Torah in Motion: Creating Dance Midrash


Explore new ways of prayer and storytelling through TORAH IN MOTION. JoAnne Tucker and Susan Freeman, both experienced in dance and Judaic studies, tell the famous stories of the Torah through modern dance. In this book they explain how they use dance to interpret Torah, and creativeideas to consider when doing so. Dance Midrash offers a new and contemporary form of prayer and expression, uniting both young and old in dance and story.
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Torah in Motion: Creating Dance Midrash

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Explore new ways of prayer and storytelling through TORAH IN MOTION. JoAnne Tucker and Susan Freeman, both experienced in dance and Judaic studies, tell the famous stories of the Torah through modern dance. In this book they explain how they use dance to interpret Torah, and creativeideas to consider when doing so. Dance Midrash offers a new and contemporary form of prayer and expression, uniting both young and old in dance and story.
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  • ISBN-13: 9780759230361
  • Publisher: EReads
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.67 (d)

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Torah in Motion

Creating Dance Midrash

By JoAnne Tucker, Susan Freeman


Copyright © 1990 Alternatives in Religious Education, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-3509-8



Genesis: Beginner

Light from Darkness

And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:4)


The Torah begins with the description of creation. Amidst the darkness all around, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and separated the light from the darkness.

Motivating Movement

1. Have dancers improvise on images of light:

a. Ask dancers to be bolts of lightning. Have them take turns "bolting" across the room. Coach them to pay special attention to the design lightning makes as it zigzags in the sky. Ask them to create clear spatial patterns as they go across the room. They should be able to draw the pattern they make.

b. Have each dancer portray a small spark that grows in intensity. Begin in a tight ball on the floor and grow steadily, bigger, stronger, and brighter.

2. Have dancers improvise on separation:

a. Have the group begin in, and then move out of, a designated part of the room. Encourage them to move away with the intent of separating from the space with great effort and care.

Dance Midrash

Before the creation of light, "the earth was unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water" (Genesis 1:2). Have the dancers imagine they are light being created amidst the darkness. Experiment in different ways with light being created: quickly in one burst and slowly, as a growing spark. End with the group coming together to form a large mass of light distinguishing itself from its surroundings.

Making Connections

God created the light, saw that it was good, and called the light day. What then do we make of the darkness, the darkness called night? God doesn't call the darkness good, but neither is darkness called bad. Maybe darkness is defined by how we perceive it. Have the group share how they perceive darkness, and perhaps dance these perceptions.


The group imagines that throughout the seven days of creation, light and darkness are negotiating how many hours of the day each should rule. Divide the group: one half is light, the other is darkness. Dance this dialogue of negotiation. To further develop this improvisation, have the dancers keep in mind what day of creation it is and what is being created on that day. For example, do they negotiate differently on the sixth day when male and female are created as compared to the seventh day when God blesses the day and rests?

Genesis: Intermediate

Fill the Earth

God blessed them and God said to them, "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it." (Genesis 1:28)


God instructs Adam and Eve that it is a blessing to have children.

Motivating Movement

1. The dancers begin on one side of the room and zigzag across the space. The goal is to cover as much space as they can in as few big movements as possible.

2. The dancers stand in a circle. One dancer imagines holding and blessing a baby. That dancer then hands the imaginary baby to the next dancer in a way that suggests a continuation of the blessing—giving another an opportunity to bless the baby. The next dancers continue this pattern of blessing.

Dance Midrash

Each dancer creates a blessing that consists of four movement phrases which are bold and expansive, yet nurturing. The themes of the blessing phrases are:

May you be fertile


Fill the earth

Master the earth

Making Connections

Human beings are intended to be a blessing to God; so, too, are children intended to be a blessing to their parents. Talk about how children you know (your own, siblings, cousins, or children or siblings of a friend) bring blessings to the world.


In Genesis 1:28 raising children and mastering the earth are linked. Have dancers choose three qualities needed in order to raise children to be part of a "blessed earth." The dancers, working either individually or in pairs, create a dance which expresses the three qualities. They perform their dances in front of the rest of the group. The group then gives the performers feedback on what qualities they observed. The performers rework their dances based on the feedback they received, trying to refine their movements to express precisely the qualities they have chosen. Examples of qualities include: love, respect, discipline, sense of humor, faith, kindness.

Genesis: Beginner

First Shabbat

On the seventh day God finished the work which God had begun doing, and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work which God had done. (Genesis 2:2)


After six days of creating, God rested on the seventh day, Shabbat. We are commanded to observe and remember the seventh day and make it holy.

Motivating Movement

1. Have the group begin by clapping six counts and holding the seventh count. When the pattern is clearly established, have the group walk the pattern. Continue by coaching participants to experiment with moving different parts of their bodies on the six counts, still holding on the seventh count. As a final step for older and advanced groups, see if the group can maintain the rhythmic pattern when no one is counting out loud.

2. Have the group experiment with restful movement of a sustained nature on the seventh count in contrast to a total stop or rest.

Making Connections

Ask participants what the experience in the previous section tells them about observing Shabbat, the day of rest. Was it easy or difficult to rest on the seventh count? Did they use the sixth count to prepare for the seventh count? How do they prepare for Shabbat on Thursday night or Friday?

Dance Midrash

For young beginners, go back to the same exercise found in the "Motivating Movement" section, except add the idea of five work movements, one transition movement, and a rest. Repeat the pattern until the group has established it well and has enjoyed moving in the pattern. For more advanced groups: Each person is to establish his/her own tempo and develop a phrase of seven equal parts. (For those who know music, each part can equal a measure in the timing they choose to work in.) The first five parts are to be in an active, busy style, the sixth part is a transition to the seventh, which depicts the dancers' interpretation of the phrase "ceased all work." The seventh part may be a total stop or a restful, sustained movement. Divide the group in half so that the dancers can watch each other. Coach individuals to go with their own rhythm. Some will be doing active movements, while others are resting. Point out how this relates to various degrees of Shabbat observance.


God created male and female on the sixth day. Create a dance which portrays what the first male and female might have been doing on the seventh day, the first Shabbat. Some possibilities are:

A playful dance of discovering how they can move and what is around them.

A quiet acknowledging of themselves and what is immediately around them. (Time and great care should be taken as each movement is made.)

A blessing by them of the day. (Since they are created in God's image, they intuitively understand to bless the day as God does.)

Genesis: Beginner

Naming the Creatures

And God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature that would be its name. (Genesis 2:19)


This is part of the second version of the creation story. In Genesis 1, God created animals before Adam; however, in Genesis 2, God created animals after Adam and Adam gave them their names.

Motivating Movement

Note: This motivating movement section can be used as a way to get to know everyone's name.

1. Have the group sit in a circle. Go around the circle having each person clap his/her name.

2. Have everyone get up and dance the rhythm of their names, repeating their names several times.

3. Progress to everyone singing and dancing their names with movement, conveying something important about themselves. Their dance might emphasize one of their physical characteristics such as being tall, or portray one of their favorite hobbies, such as horseback riding.

Dance Midrash

One person is chosen to be Adam. Everyone else is to be a mythical creature. Begin by having the group spend time improvising the mythical creatures. When they have the creatures' characteristics well defined, each person can present his/her creature to Adam to be named while the others watch. Adam may need to dance with the creature, inspect it, and even ask it questions in order to determine its name.

Making Connections

Everyone is to share what they know about their given names. Were they named after someone? How have their names affected them? If they don't like their names, what other names might they want?


Have the group improvise a dance about Adam and Eve. Base the dance on the names Adam and Eve.

See Genesis 2:7 ("God formed man from the dust of the earth. God blew into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being"). The Hebrew word for man, Adam, is related to adamah, the word for earth and to dam, the word for blood.

In Genesis 3:20, "The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living." The name Eve in Hebrew is Chavah and it comes from the word chai, which means living.

Genesis: Advanced


They perceived that they were naked. (Genesis 3:7)


The woman, encouraged by the serpent, ate from the tree in the middle of the garden. God had warned her not to eat from this tree. She offered the fruit to her husband, who also ate it. As God had warned, their eyes "were opened." The first thing they discovered was that they were naked.

Motivating Movement

1. Have dancers imagine they are in high heels or business shoes, a tight skirt or suit, stockings, girdle, tie, long sleeves. They are to dance as if wearing these clothes. Have them gradually pretend to take the clothes off until they have nothing on and can move as freely as they like.

Making Connections

Every child enjoys a time of innocence, marked by a certain freedom and lack of inhibition. As we grow up, we become self-conscious of ourselves and our bodies. Lead a discussion about the transition time when we first began to feel awkward and aware of our bodies. How did this awareness affect the way we acted, moved, and talked?

Dance Midrash

Have the participants begin by moving freely, without being self-conscious, enjoying themselves. Each person finds his/her own moment (symbolic of the moment when the man and the woman perceived they were naked), and expresses that moment in dance. Concentrate first on perceiving one's own nakedness and then progress to discovering the nakedness of others in the group.


In Genesis 3:10 the man says, "I was afraid because I was naked." The perception of his nakedness led to fear. Improvise on the word naked from a physical point of view, as well as from a religious or spiritual point of view, i.e., with the appropriate accompanying emotions. Ask the dancers to remember a time when they felt particularly vulnerable or exposed and to add this feeling to the improvisation. In Genesis 3:10 the man's fear is a result of realizing his nakedness or vulnerability, not the fact he has done something wrong. Coach participants to show this vulnerability.

Genesis: Beginner

Bursting of the Floodgates

All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the sky broke open. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11–12)


Noah, described as the only righteous man in his generation, followed God's instructions and built an ark. As Noah was commanded, he gathered together his family, two pairs of every animal and bird, and brought them into the ark. It began to rain, and the rain continued for forty days and nights.

Motivating Movement

1. Talk about the sound that raindrops make when they hit the window or pavement. Ask dancers to put that sound into their feet and practice short staccato jumping, prancing, and hopping movements. Now put the staccato movement in other parts of the body, such as hands, elbows, and shoulders. When the staccato movement is clearly understood and experienced, expand to percussive movement, portraying the words "burst apart" and "broke open." Finally have the group improvise starting with percussive "bursting apart" movement and leading into continuous staccato movement.

2. Have dancers imagine that they are animals in a crowded limited space, for example, an elephant in a circus railroad car. A good way to introduce this is to bring in pictures of animals and birds, a different animal or bird on each card. Ask participants to select a card. The animal on the card is the one they portray in the improvisation.

Dance Midrash

Divide the group in half. One half portrays the animals inside of the ark, while the other half is the rain. Remember to define the space of the ark and remind the "animals" that they will have to confine their movement to that space. The rain group can move in the remaining space surrounding the ark. Coach the rain group to be continuous in maintaining the staccato movement. Keep the improvisation going until the feeling of impatience in the animals is well established.

Making Connections

Ask dancers: "What are your feelings when the weather has been bad and you are forced to stay indoors? How do you react when the bad weather continues for several days in a row? If you felt impatient, how did you express this feeling?" Ask how Noah and his family might have felt being cooped up in the ark. Ask how they might have felt when they realized that they were the only people God saved.


1. Have the group portray some natural phenomena which result in disasters or loss of life. For example, the group might portray the hot sun parching the ground causing crops to die and famine to occur, or lava of a volcano pouring down a mountain and wiping out a community. After dancing, consider discussing such natural events—why do they happen, what purpose do they serve?

2. Have the group develop a Dance Midrash about the character of Noah during the 40 days and nights of rain. What are the different emotions he might have felt as the rain continued? Possibilities include:

Thankfulness that he and his family were given the chance to begin again.

Thankfulness that he and his family were given the chance to begin again

Impatience as a result of being in the ark for so many days

Fear and doubt

Desire to take care of his family, the animals, and birds

Genesis: Beginner


That is why it was called Babel, because there God confounded the speech of the whole earth; and from there God scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:9)


Since everyone on earth spoke the same language, it was easy for them to work together. In the valley of Shinar, the people built a city and a tower with its top in the sky. God, seeing what they had done, mixed up their speech so that they could not understand each other. They stopped building and were scattered from their central location.

Motivating Movement

1. Bring in pictures of unique architecture, especially tall buildings. Divide participants into small groups of 3 to 5 dancers. Each group is to create the illusion of one of the tall buildings through the shapes they make together. They might want to use chairs to give more height to their design. Have them share their designs with each other.

2. Divide the group into pairs. Ask the pairs to find movement which requires cooperation from both of them to accomplish it. In particular, stress movements in which they share their body weights in some way.

3. Have the group practice speaking gibberish, vocal utterances which are not recognizable words. Coach the group to keep normal speech rhythm while avoiding real words. When the group is used to speaking in gibberish, ask them to accompany it with movement. (The use of gibberish in improvisational work was developed by Viola Spolin and is described in Theatre Game File, published by Cemreal, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, 1975.)


Excerpted from Torah in Motion by JoAnne Tucker, Susan Freeman. Copyright © 1990 Alternatives in Religious Education, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xiii
Preface xv
Introduction xix
Light from Darkness (1:4) 3
Fill the Earth (1:28) 5
First Shabbat (2:2) 7
Naming the Creatures (2:19) 9
Discovery (3:7) 11
Bursting of the Floodgates (7:11-12) 13
Gibberish (11:9) 15
Abram, Go Forth (12:1) 17
Sister ... Let Me Live! (12:13) 19
Sarah Laughed (18:12) 21
Lot's Wife (19:26) 23
Hagar's Eyes Are Opened (21:19) 25
The Binding of Isaac (22:1, 22:7, 22:11) 27
Sarah's Lifetime (23:1) 29
Rebekah's Veil (24:65) 32
Jacob Emerges (25:26) 34
Jacob: One Who Disguises (27:19) 36
Jacob's Dream (28:12) 39
Jacob's Journey Continues (29:1) 41
Sisters: Leah and Rachel (29:17) 43
Jacob Wrestles (32:25) 45
Dinah (34:1) 47
Isaac Dies (35:28-29) 50
Joseph Dreams (37:7) 52
Joseph Is Cast into the Pit (37:23-24) 54
Judah's Pledge to Tamar (38:18) 56
Joseph in Charge (41:45) 58
Joseph Names His Sons (41:51-52) 60
Egyptians Become Serfs (47:25) 63
Blessing Ephraim & Manasseh (48:20) 65
Joseph Mourns His Father (50:10) 68
A New Pharaoh Deals Harshly (1:10) 73
The Burning Bush (3:2) 76
Moses Stands on Holy Ground (3:5) 78
Let My People Go (5:1) 80
Moses' Impediment (6:12) 82
Frogs Everywhere (8:2) 85
Darkness Descends on Egypt (10:22) 87
Leaving Egypt (12:11) 89
Sign and Symbol of Freedom (13:16) 92
Crossing the Sea (14:22) 94
Hands of Victory (17:11) 96
Keep the Sabbath (20:8) 98
Amazement at Sinai (20:15) 100
Helping Your Enemy (23:5) 102
Against Cruelty (23:19) 105
Giving (25:1-2) 107
Winged Cherubim (25:20) 109
Colored Gate (27:16) 111
Anointment (29:7) 113
The Lure of Gold (32:2-3) 115
Moses Sees the Golden Calf (32:19) 117
God Shields Moses (33:21-22) 119
Excellence for the Tabernacle (36:2) 121
Levels of Sacred Space (40:30-32) 123
The Cloud and God's Presence (40:34-35) 125
An Offering By Fire (1:17) 129
Drawing Near (2:1) 131
Holy on Contact (6:11) 133
Blood Ritual (8:23) 136
They Saw and Shouted (9:24) 138
Unclean! Unclean! (13:45) 140
Contaminated Fabric (13:47) 142
A Plague in the House (14:37-38) 144
Scapegoat (16:21) 146
Defiling the Land (18:28) 148
Leave Some for the Poor (19:9-10) 150
Stumbling Blocks (19:14) 152
Love the Stranger (19:34) 154
Etrog, Palm, Myrtle, & Willow (23:40) 156
Sound the Shofar (25:9) 159
The Jubilee Year (25:10) 161
Reward and Punishment (26:3-4) 163
Clearing Out the Old (26:10) 166
In the Wilderness (1:1) 171
Blessing of Peace (6:26) 173
Shouldering the Sacred (7:9) 175
The Wave (8:11) 177
Miriam Stricken (12:10) 179
Fringed Reminder (15:39) 181
Moses Hears and Falls (16:4) 183
Striking the Rock (20:11) 185
Copper Serpent (21:9) 187
Balaam Blesses (24:5) 189
Flaunting Leads to Death (25:6) 191
Daughters of Zelophehad (27:1) 193
New Moons (28:11) 195
Limits of Women's Vows (30:6) 197
Cities of Refuge (35:11) 200
Moses' Final Address (1:1) 205
Honor Father and Mother (5:16) 207
Hear, O Israel (6:4) 209
Teach With All Your Heart (6:6-7) 212
The Hornets (7:25) 214
Open Your Heart (10:16) 216
Path to the Appointed Site (12:5) 218
Sweep Out Evil (13:6) 220
Do Not Deviate (17:11) 222
Protecting Trees During War (20:19) 224
Regard for Animals (22:6-7) 226
Land of Milk and Honey (26:9) 228
A Holy People (28:9-10) 230
Return to God (30:10) 232
God's Hidden Countenance (31:17) 234
Like an Eagle (32:11) 236
Israel: Fat and Kicked (32:15) 238
God's Everlasting Arms (33:27) 240
Moses Sees the Promised Land (34:3) 243
Appendix I Holidays and Life Events: Suggested Dance Midrashim 245
Appendix II Resources for Leading Sessions 248
Appendix III How To Ask Questions 250
Appendix IV Dance Midrashim by Torah Portion 253
Sources Related to Midrash 259
Sources Related to Dance 262
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