In the heart of NYC’s Greenwich Village, not far from the Joyce Theater, the mecca of the New York’s dance community, there is a small and quite unassuming street called Anna Sokolow Way. Anna Sokolow’s life spun historical turmoil and many geographical locations but her dance life started from the Trade Union movement in NYC. Her mother, who worked in the NY garment industry, was a union organizer[1].

She said: “The unions were really my first audience. Poets or writers would read their work, singers and dancers would perform in their halls.”[2]She danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and at the same time performed in the New York left scene and became an instrumental force in consolidation of the New Dance Group and the Workers’ Dance League. Her works in the 1930s and 1940s explored themes such as the growing worries of  exploration of workers, concerns regarding Jews in Germany (she was a Jewess herself), and her famous Anti War Trilogy performed at the anti war congress in 1933.  A true internationalist, her work took her around the world and created enduring collaborations in multifarious styles and many countries.

In a 1965 Dance Magazine article Anna Sokolow wrote that there were no “final solutions to today’s problems,” but that she “could simply provoke an audience into awareness.” Sokolow’s career as well as her piercing statements seem exceptionally timely in this moment, when the international left is reconfiguring its alliances and partisan alignment. This is a moment in which artists and other public figures are placed in the spotlight considering decisions that are implicated by- or indeed have direct implications in political agendas.

After Michael Bennett’s refusal to go to Israel at the invitation of one of the most right wing and racist governments the country has known went viral[3] he quoted 1968 Olympian John Carlos saying “there is no partial commitment to justice. You are either in or out”. Anna Sokolow is quoted as saying: “Choreography always reflects the character of the creator. We see in the person’s work what he asks from life and from art. Art should recognize all[4] our needs.” [5]Anna Soklow [6]is an example for public figures to understand that their art- and actions- can provoke us all into awareness to a total commitment for social justice and we must all work at the service of art that recognizes all our needs.

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/apr/12/guardianobituaries1

[2]https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/sokolow-anna

[3]https://twitter.com/mosesbread72/status/830226873858695168/photo/1

[4] My emphasis DM

[5]Anna Sokolow, in The Modern Dance, Selma Jeanne Cohen, 1965

[6] Anna herself collaborated with many dance makers in Israel and has been influential in the dance scene there; but it should especially be noted that one of her strongest collaborations was with the Inbal Dance Theater, working in Yemeni dance style and with- and aimed at- Jews of Sephardi (non European) origin.

Dana Mills

Dr. Dana Mills is an academic and an activist. She has held positions in New York University, Bard College, New York, Oxford University and Oxford Brookes. Her first book: Dance and Politics: Moving beyond Boundaries was published In 2016 by Manchester University Press. .