One of the challenges of being female and Orthodox is straddling the line between halachic modesty, artistic expression, and personal empowerment. Take it from Mina Black, a professional dancer and Orthodox mother of four.
“Being an artist in our community, a dancing artist, is a very odd thing. You’re not allowed to express your body. It’s not modest. A woman is supposed to be covered, humble,” says Black.
One of 14 siblings, Mina was raised in a haredi Jerusalem neighborhood where professional dance was strictly forbidden, and she spent a lifetime struggling to find a niche for her talent. Today she lives with her family in Long Island, where she owns a ballet studio for Orthodox girls, blending prayer and spirituality with the art of dance.
At first, her work attracted some controversy. Take a look (video courtesy of the Moral Courage Project):
Mina acquired her passion for dance as a child; she would visit a community center up the hill from her parent’s home and watch ballet dancers rehearsing. At age 10, she started saving the five shekels (approximately 1 USD) per hour she earned helping a neighbor with household chores and began taking dance lessons at the community center in secret.
In 8th grade, when she was asked to help choreograph her school’s production, she knew she was hooked.
“The drive was intoxicating,” Mina said in a phone interview. “As a dancer, as an artist, it felt like walking on a cloud. I knew I needed more.”
Initially, when Mina was caught secretly taking coed dance classes and performing, she was punished and for many years she suppressed the urge to dance. Eventually, she realized she was deeply unhappy without dancing and could not go on without sharing her gift with others.
Five years ago, Mina began teaching ballet in friends’ basements and as her program grew, she moved it to a local JCC. Last year, she trained 24 little girls.
To learn more about Mina Black’s dance studio, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org