New Haven native takes love of dancing around the globe
NEW HAVEN/NEW YORK CITY — Like a lot of little girls in Addison County, Zoe Rabinowitz started studying dance at age five with longtime dance teacher Patty Smith.
Today the New Haven native is living the dream as a New York City-based dancer and choreographer about to set off on a tour of Jerusalem, Japan and Korea with Yaa Samar! Dance Theatre, a dance group that she co-founded 10 years ago and of which she is the associate artistic director.
Though dancing has allowed the 31-year-old to travel the world, she always remembers where she came from.
“I feel a deep connection to my home in Vermont,” Rabinowitz said in an interview with the Independent. “I’ve always felt really connected to the community and the place.”
Yaa Samar!’s work is concerned with crossing boundaries — be they geopolitical or interpersonal, geographical or cultural. Indeed, the company itself is based in both New York City and in Jerusalem, where artistic director and co-founder Samar Haddad King lives with her Palestinian husband.
But for Rabinowitz, this interest in crossing borders began as a ninth-grader at Mount Abraham Union High School, when she went to Ghana in West Africa on a school trip led by teacher Mark Johnson as part of his Vermont Global Village project.
“I had never really spent time around people who didn’t look or talk like me,” said Rabinowitz. “Vermont, especially when I was growing up, was very homogenous. It was a revelation to see a world outside of the one that I knew. It opened my understanding of how many different realities there are in this world and how many possibilities.
“We stayed in a village for two weeks, and we studied drum and dance with the people in the village,” she continued. “It was such an amazing way to engage with people and get to know them. Even if we didn’t speak the same language, I really understood that dance was a language that we could use to get to know each other and tell jokes and really communicate. It inspired a lifetime of traveling through dance. I’ve danced every place I’ve ever gone, and that is a direct result of having that experience as a high schooler in Bristol.”
So far, Rabinowitz has danced in Ghana, Guinea, El Salvador, Argentina, India, Spain, the Netherlands, Palestine and Jordan. Soon she’ll be adding Japan and Korea to the list.
While at Mount Abe, Rabinowitz further explored performing arts through the Addison Repertory Theater program at Hannaford Career Center. Rabinowitz then completed her high school studies at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass., where she could dance full-time. She went on to get a bachelor of fine arts in Dance from the Ailey/Fordham program, which allows students to get an undergraduate degree from Fordham University while simultaneously studying dance at the prestigious Ailey School of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
While Rabinowitz considers the Yaa Samar! company her artistic home, she has also continued to build her dance career with other choreographers and other companies. Over the past 10 years, Rabinowitz has danced with such companies as INSPIRIT, JoAnna Mendl Shaw/Equus Projects, MBDance, the Movement Party and Urban Bush Women. She began choreographing about three years ago and has had her work presented by Women in Motion, New York Theatre Workshop and by the Movement Party at the Fleet Moves Dance Festival in Cape Cod. Rabinowitz was selected as a 2014 resident artist for the Omi International Arts Center Dance Collective and was awarded a 2015 grant from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund for the creation of her new work “be-seek-let.”
Rabinowitz and friend and colleague Samar Haddad King met as undergraduates at the Ailey/Fordham program and founded Yaa Samar! while working together on a dance piece their senior year.
“We share a vision of using dance as a language to communicate across cultures and borders, which is in part why we were and are so drawn to working together,” Rabinowitz said.
She explained that in Arabic “samar” means “a sleepless night of entertainment, referring to when poets and musicians would perform in royal salons, etc.; so the company is named after Samar and also after the act of creating and storytelling.”
On Oct. 2 the Yaa Samar! company will leave for its fourth international tour — and first tour to East Asia. The group (which is raising money through an online fundraising campaign to pay for the tour) will be performing its most recent major work of choreography, “bound,” a multimedia piece that examines what it means to be bound — whether being bound to a place, person or ideology or being constrained by boundaries, borders or barriers.
For Rabinowitz — who dances in “bound,” the choreography is King’s — “bound” is an exploration of personal and collective freedom. The piece features three movable walls that throughout the performance are used to represent physical, social, emotional and political boundaries. Alongside the seven live dancers, the piece uses a video projection of a couple who can’t see or be with each other, who are communicating by Skype. “bound” ends on a note of ambiguity and tension: The lovers have become paralyzed by their separation, but the dancers on stage find a kind of freedom.
The “bound” tour will open with two performances in Jerusalem and then jump over to East Asia. Yaa Samar! will present “bound” at the Seoul International Dance Festival in Seoul, South Korea, along with a series of dance workshops at the Seoul dance festival and at Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, South Korea. The tour will close with workshops at the Kobe Art Village Center in Kobe, Japan.
Rabinowitz still visits her mother, Lynn Yarrington, in New Haven. She reflects on her Vermont upbringing and how it provided the springboard to an international career.
“I have a lot of friends from Vermont who are really globally minded and interested in creating better lives and solutions for people around the world,” Rabinowitz said. “I have friends still in Vermont doing farming and building their own houses, friends working in South Sudan eradicating guinea worms, friends who are artists in Chicago or New York, even a friend in Heidelberg. It’s funny, the Vermont community travels far and wide.”
Zoe Rabinowitz’s dance company, Yaa Samar!, is still in the process of fundraising for the “bound” tour and has set up an Indiegogo website to help raise the $17,000 needed for the tour. So far the group has raised over $11,000 toward its goal. To donate go to
For more information about Yaa Samar! Dance Theatre and the “bound” tour, go to Yaa Samar!’s website at ysdt.org or visit zoerabinowitz.com.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected]
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