I met Bruce Bierman last year, while he was teaching after school program students how to dance two Jewish dances for the Hanukkah holidays. Actually, we met twice in the same day. He later pulled me up from my seat at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav to dance during their Klezmer Hanukkah celebrations that same night. Even though I was very pregnant and tired, Bruce’s energy got me moving. He is a natural teacher, one who inspires with a flick of his finger and a turn of his foot. I soon learned that Bruce has brought the art of Yemenite, Yiddish and Israeli dance to literally thousands of school children and adults throughout California and serves as the resident 'maggid' (storyteller) at the Congregation Sherith Israel religious school. Bruce was recently a presenter for the NewCAJE Jewish educator's conference and will be directing and choreographing the West Coast premiere of the Yiddish musical 'The Megilleh of Itzik Manger' for the 2014 Jewish Music Festival.
Needless to say, Bruce is a fairly busy man, but he still came back and worked with our students this year on two Jewish dances for our HYC Winter Performance. He took some time to speak with me about his life in Jewish Dance, via an email interview.
MM: When did you begin to take an interest in Israeli Dance?
BB: My Uncle Dave was a Klezmer musician, and there would always be live music and dancing at every family gathering and holiday. Even when I was three I was up dancing with my mother and all my aunties doing the hora. Then, at twenty, I went to live on Kibbutz Ma'abarot in Israel and for the first time saw a real Jewish dancing culture. Every Friday night on the Kibbutz and every Saturday night in the Netanya town square---hundreds of people dancing Israeli Folkdance! I remember one elderly lady grabbed my arm in the middle of all the dancing and said to me, "This is what you are supposed to do!" I actually didn't come back to Jewish dance until 2006 when I started doing research into Yiddish and Yemenite dance and began teaching all over the Bay and dancing with live klezmer bands.
MM: Is there a particular Jewish song that makes you want to get out of your chair and start dancing?
BB: My new favorite is Balkan Beat Boxes' 'Ramallah Tel Aviv'. So funky you can't help dancing!
MM: You work with a variety of groups of all ages, which one do you find the most inspiring?
BB: Children constantly inspire and delight me with their amazing sense of humor! I love teaching children, but I also love teaching elders. So often an elder will carry that Jewish dancing 'neshama' that you just can't teach. When I see them dance, I just sit back and stare! It proves to me every time that it's not the fancy shmancy foot work or speed that makes a great dancer---but if you dance with your heart.
MM: What has been your most meaningful dance moment?
BB: There are many, but two pop into my mind. The summer of 2006, I took a trip to the amazing Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow, Poland, to study Yiddish dance and attended many of the klezmer concerts. The final concert in the main square of the old Jewish quarter held hundreds of thousands of people. But it was a bit spooky because there were no Jews left in what was once the mecca of Jewish Eastern Europe. Auschwitz was only forty-five minutes away by train. I whispered before the concert began that I wanted to dance for the millions that lost their lives in the Shoah. I danced and whirled and twirled till four in the morning until I was a puddle of sweat!
Right after Poland, I went to Israel for another dance program but the war broke out two days after I got there and all my programs were cancelled. I went to Jerusalem and at the Western Wall there was a secular looking soldier trying to make sense out of a prayer book. He looked frightened. Many were being sent in to fight. Right next to him were young Hasidic students dancing and singing in a tight circle. One of the students grabbed the soldier and pulled him into the circle of swaying, rocking, jumping bodies. The soldier couldn't help smiling. He put his arms around the boys and joined in and found his prayer. Unforgettable!
MM: Shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" are quite popular, would you like to see Israeli dancing featured?
BB: I would LOVE to see Jewish dance featured, are you kidding me?! But I might be the only one!
MM: Have you ever taught dance to a community that we might think of as non-traditional?
BB: I taught a group of largely Mexican immigrants in L.A. how to do Yiddish Dance for a Dia de los Muertos event. They couldn't get enough of it!
MM: Where can we take classes with you or learn more about Israeli Dancing?
BB: You can write to me at: and I'll put you on my e-mail list with workshops and performances!