God's Favorite Prayers: The Music and Dance Video and Interpretation

My student at JTSA, Emily Passer submitted a video and interpretation for her final project. Its six dancers represent the archetypes of prayer that I developed in my teaching and that I write about in my new book, God's Favorite Prayers. Here is Emily's commentary:

For my final project for this class, I have chosen to do a creative project interpreting the six or seven archetypes in the synagogue.  For my creative project, I recruited six dancers, including myself, from Columbia University to perform an interpretive dance piece in one of the studios at Barnard College.  The six dancers danced to “Living on a Prayer” by Jon Bon Jovi, an appropriate piece of music for the subject of this project.  The six dancers represented the seven main archetypes found in the synagogue: the scribe, the priest, the mystic, the meditator, the celebrity monotheist, and the artist-musician-dancer.  One dancer doubled as the role of the community organizer.  Each dancer wore somewhat similar costumes with one distinguishing article of clothing.  The following is the order of their appearance and an explanation of their movement.

Cast in order of Appearance:
1)      The Scribe
a.       Danced by Olga Sokolovskaya
b.      Wearing all black, this was showing the scribe’s inwardness, his attention to detail and his more serious characteristics.
c.       The scribe’s signature move was the covering of the eyes, as in the Shema.  Most closely related to the Shema, the scribe attempts to remain focused on his prayer and not get distracted.  As the dancer attempts to keep her eyes covered, we see the intense focus of the scribe.
2)      The Priest
a.       Danced by Katie Sun
b.      Wearing all white, this was showing the priest’s holiness and purity.
c.       The priest’s signature move was her use of the priestly hand symbol (as also seen in Star Trek).  (Because of the poor video quality, this is a little harder to see.)  Additionally, her bigger more enveloping moves worked as an interpretation of the priest’s attempt to include the entire community in his form of davening.  With the dancer dancing these moves, we see the openness and devotion of the priest.
3)      The Mystic
a.       Danced by Mishi Castroverde
b.      Wearing a scarf around her body, this was showing the how “wrapped up” the mystic is with discovering divinity. 
c.       The dancer lifts up her arms in an attempt to show her knowledge of a vision of heaven and her closeness with God.  She then “melts” at the end of her solo to show that she is still subordinate to the Lord.
4)      The Meditator
a.       Danced by Heather Lowe
b.      Wearing beads around her neck, this showed her connection to the mystic as well as her humbleness in the simplicity of her dress.  It also showed that the meditator is comfortable being in any status or profession. 
c.       The dancer makes “yoga/meditating hands” placing her thumbs and middle fingers together, not easily visible with the camera quality.  This shows that the meditator is concerned about focus over locus and that she is reciting and chanting her prayers in ways that may “induce transformations of human states of mind.”
5)      Celebrity Monotheist
a.       Danced by Lindsay McGhay
b.      Wearing sunglasses and a head scarf, this costume is meant to convey her confidence that the community will be saved through a mystic-like vision she has.
c.       Her signature movement is of course her guitar playing to convey that she plays the role of the celebrity monotheist.  Additionally, she lifts one finger on her right hand and sways with it, conveying that she recognizes the one true god and his heavenly realm.  (Because of the poor video quality, this is a little harder to see.)
6)      Artist-Poet-Musician-(Dancer)
a.       Danced by Emily Passer
b.      Holding a purple scarf, this prop accurately conveys this archetype’s creative side.
c.       The use of the scarf in her movement shows how she incorporates the traditional aspects of prayer together with her own interpretation of it as well.  Using other movements from earlier in the dance, the scarf adds an interesting “twist” to them, as her own interpretation. 
7)      Community Organizer
a.       Danced by Emily Passer
b.      With no special costume change, this brief appearance of this archetype shows its hidden, yet essential, role in the synagogue. 
c.       As she uses her arms to metaphorically “lift up” the rest of the synagogue’s archetypes, the audience can see her attempt to facilitate the social order of the synagogue. Truly, this archetype is the one that holds the rest together.

Together then, these 7 archetypes make up the order of the synagogue.  In the beginning of this dance, I show three dancers performing the traditional choreography of Jewish prayer: the far left dancer walking the “Adonai Sefatai” steps, the middle dancer doing the Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh steps and the far right dancer using her fist to show the S’lach lanu.  Together, then, they all bow.  The 7 archetypes then show up throughout the piece in their own solos.  To show their interconnectedness, I had them all dance on stage during the chorus, “Oh, we’re half way there, Oh, livin’ on a prayer...”  Finally, the final chorus places them together in one circle, showing that the task of the final archetype, the community organizer, is complete, bringing together everyone in the synagogue.
Outside of the synagogue, the place that I feel closest to God is when I am dancing.  Having been a dancer for many years, I know what it feels like to fully accomplish something you have been working on for years.  To finally master it, is no mortal feat, I truly feel the presence of God when I dance.  This class and my newfound knowledge of these archetypes have helped me to better connect with God in other mediums—through study, through community and social action, and through open-mindedness.  Previously, I was somewhat close-minded about my connection to God.  I thought that if someone felt a connection in a different way than myself, then they were “doing it wrong.”  Now, I can see how many different ways of understanding and loving God and prayer can be correct, and I’ve opened my mind to them, as well.

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