It Could Lead to Dancing
Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity
Sonia Gollance




A YOUNG MAN who is engaged to be married goes to his rabbi to learn about marital intimacy. Red-faced with embarrassment, he listens as the rabbi instructs him in how to properly perform the mitzvah (commandment) of sexual intercourse with his wife. Finally, the rabbi asks the young man if he has any questions. Stammering, the young man asks if it is permissible to perform the mitzvah with the man on top. “Certainly, my son,” the rabbi reassures him. “This is a classic way of fulfilling the mitzvah.” The young man relaxes slightly and, although still blushing, continues with a second question. “What about with the woman on top?” Again, the rabbi reassures him: “Also perfectly acceptable. Some people even prefer it. May you be fruitful and multiply!” The young man relaxes even more and begins to get more creative. He suggests several additional variations, and the rabbi enthusiastically approves of each one. Finally, with scarcely a trace of embarrassment, the young man asks if the mitzvah can be performed standing up. “Absolutely not!” the rabbi bellows. “It could lead to mixed dancing.”1

When I told people that I was writing a book about Jewish mixed-sex dancing, they frequently recalled this classic joke. Mixed-sex dancing––whether bourgeois ballroom dances or risqué tangos––is frequently associated with sexual behavior.2 Indeed, the absurdity of the joke’s punchline is based on the assumption that mixed-sex dancing functions as a kind of foreplay. This concern that mixed-sex dancing could lead dancers to commit sexual transgressions is not unique to Jewish culture––other religious leaders have condemned this popular practice,3 and indeed, there are also non-Jewish variants of the same joke.4 Partner dancing is an intimate physical act that demands that partners engage with each other as individuals––and yet, unlike sexual intercourse, it is commonly performed in front of spectators and may quickly become normalized. While authorities can claim ignorance about illicit sexual behavior in the private sphere, transgressive dancing is often viewed as a public provocation that requires a response. Prohibitions on mixed-sex dancing reflect concerns that this behavior could ultimately lead to the private flouting of additional, more explicitly sexual taboos, especially premarital sex, adultery, or marriages between partners from different social groups.

Yet mixed-sex dancing represents more than simply unbridled sexuality. In contemporary American Jewish communities, the joke’s punchline has become a favorite way of talking about cultural mixing and modernization. Although the joke mocks the logic behind rabbinic prohibitions, particularly the principle of “building a fence around the Torah” (according to which, guidelines about religious practice should be made more stringent to prevent any possible transgression of Jewish law), it is popular among religiously engaged Jews who use the punchline to signal their awareness of communal norms.5 As satirical Orthodox blogger Heshy Fried observes, “Whenever something is banned or restricted in the frum [Orthodox] community, people like to jokingly say that it could lead to mixed dancing.”6 Jokes about mixed-sex dancing are an effective tool for poking fun at communal restrictions and for showing awareness of a social taboo. Even so, contemporary Jewish communal politics only partially explain the joke’s appeal. For over two centuries, dancing has represented a range of cultural practices that traditional Jewish authorities regard as foreign, threatening, or too modern.

This book deals with literary and historical materials from a period—roughly 1780 to 1940—when social dancing was one of the most universally popular mixed-sex leisure activities. It was an era during which Jews and their neighbors grappled with the social changes wrought by modernity––including the Enlightenment, secularization, debates about Jewish emancipation, urbanization, migration, war, and shifting ideas about women’s place in society.7 Scandalous partner dances, like the waltz in the early nineteenth century, challenged notions of proper intimacy for couples on the dance floor. For many Jews, especially those who no longer felt as strictly bound by traditional religious law, mixed-sex dancing was an enjoyable marker of acculturation and a preferred way to meet potential romantic partners without the involvement of parents or a matchmaker. At a time when most European Jews faced legal barriers to full integration, an invitation to a non-Jewish ball offered the seductive possibility of social acceptance––at least for one night.

The appeal of dance was nearly universal, in life and in the literary imagination. Dancing took place in a variety of venues, from working-class taverns to elite balls. It was performed at rural Galician weddings, in Nuremberg dance academies, and in New York dance halls. Patriots danced to celebrate their monarch’s birthday,8 while radicals attended Yom Kippur balls.9 Salon hostess Fanny von Arnstein (1758–1818) and anarchist Emma Goldman (1869–1940) both attended balls. Austrian Jewish writer Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931) viewed dancing as part of being a member of the Viennese bourgeoisie, whereas Yiddish writer and journalist Abraham Cahan (1860–1951) identified dancing with his participation in radical politics in Vilna. Yiddish writer Israel Joshua Singer (1893–1944) recalled how his grandfather, a rabbi, put a stop to mixed-sex dancing at a lower-class wedding, while German Jewish writer Fanny Lewald (1811–1889) associated dancing with proper courtship.10 German Jewish philosopher Solomon Maimon (1753–1800) deployed a masquerade ball as an extended metaphor for philosophy.11 German Jewish writer Berthold Auerbach (1812–1882) compared most conversations with women to leading a dance partner, since “you keep her in rhythm and under your authority.”12 Yiddish writer Hersh Dovid Nomberg (1876–1927) was famous for tangoing with married women at the Fareyn fun yidishe literatn un zhurnalistn in Varshe (Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw, 13 Tłomackie Street).13 Social dancing was everywhere, and collectively writers described encounters on the dance floor in all the genres in which they wrote: novels, novellas, memoirs, short stories, plays, feuilletons, poetry, and more.

FIGURE 1. “On Olympus.” Hersh Dovid Nomberg tangos at Tłomackie 13, observed by writers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Homer, Maimonides, and William Shakespeare.

I L. Peretz (looking down from Olympus): What kind of literature is this?

Sholem Aleichem (gasping): No! That’s “Jewish Culture” they’re creating!

Source: Khayim Goldberg, A bisl rekhiles: vegn shrayber, kintsler un shimi-tentser [A Little Gossip: About Writers, Artists, and Shimmy Dancers] (Warsaw: I. Hendler, 1923), 3. Courtesy of the Yiddish Book Center.

The mixed-sex dance floor came into prominence as a Jewish space in a context of shifting gender expectations. One important feature of Jewish modernity was the phenomenon of individuals exchanging homosocial spaces for heterosocial spaces.14 Where once men and women studied, worked, prayed, and socialized in separate groups, young people increasingly mingled with members of the opposite sex in salons, cafés, political organizations, universities, and dance halls.15 Memoir accounts note the traditional expectation that men and women live separate lives and give dancing as an example of an officially forbidden activity. Writing in the early 1940s, Zionist feminist Puah Rakovsky, who was born in Bialystock in 1865, recalls, “Fifty or sixty years ago, Jewish girls from pious houses didn’t know anything about flirting, didn’t sit in coffee houses with suitors, didn’t go to dance classes. . . . A girl was only allowed to talk with boys who were close relatives, and even then they could converse only in the presence of her parents.”16 Mixed-sex dancing became a metaphor for changing gender norms in Jewish communities during the modern era.17 In literary texts, the dance floor was the most thrilling setting for young people to explore their newfound freedoms with the opposite sex.

The long nineteenth century witnessed the rise of the German Bildungsbürgertum (educated middle class), a group that Karin Wurst closely identifies with leisure and entertainment culture, material consumption, the pursuit of pleasure, and the love match.18 Bourgeois leisure activities were a way of displaying refinement and good taste, qualities that Jewish members of the Bildungsbürgertum demonstrated through their participation in social dance.19 Yet pastimes such as attending balls, visiting spas, and reading middlebrow fiction also brought pleasure.20 Anthropologist Victor Turner describes modern leisure culture as a form of “play” that can be used to support or subvert existing power structures,21 as is frequently corroborated by literary dance scenes. However, Turner leans heavily on Max Weber’s theorization of the Protestant work ethic and does not directly address the way in which, for Jews, bourgeois leisure culture was imbued with aspirational qualities. There was perhaps no more aspirational Jewish social space than the dance floor, particularly as it was represented in literature.

Since social dance is a leisure activity that involves complex rules regulating interactions between multiple participants in a defined space, it can be useful to consider the dance floor using theoretical models that are more commonly applied to the study of games. Indeed, balls often coincide with carnival, and young people in the nineteenth century amused themselves throughout the year playing dancing games like the German cotillion.22 In the context of melodramatic literary texts, dance scenes serve a function similar to what Clifford Geertz describes as “deep play”––an activity in which a particular community has deep emotional investment because the dynamics of the game mirror existing social tensions.23 Readers may have come to expect transgressive, high-risk dance scenes, which heightened the drama of a work and their own enjoyment of it.

Mixed-sex dancing does not only illustrate new norms and aspirations for gender mixing; it also articulates new models for ideal masculinity toward which elements of the Jewish community were beginning to aspire. Literary fiction about mixed-sex dancing from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries frequently subverts the traditional idea that a Talmud scholar is the ideal Jewish husband. While scholars adhered to male-dominated religious institutions and mastered Talmudic precedent set by male rabbinic authorities, modern Jewish literature questioned the advisability of this kind of sex segregation.24 These texts introduced heteronormative courtship spaces, like the dance floor, in which women were essential. This book builds upon recent studies of Jewish private life that focus on the role of romantic love and shows how the dance floor played a pivotal role in changing expectations of courtship.25 Male prowess on the dance floor was determined in large part on the basis of gallantry, stamina, and giving women pleasure by deftly leading them through the dance figures. While women had specific and often constrained roles in both traditionally Jewish and more acculturated milieux, at social dances women could at least be visible, take up space, and expect to receive certain tokens of chivalry. The texts I analyze throughout this book reveal the tensions between the gender-segregated spaces of traditional Jewish culture (including separate-sex dance spaces) and the shocking intimacy of the mixed-sex dance floor.

While dancing was nearly ubiquitous, dance descriptions do not appear equally in all literature from this period. The scenes I analyze come predominantly from texts that analyze the dilemmas of modern Jewry in a critical, yet entertaining, way and engage directly with questions of gender. In short, they are often—but not exclusively—works of middlebrow literature. Mixed-sex dancing features most notably in works about society, corporeality, and the development of family relationships—although social dance (like the novel itself) demands attention to the individual.26 The bodies described in these texts are rarely martial bodies in the service of the nation or empire, but instead the softer, more vulnerable bodies of the bourgeoisie, lovers, and young people struggling to make sense of society and their own heated emotions. Celebrated modernists who write about the alienation of the modern condition do not play a significant role here, although it is worth pointing out that even Franz Kafka includes a frenzied dance scene in his 1922 novel Das Schloß (The Castle).27 Novels and novellas are particularly well represented among the texts I analyze in depth, which is not surprising: Not only are the dance scenes longer and more developed, but the novel is a genre that is particularly identified with romantic feelings.28 Yet unlike canonical European marriage plots, or many of the Jewish novels Naomi Seidman discusses in her recent study The Marriage Plot, most of the texts I analyze could be described as failed marriage plots. They end in tragedy because authors could not imagine a happy synthesis between the bourgeois marriage plot and the novel of emancipation in a world where Jews still struggled to achieve social integration.

German and Yiddish writers provide crucial insights into depictions of Jewish mixed-sex dancing. On one hand, they offer two disparate trajectories of acculturation. While academic and popular accounts of Jewish modernization often emphasize the centrality of the bourgeois German Jewish experience, Yiddish is frequently identified with the concerns of the east European Jewish masses. Despite these differences, German-and Yiddish-speaking Jews were frequently in dialogue with one another. They typically lived in relatively close proximity, their languages were mutually comprehensible (in speech if not in writing), and their literatures often depicted some of the same traditional Jewish communities in Habsburg Galicia. Yet although German and Yiddish literary texts provide an important point of comparison in narrating Ashkenazic experiences of modernity, they were not unique in depicting Jewish social dance.29 I will also address examples from British, American, Hebrew, and Danish literature.

Throughout this study, I refer to authors and texts using designations such as “German,” “Yiddish,” “American Yiddish,” “American Jewish,” and “German Jewish.” These terms can be slippery, since they do not map out neatly onto national boundaries and often refer to individuals who negotiated hybrid identities.30 Moreover, an author’s choice to include or exclude Jewish themes does not necessarily indicate his or her own religious or ethnic affiliation. When I refer to texts and authors as “German” or “Yiddish,” it refers broadly to the language in which the author wrote the text, rather than to the national or religious affiliation of the author. I sometimes find it helpful to use the more specific term “American Yiddish” when referring to writers who published Yiddish literature in America, regardless of where these authors were born or their texts take place. In most cases, the American Yiddish writers I discuss first achieved literary fame in the United States, even though they were born in Europe. I typically refer to authors who built their Yiddish literary careers in Europe as “Yiddish writers,” unless I provide a more specific regional designation, such as “Polish Yiddish writer.” These writers lived in (and often moved between) different empires and nation-states, whose borders changed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many Yiddish writers also published in other languages, including Hebrew and Russian. Finally, the term “German Jewish” refers to the cultural milieu of German-speaking Jews in the German states, German empire, Germany, and Habsburg empire, as well as scholarship that investigates the Jewish contexts of German (and to a certain extent Austrian or Habsburg) literature, culture, and history. In some cases, I refer to “German Jewish literature,” by which I mean German-language works that have Jewish themes and were typically written by a Jewish writer or published for a Jewish audience.

For the purposes of this book, mixed-sex dancing refers to occasions in which men and women interact with each other on the dance floor. Most authors do not distinguish between biological sex and gender identity in their texts. I have chosen to use the term “mixed-sex dancing” instead of “mixed-gender dancing,” since the few texts that do note gender ambiguity ultimately stress the physical bodies of their characters.31 While mixed-sex dancing typically involves couple dances where partners touch each other, sometimes glances can be exchanged in ways that flout propriety even when dancers do not physically touch.32 Additionally, writers sometimes describe scenes in which a character dances with a proxy while actually thinking about or making eye contact with another person with whom the character is not actually able to dance. Thus, a dance between a man and a woman may sometimes convey more information about a relationship between two men.33 By that same token, in a gender-segregated setting, a woman may dance with the sister of the man she wishes were her dance partner.34 My choice of the term “mixed-sex dancing” rather than the commonly used “mixed dancing” emphasizes a concern with men and women dancing together in couples. Nonetheless, dancers from different classes or religions frequently interact while dancing, thus creating additional layers of social mixing. Indeed, in many cases mixed-sex dancing was tacitly accepted unless dancers also transgressed other social taboos.

The dances described in my corpus are usually social or folk dances. In cases such as the Bohemian peasant dance in Leopold Kompert’s Die Kinder des Randars (The Randar’s Children), folk dances could underscore emerging nationalism.35 In other instances, such as Zionist balls, social events might have explicitly political connotations. While the structure36 of individual dances can elucidate the way in which characters engage physically with their dance partners, often writers do not provide specific details about the dance steps beyond the name of the dance or a general description of how characters interact with one another. Even when Yiddish writers do identify particular dances in their texts, translators sometimes opt to replace a dance that readers might not recognize with a better-known dance; thus a hopke or pas d’espagne sometimes becomes a polka. While I generally use published English translations when available, in such instances I provide modified language in brackets or use my own translation and refer to the alternate translation in the notes.

Many of the German-language texts I discuss are Ghettogeschichten (ghetto tales), a nineteenth-and early twentieth-century genre of regional fiction that describes traditional Jewish life in central and eastern Europe.37 Ghetto tales were aimed at Jewish and non-Jewish readers, although even the Jewish readers were German-speakers who were typically more acculturated, more educated in secular topics, and from further west than the Yiddish-speakers depicted in these texts. Many of the Yiddish texts I discuss describe traditional Jewish life in shtetlekh (the plural of shtetl), eastern European towns with a significant but not exclusively Jewish population. Writers of shtetl tales targeted a Jewish audience that often had, like the writers themselves, been born in these communities and sometimes still lived there.38 Yet whether urban or rural, rustic or refined, dance scenes helped writers convey the impact of modern life on intimate personal relationships.

Dance is an ephemeral art form, which resists being captured in the written word. As Lucia Ruprecht observes, studies of dance in literature confront the “fundamental remoteness between dance as one of the most physical and literature as one of the most abstracted of arts.”39

Although dance is difficult to convey through text, it is a frequent literary theme. According to one guide to literary symbols, dances are “often occasions for courtship, for coming of age, and for significant discoveries, especially for the heroine” in modern novels.40 In works of fiction, such as the Jewish literature I analyze in this book, well-placed dance scenes convey local color, emotional tension, and ways for characters to relate to one another without words. Dance scenes move the plot forward in important ways; they frequently appear at pivotal moments and serve as catalysts for changed social interaction between characters. The “deep play” of dancing is associated not only with the disruption of normal matchmaking practices, but even with violence, divorce, and suicide, as in at least one variant of the German folk ballad “Die Jüdintochter” (The Jewish Daughter).41 The act of dancing increases the dramatic stakes and creates a space in which it is possible to display emotions and attractions that might otherwise remain hidden.

In literary texts, social dance becomes a metaphor for how characters navigate their social landscape. Since partner dances involve music, physical contact, and the potential for intimate conversation, the dance floor frequently becomes a heady, passionate space in which emotions are excited and ordinary rules of etiquette or proper gender and class relations fall away. This heightened emotional landscape resembles Turner’s characterization of spontaneous communitas.42 At the same time, certain rules and formations are maintained, and those who stumble or do not perform well may feel compelled to marshal other forms of authority in order to regain their social position after the dancing stops. Numerous writers portrayed dance both as a pivotal moment for plot development and as a lens for observing insider and outsider status.

My analysis of the motif of mixed-sex dancing in modern Jewish literature draws from recent literary dance studies scholarship. More than simply noting the presence of dance scenes in literary texts, literary dance studies considers the ways dance scenes contribute to the texture of literary plots, character development, and social commentary. This research direction is particularly prevalent in the field of English literature and includes discussions of dances in Jane Austen’s novels. I have paid specific attention to methodologies that interrogate the relationships between dance figures, literary plot structures, and contemporaneous cultural developments.43 At the same time, especially since literary dance studies has tended not to address works with Jewish themes,44 I have also relied upon ethnographic and social history studies that explain the dance cultures that would have been familiar to the authors I discuss.45 Literary dance scenes can flesh out our understanding of Jewish dance practice and its cultural context46—yet fiction can also display the way historical figures thought about dancing. Nineteenth-century writers incorporated numerous references to dance in their works, in large part because their readers were accustomed to interpreting the nuances of the dance floor. Dancing was, therefore, a daily life practice and a favorite metaphor for authors.

FIGURE 2. Dance card from the Hebrew Charity Ball at the Academy of Music. New York, February 16, 1875.

Source: Courtesy of The Hyman Bogomolny Grinstein Collection on the Early Jews of New York of Yeshiva University Museum.

The dance floor is a liminal space that eludes all kinds of boundaries.47 It has generally escaped the notice of spatial theorists,48 perhaps because, by the late twentieth century, social dance was no longer a universal activity in the way it once was.49 Even literary dance studies scholars tend not to demarcate the dance floor in spatial terms. Yet, like Johan Huizinga’s characterization of the “magic circle” in which a game takes place, the social dance floor is a unique space with its own rules.50 By “rules” I do not simply refer to etiquette but also to the ways that dancers and spectators interact in order to define the space itself. The nature of this space, and the types of events at which dancing occurs, lead dancers to perceive the dance floor as a space of fantasy and desire. Revealingly, Emma Bovary in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is “seduced” by an elite ball long before she commits adultery––and, like so many fictional dancers, experiences a tragic outcome because she does not limit her flirtations to the dance floor. When socially marginalized characters attend such events, they experience a harsh contrast between the emotions they feel on the dance floor—inspired by the seeming permissibility of this space—and their actual social possibilities. Jewish mixed-sex dancing is thus not only a story of changing Jewish social mores, but also a case study for the importance of the dance floor space as reflected in the experience of a heterogeneous, diasporic minority group.

Unlike many other spaces, a dance floor is created through action: Virtually any space can become a dance floor, as long as people are dancing.51 While some spaces may be reserved for dancing, it is questionable whether certain spaces remain dance floors once the dancing stops. Dance floors transcend social boundaries: A corner in a humble saloon can become a dance floor just as readily as a room in an elegant wedding hall. As a result, dancing often involves ephemeral gestures in a temporary space. Dance floors also involve certain expectations about participation. Social dancing, as the name implies, is generally a public, communal activity. Dance floors generally involve at least two dancers, who may or may not dance with each other. What is more, there is also often a presumption of spectatorship. At the same time that people are dancing, individuals on the edges of the dance floor watch the dancers and interpret or even judge the social signals they are sending. In a particularly famous example, Mrs. Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice keeps careful track of her daughters’ dance partners, since these pairings help determine their marital prospects. Similarly, ball guests in Sophie von La Roche’s eighteenth-century German novel Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim (The History of Lady Sophia Sternheim) falsely assume that the protagonist is having an affair with a prince when they both show up at a masquerade ball wearing matching Spanish costumes.52 Nonetheless, in contrast to a raised theater stage, there is often no clear physical separation between dancers and spectators, and individuals might switch roles over the course of an event. While French poet Paul Valéry claims the dancing body appears to be unaware of its surroundings, the social dancing body is caught in a dynamic interplay between dancer, dance partner, other dancing couples, and those witnessing the events on the dance floor.53 Participants cannot escape the social aspects of the dance floor, with the accompanying demands of gender and class expectations. Nevertheless, they often view the dance floor as a utopian space.

Dances and balls appear throughout literature as places for young people to meet, flirt, and form relationships, as any reader of Romeo and Juliet, War and Peace, or Pride and Prejudice can attest. It is no accident that, in one of the most famous cases of star-crossed love in the German canon, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther), Werther meets Lotte on his way to a country dance and assumes their shared waltz is a sign that they would be an emotionally compatible couple, since he is the only young man who has mastered this new, fast-paced dance style. A dance allows young people to explore mixed-sex sociability in an environment enhanced by music, alcohol, and fine clothes. Dance scenes help characters negotiate religious, class, and national boundaries––often in a transgressive fashion, since the dance floor is a space where individuals can engage with people who are not regarded as acceptable matrimonial partners. At the same time, social dances are often carefully choreographed, socially stratified affairs that reaffirm the dancers’ conformity to social norms. Dance scenes are thus a way for writers to criticize societal expectations about courtship and partner choice while simultaneously entertaining their readers.

While many of these social functions exist at Jewish dances, dance carries a special symbolic significance in traditional Jewish culture. Dance is an important vehicle of acculturation and cultural transfer, especially since traditional Jewish law prohibits men and women from dancing together. On one hand, the ability to dance well could both help fulfill the commandment of making a bride happy at her wedding54 and enable an individual to demonstrate good breeding and proper management of the body, a token of acculturation into European society. On the other hand, one faces the risk of dancing too close, too fast, too passionately, or with the wrong person. While even traditional communities have varied interpretations of the prohibition on mixed-sex dancing, in literature such boundaries are frequently transgressed. Dancing or listening to dance music could inspire flirtation and present a challenge to the practice of arranged marriages. Even when Jews adapt aristocratic social dances for their own weddings and parties, rather than participating in non-Jewish balls, the act of dancing can have destabilizing consequences.55 Dance gives expression to unruly desires in a deceptively permissive space, yet when the dancing stops, the dominant social structures remain enforced, and characters who do not adapt their passions often suffer a tragic fate. As such, dance becomes a tool for narrating Jewish social inclusion and exclusion.


1. For short analyses of this joke, see Friedman and Friedman, God Laughed, 2; Leveen, “Only When I Laugh,” 38. For a literary reference to the joke, see Englander, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” 27.

2. At the conclusion of a 1932 piece in the Bundist journal Yugnt-veker (Awakener of Youth) about adolescent sexual life (which advocated abstinence), Dr. A. Goldshmid declares that, in organizational life, young people should protect themselves from any sexual excitement, including dancing, “especially the bourgeois forms, which are practiced today even in proletarian organizations.” A. Goldshmid, “Dos seksuele lebn fun der yugnt,” Yugnt-veker 11, no. 17 (August 15, 1932): 9. For further discussion, see Jacobs, Bundist Counterculture in Interwar Poland, 21. In a 1948 Yiddish-language story, Burshtyn describes a passionate tango, “which dramatized free love and eroticism.” See Burshtyn, “Der masken bal fun der fardorbenhayt,” 41. For a discussion of sex in American Yiddish literature, see Hellerstein, “The Art of Sex in Yiddish Poems”; Lambert, Unclean Lips, 141–174.

3. See sources such as Arcangeli, “Dance Under Trial,” esp. 143; Pennino-Baskerville, “Terpsichore Reviled,” esp. 492; Salhi, “Introduction: The Paradigm of Performing Islam Beyond the Political Rhetoric,” 8; Wagner, Adversaries of the Dance, 388. For a discussion of Puritan Increase Mather’s condemnation of “gynecandrical” (“mixed” or “promiscuous”) dancing in a 1684 morality tract, see Wiggins, Sport in America, 12.

4. For Adventist, Baptist, Mormon, and Muslim versions, see sources such as “It Could Lead to Dancing––Adventists and Sex,” The Other Adventist Home (April 20, 2018):; Mark Oppenheimer, “The First Dance,” New York Times Magazine (January 28, 2007):;u/paula_sutton, “Dancing,” reddit: In an email correspondence from April 2019, Faith Jones recalled that she heard a Mormon version of the joke in Vancouver in the 1970s. For Mormon attitudes toward mixed-sex dancing, see Hicks, Mormonism and Music, 74–86. For a play about queer inclusion within the Mennonite church that follows a queer dancer in a Mennonite context and references the punchline in the title, see Wideman, This Will Lead to Dancing (Toronto: Theatre of the Beat, 2017). Johnny Wideman graciously answered my questions about the play.

5. Other than a few passing references to works of world literature that help contextualize my discussion of the social importance of dance, the literary texts I discuss depict Jewish engagement in mixed-sex social dancing. Most of the writers were also Jewish themselves, although Austrian nobleman Leopold von Sacher-Masoch is a notable exception. As a shorthand, I sometimes refer to the texts in my corpus as Jewish literature, especially since most works were written by a Jewish author and/or intended for a Jewish audience.

6. Heshy Fried, “‘It Could Lead to Mixed Dancing’ Is Antiquated and Needs to Be Replaced,” Frum Satire (August 20, 2013): Although Fried claims the phrase is outdated, he still considers it the most effective way to lampoon religious taboos.

7. Scholars who study this era do not all begin their periodization in the same year, especially since these shifts happened at different times across Europe, moving generally from west to east. Two of the defining historical incidents that are often used to denote the start of the period of emancipation are Austrian Emperor Joseph II’s Edict of Tolerance (Toleranzedikt, 1781–1782) and the decision by the French National Assembly to grant citizenship to Jews (1790–1791). See Katz, Out of the Ghetto, 30. My starting date in the late eighteenth century roughly corresponds with the start of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) in the German states and Habsburg empire. Katz starts his study in 1770, perhaps in part so that his examination of a century of Jewish emancipation ends with the unification of Germany. He notes, too, the activities of Moses Mendelssohn’s intellectual circle in Berlin during the 1770s and 80s (see ibid., 50), although acknowledging on p. 59 that Mendelssohn did not become “the outspoken interpreter of Jewish expectations” until the 1780s. In Kaplan’s edited volume about German Jewish daily life from 1618–1945, Lowenstein’s section on the era of emancipation spans 1780–1870; see Kaplan, “Introduction,” in Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 7. Most texts I discuss were written between the mid-nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century.

8. For instance, see Lesser, A Jewish Youth in Dresden, 113.

9. Margolis, “A Tempest in Three Teapots.”

10. When anticipating the possibility that she might never marry, Lewald identifies dancing with youthful courtship and associates not dancing with aging. See Lewald, Meine Lebensgeschichte, vol. 2, 204, 300. For English, see Lewald, The Education of Fanny Lewald, 182, 194.

11. Maimon, Salomon Maimons Lebensgeschichte, vol. 2, 276–279. For English, see Maimon, The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon, 240–243.

12. Auerbach, Bräutigamsbriefe von Berthold Auerbach, 33.

13. As Isaac Bashevis Singer noted, “Nomberg learned to dance the modern dances—the tango, the shimmy, the foxtrot, the Charleston. He danced often at the Writers’ Association House.” Singer, “Memoirs and Episodes from the Writers’ Association House in Warsaw,” 9e. For more about Nomberg and other Yiddish cultural figures dancing at Tłomackie 13, see Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, 170–173, 179.

14. For more about the changing role of gender in modern Jewish literature and culture, see Baader, Gender, Judaism, and Bourgeois Culture in Germany; Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct; Naimark-Goldberg, Jewish Women in Enlightenment Berlin; Seidman, The Marriage Plot. For recent studies of Jewish space, see Cohen, Place in Modern Jewish Culture and Society; Ernst and Lamprecht, Jewish Spaces; Lipphardt, Brauch, and Nocke, Jewish Topographies. For a study of Jewish space that focuses on literary texts, see Mann, Space and Place in Jewish Studies. One exception is the rise of gender segregation in Israeli society; see Weiss, “A Beach of Their Own.”

15. Recent scholarship in Jewish Studies has explored different types of space where social mixing occurred. For instance, see Cypess and Sinkoff, Sara Levy’s World; Dynner, Yankel’s Tavern; Hertz, Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin; Pinsker, A Rich Brew; Zadoff, Next Year in Marienbad. For a literary account juxtaposing traditionally pious young men who “were ashamed to look a woman in the face” with mixed-sex leisure culture on a beach, including “almost naked couples” who “danced barefoot in the hot sand,” see Grade, The Yeshiva, 381. For Yiddish, see Grade, Tsemakh atlas, 400.

16. Rakovsky, My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman, 27. For Yiddish, see Rakovsky, Zikhroynes fun a yidisher revolutsionerin, 21. Similarly, Ruth Katz (a rabbi’s daughter who was born in 1913 in Russian Poland in the town of Wizajny) notes that her father was unusually permissive in allowing young men and women to talk, dance, and sing together on Friday nights in a room in their house. See Kramer and Masur, “Ruth Katz,” 144.

17. In Ha-ne’ehavim veha-ne’imim, oder, Der shvartser yungermantshik (The Beloved and Pleasing, or, The Dark Young Man), Jacob Dinezon’s bestselling 1877 Yiddish novel of bourgeois Russian Jewish life in the 1840s, mixed-sex dancing is explicitly identified with ideas of fashion and romance from outside the Jewish community. As one character laments,

The Christians have their custom of letting the groom choose his bride without a matchmaker, but at least we don’t do that, thank God! And to think my own dear daughter almost introduced this fashion into our household. Soon they’ll want to allow men and women to dance together at weddings the way Christians do. Nu, Master of the Universe, can anything good come of this?

Dinezon, The Dark Young Man, 198. For Yiddish, see Dinezon, Ha-ne’ehavim veha-ne’imim, 247.

18. Wurst, Fabricating Pleasure, esp. xvii–xviii.

19. Bourgeois Jews might even view attendance at balls as a duty. See Kaplan, The Making of the Jewish Middle Class, 132.

20. Attendance at spas also often involved balls; see Naimark, Jewish Women in Enlightenment Berlin, 167. Bourdieu identifies the middlebrow with minor works of major arts and major works of minor arts, and he associates it with the bourgeoisie. See Bourdieu, Distinction, 16. For the importance of nineteenth-century German Jewish middlebrow literature, see Hess, Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity.

21. Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 37. For a useful discussion of the concept of play, see Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 7–13. Characteristics of play include voluntary participation, separation from “real” life (including through dressing up), taking place within a designated space, applying one’s own sense of order and rules, and an element of tension.

22. For more about the German cotillion, see Aldrich, From the Ballroom to Hell, 17–18. For an instance of Jews performing the (German) cotillion, see Poliakova, A Jewish Woman of Distinction, 176–177.

23. Geertz, “Deep Play,” 70, 79, 83–84. Geertz compares the emotional investment in a high-stakes Balinese cockfight to canonical literary texts like Crime and Punishment (see ibid., 79). In contrast to Geertz’s emphasis on pride, rage, and masculinity, the texts I discuss invoke emotional responses from readers that are closely connected to heterosexual courtship and Jewish emancipation, including titillation, empathy, and indignation.

24. For criticism and eroticization of sex segregation in modern Jewish literature, see Seidman, The Marriage Plot, 253–293.

25. For more about romantic love in modern Jewish literature, see Garloff, Mixed Feelings; Lezzi, “Liebe ist meine Religion!”; Seidman, The Marriage Plot. For changes in Jewish attitudes toward romantic love, see Biale, Eros and the Jews; Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct; Kaplan, “‘Based on Love.’” For a discussion of Jewish attitudes toward romantic love in imperial Germany, see Kaplan, “As Germans and as Jews in Imperial Germany,” in Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 195. Christian Bailey’s forthcoming study of love between Jews and other Germans also promises to illuminate this topic.

26. Watt, The Rise of the Novel, 18.

27. For studies of dance and literary modernism, see Brandstetter, Poetics of Dance; Jones, Literature, Modernism, and Dance; Kolb, Performing Femininity; Ruprecht, Gestural Imaginaries.

28. Seidman, The Marriage Plot, 59; Watt, The Rise of the Novel, 136.

29. Jewish mixed-sex dancing was not a uniquely Ashkenazic phenomenon. See Goldberg, Jewish Passages, 242–243; for Jewish ball attendance in late Ottoman Izmir, see Danon, The Jews of Ottoman Izmir, 96–113.

30. I include Leopold Kompert (a Bohemian-born Jewish writer who published German-language regional fiction in Vienna and incorporated Yiddish terms into his work) among the German writers, even though he lived in the Habsburg empire and not in the German empire or what is now Germany. This kind of general linguistic designation becomes more complicated in the case of Abraham Cahan, who wrote in both Yiddish and English. I describe him as an American Jewish or Yiddish writer due to his influential Yiddish literary and journalistic career, to his concerns as an immigrant writer that make it difficult to completely separate his Yiddish and English works, and to the fact that even his English-language novel Yekl was first published in a Yiddish version (and later adapted into a film with largely Yiddish dialogue).

31. These scenes tend to involve men who dress in drag. For instance, Kolmar, Die jüdische Mutter, 137–138. For English, see Kolmar, A Jewish Mother from Berlin, 103–104.

32. See, for instance, Shtok, “Der shlayer,” in Gezamelte dertseylungen, 111. For an English translation of this story, see Schtok’s “The Veil” in Forman et al., Found Treasures, 103.

33. See Kompert, Die Kinder des Randars, 68.

34. See Opatoshu, A roman fun a ferd-ganef, 70. For English, see Opatoshu, Romance of a Horse Thief, 182.

35. For further discussion, see Chapter 3.

36. The “structure” of a dance refers to whether the dance is fast or slow, whether it is for one or four couples, whether it involves close contact or approaching and retreating, and so forth.

37. For more about this genre, see studies such as Fuchs and Krobb, Ghetto Writing; Glasenapp and Horch, Ghettoliteratur; Hess, Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity, 72–110.

38. For more about this genre, see Roskies, A Bridge of Longing, 17. For more about shtetlekh in the Yiddish literary imagination, see Katz, The Shtetl; Miron, The Image of the Shtetl. For more about the shtetl, see Shandler, Shtetl; Zborowski and Herzog, Life Is with People.

39. Ruprecht, Dances of the Self, xiii.

40. Ferber, A Dictionary of Literary Symbols, 52.

41. A Jewish woman, who goes to a dance, meets a Christian writer and falls in love with him. When he insists on her baptism, she says she would rather drown. Song text in Erk, “98d. Die Judentochter,” Deutscher Liederhort, vol. 1, 353–354. Bohlman and Holzapfel cite several German and two Yiddish variations; see Bohlman and Holzapfel, The Folk Songs of Ashkenaz, 15–23.

42. See Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 47.

43. For instance, see Engelhardt, Dancing Out of Line; Wilson, Literature and Dance in Nineteenth-Century Britain.

44. Prior to my own scholarship, these studies typically did not acknowledge the Jewishness of authors who wrote about dance or of fictional Jewish social dancers. For a discussion of Heinrich Heine’s writings on dance, see Ruprecht, Dances of the Self, 97–136; for dance in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, see Engelhardt, Dancing Out of Line, 108, and Wilson, Literature and Dance in Nineteenth-Century Britain, 71.

45. For social histories that discuss bourgeois (German) Jewish dance, see Kaplan, The Making of the Jewish Middle Class, 132; Wobick-Segev, Homes Away from Home, 32–37, 63–66, 133–140. For more ethnographic and folkloric studies of Yiddish dance (songs), see Cahan, “Tsum oyfkum fun yidishn tantslid”; Feldman, “Bulgareasca, Bulgarish, Bulgar”; Feldman, Klezmer, 163–202; Friedland, “‘Tantsn Is Lebn’”; Rubin, “Dancing Songs.” A rare example of a text about Jewish dance aesthetics is Vizonsky, “Vegn yidishn folks-tants.” Karen Goodman includes a translation and analysis in her unpublished talk, “Thinking About Nathan Vizonsky, Thinking About Yiddish Dance” (paper presented at the annual meeting for the Association for Jewish Studies, Boston, 2010). I thank her for sharing both texts with me.

46. Gollance, “Gesture, Repertoire, and Emotion.”

47. I use the term “liminal” due to its currency in scholarship. The overall range of dance scenes I discuss (containing both ritual forms, such as weddings, and leisure culture, such as balls) resists easy classification into Turner’s categories of “liminal” and “liminoid,” especially due to the important social function of dance in Hasidic communities. See Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 53.

48. Works that offer theoretical insights into leisure culture spaces but do not directly address the dance floor include: Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”; Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 9–10; Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 310. Pinsker has applied Soja’s concept of the “thirdspace” to Jewish café culture (a leisure space that sometimes included dancing); see Pinsker, A Rich Brew, 9–10. Tuan discusses how dancing can change the way people relate to space, because they are freed “from the demands of purposeful goal-directed life” but does not elaborate on the dance floor itself; see Tuan, Space and Place, 129.

49. While dynamic social dance scenes continue to exist, there is less of an assumption that mastering a standard set of ballroom or folk dances is obligatory for courtship or (elite) class status. At the same time, contemporary social dance often offers new opportunities for solo dance, flexible gender roles, and a broader array of dance styles. Studies that discuss shifts in social dance culture after World War II include: Bosse, “Whiteness and the Performance of Race in American Ballroom Dance”; Lawrence, “Disco and the Queering of the Dance Floor”; Malnig, Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake; Walkowitz, “The Cultural Turn and a New Social History.”

50. See Huizinga, Homo Ludens, esp. 10.

51. My thinking on this topic is informed by Lefebvre’s writing about the creation of social space through human behaviors, bodies, and actions. See Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 26–46.

52. La Roche, Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, 186. For English, see La Roche, The History of Lady Sophia Sternheim, 103. For more about masquerade balls in literature, see Castle, Masquerade and Civilization.

53. Valéry, “Philosophy of the Dance,” 70–71.

54. For more about the mitsve tants, or dance that fulfills the commandment of gladdening the bride, see Chapter 1. Although performed in a sex-segregated context, this dance tests the limits of the prohibition on mixed-sex dancing.

55. Such as divorce, as in Cahan’s Yekl.