Celebrating its 38th year, Ashkenaz Music and Dance Community Center is a veritable Berkeley institution. This wasn't necessarily the case when Berkeley radical and People's Park founder David Nadel created Ashkenaz, a diverse community center for all ages, because he loved to dance. Nadel was tragically murdered in 1996, and many believe that the still-unsolved crime was linked to his political activities. Today, Nadel's vision lives on at Ashkenaz. Last year, Ashkenaz received the prestigious Isadora Duncan Dance Award ("Izzie") for Sustained Achievement. It was deserved recognition for the funky, homey, barnlike space on San Pablo Avenue where generations of people from around the world have performed, taught and celebrated world music and dance. Like many institutions during tough economic times, Ashkenaz is now actively seeking support and is recruiting new board members.
"People have met, even gotten married here, and now bring their kids," says operations manager Larry Dekker, who oversees the facility where more than 20 weekly classes and 330 shows a year take place. "We offer flamenco, Persian dance, clogging, salsa, Indian classical dance, zumba, tango, pilates and fitness, creative movement and ballet," says Dekker. Ashkenaz routinely fills the house with reggae, cabaret, world music, rock and bluegrass bands. Weekends offer "Soggy Sundays" or "Sunny Sundays," programs for families, while in the summer Ashkenaz is packed with music and dance camps for kids.
In 2010, Dekker launched Ashkenaz Live, a new TV show featuring shows with artist interviews, scheduled to air on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. on Berkeley's cable access Channel 28. A documentary on Ashkenaz, funded in part by the San Francisco Foundation, is also in the works. March 12 will bring a fundraising celebration featuring Cajun zydeco and African music and dance lessons. "We're about the entire Berkeley community and beyond," says Dekker. "People travel around Europe in their Ashkenaz T-shirts, and many former Bay Area residents from around the country choose to relive their Ashkenaz days by making the center their first stop when visiting. We want to honor the legacy and the history while sustaining the facility and continuing to expand our unique programming." For information, visit ashkenaz.com.