The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
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Information: Fred Berk, modern dancer, teacher, and author of books about Israeli dance.
Fred was born Friedrich Berger in Vienna, Austria, in 1910. He studied at the State Academy of Dance there from 1930 to 1933. He performed with Gertrud Kraus, Viennese modern dance choreographer, winning the bronze medal as the most promising solo dancer at the Viennese State International dance competition in 1934.
Fred came to America in 1941 and changed his name upon his immigration to the United States, but was affectionately known to folk dancers as "Mr. Israeli Folk Dance." He first performed with Hanya Holm then with Katya Delakova for ten years. In 1949, when on his first visit to Israel, he and Katia became the first American dancers to perform in Eilat. He started the contemporary Israeli recreational dance movement in New York around 1951.
From 1951, Fred directed the annual Israeli Folk Dance Festival at Lincoln Center, conducted leadership training sessions, and directed the Israeli Folk Dance Department under the auspices of the Zionist Youth Foundation.
Fred organized many projects and was associated with many organizations that were devoted to Jewish/Israeli dance arts. He was a member of the Israeli Ethnic Dance Board, founded the Jewish Dance Division of the 92nd St. YM-YWHA, and organized an Israeli folk dance leadership there in 1960.
He founded the first Israeli dance workshop in the United States, the Fred Berk Israeli Folk Dance Workshop, at Camp Blue Star (Hendersonville, North Carolina), in 1961 and directed it until 1977 (followed by Ya'akov Eden, Ruth Goodman, and Tuvia Abramson). Many Israeli folk dance recordings were issued under Fred's supervision.
He established the Israeli Folk Dance Department of the AZYF in New York in 1968, was the director of the folk dance department of the American Zionist Youth Foundation, also in New York, and was editor of the magazine "Hora."
According to Sandy Kuttler, "After a failed operation Fred was not able to walk, let alone dance. Rather than give up, he developed a way to sit on a stool and teach others to dance."
He had written many books and tracts and his "Holiday in Israel," published by the Dance Notation Bureau Press, is being restaged in England. Fred was planning to go to supervise its production when he died on February 26, 1980. In 1985, Judith Brin Ingber wrote a book about Fred, Victory Dances: The Story of Fred Berk, a Modern Day Jewish Dancing Master.
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