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles.  In 2015, the company entered the international scene when the Obama Administration selected BODYTRAFFIC as its cultural ambassadors to Israel and Jordan through DanceMotion USA.

In Israel, the company members worked all around the country.

In one workshop, they worked on an initiative for mixed-ability dancers. Company members split by gender collaborated with an all-female choreography collective and the all-male company, called “Between Heaven and Earth,” which was comprised of former Israeli soldiers.

They conducted movement workshops at Beit Ha Gal Galim for adults with cerebral palsy. In Jordan, they engaged with differently abled children and teachers at the Al-Hussein Center and collaborated with dance and music students at the Zaha Cultural Center to craft an original performance.

“I think that I have a lot of respect for people who maintain a sense of faith in something in their lives. And so for me, I feel my Jewish values makes me who I am and they makes me a better leader and a better artist,” said Finkleman Berkett.

What the audience should expect in St. Louis

For the Dance St. Louis presentation at the Touhill, BODYTRAFFIC is scheduled to perform Matthew Neenan’s “A Million Voices,” set to music by Peggy Lee; Micaela Taylor’s “Snap,” set to music by James Brown; Joan Rodriguez’s “Bloquea’o,”; and Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Pacopepepluto,” set to music by Dean Martin and Joe Scalisi.

“I love these four works. This show is a really special sampling of what we’re all about,” said Finkleman Berkett. “We know that many people are skeptical of dance, or how to enjoy it. I suggest to newcomers to not be scared and not assign any thoughts or expectations. Try to participate in the joy of it. Life is just so hard, and we live in the most challenging world, so try to allow this evening to bring you some joy and to leave with that if you can.”

BODYTRAFFIC

When: Saturday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of UMSL
Ticket Info: Visit dancestlouis.org

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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.