DePaul professor recognized by university for bridging Israel and Chicago through dance

Miriam image
Miriam Engel, a professional Israeli dancer, teaching a master class to Lin Batsheva Kahn’s students at DePaul University. Photo credit: Connor O’Keefe.

The first time Lin Batsheva Kahn stepped foot in Israel was to visit her daughter, Leah, at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem in 2012.

The trip turned out to be life-changing for Kahn, an adjunct modern dance professor at DePaul University. Leah, a professional dancer, introduced her mother to Miriam Engel and Sergey Shamota, the directors of Angela Dance Company in Jerusalem, where Leah was also training as a dancer.

"I was going to take a dance class that Leah was taking. [Then], Miriam said to Leah, 'Well, instead of her taking the class, why doesn't she just teach it?'" Kahn said. "Afterwards, we talked and our conversation started percolating. She's an idea person, and so am I."

Their collaboration continued. Engel and Shamota choreographed and performed a piece last winter by Kahn about her mother's passing. After visiting Israel three more times that year, Kahn invited the Engels to DePaul.

Since 2015, Kahn has brought Engel and Shamota to Chicago five times to teach master classes, speak in classrooms, and partner with Israel-related organizations on campus. Kahn was recognized for her innovative approach to global dance education by DePaul University in September, when she was awarded the university's prestigious 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award.

"I brought Miriam to campus to present Israel outside the conflict," Kahn said. "There was no conversation about anything political. The event was focused on this universal language of dance. Miriam and Sergey are very professional. They're very warm and approachable. They are extremely easy to connect to."

While Engel's classes focus on dance, the Israeli dancer has inspired both Jewish and non-Jewish students to engage deeper with Israel.

"I received reports from students and they loved her," Kahn said. "There were students who wanted to visit Israel. Right now, I have a former student who is going on Birthright, and she was inspired to go by meeting Miriam and Sergey."

Engel's and Shamota's impact has gone beyond Chicago: Kahn's daughter Leah, the Senior Jewish Educator at Berkeley Hillel in California, has also brought the pair to teach dance classes for her campus community.

"Students were excited to be exposed to contemporary Israeli artists, and they appreciated the opportunity to engage with Israel from a lens that was artistic," Leah said. "[Miriam and Sergey] helped them engage with questions they were already asking."

Like her mother, Leah uses dance as a medium for understanding Jewish identity.

"Like a Jewish identity, being a dancer is an identity that is always evolving and provides a community and framework for engaging with universal questions about the human experience," Leah said. "It's an interesting part of [my mother and I's] relationship that we share."

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