Dance as Cultural Identity

Taylor Zimelman is an undergraduate on the ASU Tempe campus majoring in Family and Human Development and minoring in dance, both of which she plans to apply in her future career as a dance therapist. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she is an active member of the Jewish community and leads Israeli dance classes for ASU Hillel that are open to the entire community. She is passionate about Israeli dancing because it allows her to learn more about her culture and connect with her past.

WOD: When did you first fall in love with dance?
Zimelman: I was a gymnast for eleven years and was nationally ranked. In 2013, I came down with a back problem called spinal stenosis. I decided to quit gymnastics a couple days after our biggest competition. Whenever I tilted my head back, I would get a shocking wave down the front of my body for the ten seconds my head was back. After I quit gymnastics, my parents asked what I wanted to do, and we decided on dance. I started going to a dance studio near my house and I fell in love with dance. Now, I’ve been dancing for seven years, but I don’t compete. I don’t want another medal, I just want to dance…

What gets me passionate about dance is when I watch a video where someone is doing a dance and I think, oooh that’s cool. I want to try it. I also love dance because there is a great community of people in it and I have made a support group at ASU where we help each other.

WOD: How does your culture influence your dance style?
Zimelman: The first dancing I learned was Israeli dance in 2008 at the Jewish camp I went to every summer. Israeli dancing goes with my culture because a lot of the dances are focused around our past. For example, there is a dance called “Mayim, Mayim” which means water in Hebrew and is based on how Moses split the red sea. A lot of the dances involve Jewish language and culture and help me to connect with my past ancestors.

WOD: What is dance therapy and when were you first introduced to it?
Zimelman: Dance movement therapy is a mix of dance with occupational and gross motor therapy. You (the therapist) go an hour into a hostile or your own place and just have an hour dance session with your patients. I was introduced to it in 2013 when I was watching Dancing with The Stars and I knew I wanted to possibly be in that field of work.

WOD: Who do you hope your work will impact?
Zimelman: I want to work with kids. Since I was young, I wanted to give back to my community. I had to go to extensive amounts of therapy where I learned how to walk, talk, chew, and eat. It’s not that I want any recognition, I just want to see a kid smile again if they haven’t for a while or walk if they never have before. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for them.

WOD: How have you stayed involved in the arts community in the past year?
Zimelman: I’m the Israeli Dance teacher for ASU Hillel, and I have been doing Zoom calls to give back to the arts community.

WOD: How has living in Arizona influenced your art?
Zimelman: It’s had me adapt to where I’d actually be dancing and now, I teach from my room. The scenery is so beautiful in Arizona. Sometimes when I freestyle in my room, I have the Arizona sunset in my mind or other scenery of ASU.

WOD: How does your love of dance translate into your life?
Zimelman: I dance almost every minute, even when I’m in the store or getting coffee. Dancing helps me express myself.