CONFERENCES & SYMPOSIA: 2006 New York Folklore Society Annual Conference
ABOUT THE PRESENTERS
KAREN TAUSSIG-LUX holds a PhD in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research has included work on vernacular architecture, occupational folklore, and material culture. Currently she is an independent folklorist, residing in Media, Pennsylvania.
Karen spoke about her work with Joseph Mender, the subject of Robersons current exhibit, “The Life and Art of Joseph Mender.”
JILLIAN GOULD holds a MA from NYU in performance studies (1999), and was the Education Coordinator at the Eldridge Street Project (NYC) from 1999–2001. Currently she lives in her hometown, Toronto, where she is writing her PhD dissertation for the Dept. of Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and also about to take on a position as the oral historian for the Ontario Jewish Archives’ “Ontario Small Jewish Communities Project.”
Hospitality, Aging, and Sociability: Sabbath Tea at the Baycrest Terrace
ABSTRACT: Every Saturday at the Baycrest Terrace, a Jewish retirement home in Toronto, there is a Sabbath Tea – a unique gathering organized and run by resident “hostesses” – not staff or outside volunteers. The hostesses are a devoted group of 10-12 women (all in their late 80s and 90s) who do everything from placing cake orders and setting tables, to serving and clearing up. The Tea highlights themes of hospitality, domestic and Jewish culture, and aging; as well as provides opportunities for leadership and sociability among Terrace residents. Based on fieldwork I conducted for my PhD dissertation (in progress), this paper presents an ethnography and history of the Tea: the scene, the players.
AMATULLAH SALEEM studied at the Katherine Dunham School of Theatre and Cultural Arts in New York, NY, under master teacher Syvilla Fort and others. Following a European tour with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, she freelanced in theatres, nightclubs and television. Upon returning to the United States, Saleem opened the Pyramid Dance Studio in Soho-East, New York, NY. She also taught dance at the Hudson Guild and Goddard-Riverside Community Centers, Henry Street Settlement and Summer-Theatre-Workshops for the first “Street Scene Community Arts Projects” sponsored through the New York City Recreation Department. Later, Saleem migrated south to accept the position of Dance/Music Specialist for the City Recreation Department of Winston-Salem, NC. There she produced the African Folk Arts Festival, an annual citywide project, for six years. She also founded and was Artistic Director of the regional dance troupe, Otesha Dance and Music Ensemble. Upon her return to New York and while teaching dance to elementary students at Muhammad University of Islam, she wrote and produced the children’s musical, A Reflection of the Harlem Renaissance. Saleem graduated from Empire State College and transformed her short stories to become a storyteller with the Pearls of Wisdom, a project of Elders Share the Arts. She is a member of the African Folk Heritage Circle, Inc., and the National Association of Black Storytellers.
Douglas Sonntag, NEA Director of Dance (right), interviews dancer and storyteller Amatullah Saleem. Photo by Ron Thomas
| ||Saleem, who was raised both in Winston-Salem, NC, and Harlem, first realized that dance was a profession when her Mother took her to see the 1943 movie, Cabin in the Sky with the Katherine Dunham dancers. She credited her training at the Katherine Dunham School of Theatre and Cultural Arts for increasing her courage. Her talent and newfound confidence led her to Europe for over ten years to dance; it was difficult for an African-American dancer to have a career on Broadway. In later years, back in the U.S., Saleem received a degree in Dance Studies and interned with Elders Share the Arts. She joined their Pearls of Wisdom, which launched her career as a storyteller. Pearls of Wisdom are community-based, multicultural elders who pass on their stories of heritage, humor, courage and strength to diverse audiences throughout New York City and beyond. Saleem noted that she is now incorporating movement and songs into her stories, thus combining all of her artistic training.|
About the PEARLS OF WISDOM: Young people look through the windows of our memories and find assurances that life is worth living and striving for.
In working in the schools, the Pearls of Wisdom are not only living history for the children and young adults, but are also surrogate grandparents. Saleem detailed the results of a survey of the kids’ attitudes toward older adults. Before interaction with Pearls of Wisdom, the words and phrases used to describe older adults included “walk slowly,” “grouchy,” “mean,” “they have money” and they “put their teeth in a glass.” After the students spent time with Pearls of Wisdom, their descriptions included “good people,” “not grouchy,” “good storytellers” and “they are pretty for old ladies.”
The Pearls of Wisdom also work with older adults, encouraging them to tell their stories and preserve their culture. It is important to talk with younger people, she told them, “They need to know your triumphs and your struggles.” “Young people look through the windows of our memories and find assurances that life is worth living and striving for. Life is worth putting your energy into—your effort. Life is precious. It is not to be wasted because it is very short,” she added.
Commenting that her “life has been the arts,” Saleem spoke passionately about the importance of being a “natural resource” for the community: “We have skills and experience, and we can speak to the community of our culture and history.” She expressed her sense of “standing on the shoulders of great Black artists” and her desire to be the shoulders on which future generations would stand. Her life, she explained has been about “striving to be the one who carries the torch.”
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